chestnut reveals its hidden treasure

chestnut reveals it's hidden treasure

For several weeks now a big tree near the house has been throwing spiny pods as me whenever I pass. They litter the path and sting my toes through my sandals on early morning garbage detail. Except annoying, I didn’t know what they were. I grew up near the ocean, so to me they looked like a sort of land-urchin. This week the green pods started turning brown and splitting open to reveal the treasures contained within: chestnuts.

There’s nothing like fall to bring out one’s hunter-gatherer instincts (well, the gathering, anyway). Gathering fruit brings out a feeling not unlike a child’s excitement on Easter morning, as she sets out to hunt for chocolate. I quickly filled up a bag with chestnuts, brought them inside and realized I had absolutely no idea what to do with them — other than roasting them on an open fire, of course.

Mine is a lost-generation. Making jam, preserves, bread… Theses are skills practiced by grandparents and even many of our parents, but not passed on. We grew increasingly disconnected from where food really comes from. I was fortunate to grow up in a place that still relied on the land. Newfoundland has the fishery (or what’s left of it), many people hunt, and in the fall the bushes are heavy with berries. Fall was definitely not complete without berry picking – blueberries, chuckley pears, raspberries, crab apples.. My mum made jam, pies and muffins. But other than eating the final product, I didn’t take much interest until recently. Fortunately knowledge has not been completely lost, archived only a few mouse clicks, an email or a long-distance call away.

I’m certainly not the only one taking more of an interest in lost skills. I recently read an article about a rise in urban foraging. I’ve always been a bit of a scavenger. A good back alley and dumpster are hard to pass by unexplored. In the face of hard times more urbanites are looking beyond their grocery stores to find food and reconnect with the land. People are even organizing clubs and Community Supported Agriculture-type models to harvest and distribute the wild bounty. Beyond dumpster diving or balcony gardening, people are heading into local greenspaces looking for berries, greens and other natural edibles. In New York there are even guided tours to reintroduce people to edible species available in their native surroundings.

The fear of runs on the bank may have died down, only to be replaced by runs on the greenery. The article tells of undercover cops following the New York group, and a preventive harvest in San Francisco’s Presidio neighbourhood. A website called Urban Edibles (that catalogues food available in Portland, Oregon) suggests acting neighbourly can avoid conflicts — asking permission before harvesting your neighbour’s apple tree is probably a good start, as is being considerate and taking only what you will use.

Which brings me back to the taks at hand: what to do with all these chestnuts. I did a shout-out to my friends for suggestions and I got back some great suggestions. What a versitile little nut!
Kale, chestnut and bacon soup
A vegetarian chestnut mushroom raviolli
• Ground up and put into chocolate cake. (this one is making my mouth water)
• Sauteed with greens
• With rice – My roommate suggested soaking the meat overnight, chopping it up and steaming it in the rice cooker (I tried this today and it was teriffic).

my little harvest

my little harvest