September 18, 2013

Foraging for Chestnuts

After living in the nature starved landscapes of NOVA, we were smitten with our backyard space when we moved to Richmond in the Fall of 2011. Canopied by a variety of mature trees, I was so happy to be nearer to the outdoors in general, that I downloaded this guide to native virginia trees and insisted on learning to identify not only those that grow in our backyard, but also the foliage we regularly encounter on our walks by the river.

Unfortunately, this daughter of a Forester didn't get much further than to recognize the already familiar flowering dogwood that gracefully grows outside our bedroom window. I think an illustrated guide would have served me better!

And then one day, these green urchin-like pods began to fall from one of the trees that I had struggled to identify. In the mornings we would peer out from the screen door to spy on the squirrels who cautiously ventured out into the open to gnaw at the prickly puzzle that is the outer shell of burrs. 

And we weren't thrilled when our carefree playtime in the yard was upset for stepping on small clusters of burrs (or prickles as we call them). Without shoes, which we hardly wear when back there, no matter the season, even those most careful about traversing the lawn could not avoid them. And still, the largest tree in the yard continued to drop more burrs with each day that passed.

From Fall burrs to Springtime pine sap and Summer inch-worm infestations, we realized in our first year that there are imperfections to be found even in something as lovely as living beneath nature.  

American Chestnut
The next season, as the last burrs were hitting the ground, we mentioned our nuisance to the neighbor with whom we share a fence-line, and he supposed they were chestnuts. Indeed.

This year we were prepared. When the burrs began to drop three days ago, we started harvesting them. We are foraging for food in our own backyard!

We find them on the ground like this:

There are usually between one and three chestnuts nestled inside each burr.

Like the squirrels, we have to wrestle with the casing and take caution not to be poked. They really do hurt!

 The only safe way to hold them is by their little tail stem.

Once the nuts are freed, we sweep the burrs up and throw them behind the bushes along the perimeter of the yard.

Our next step is to prepare the chestnuts for roasting. We have read that it can take a few days for the starches of the nut (which is primarily carbohydrate instead of protein as most nuts are) to sweeten up a bit. They are resting in the fridge for today at least, and maybe another day tomorrow.

Do you have a good chestnut recipe to share? I would like to try this parfait with chestnuts, sugar, whipped cream, and rum extract. I'll probably also roast a batch to eat with butter and sea salt, I hope the boys will enjoy them for snack.

Quintessential autumn

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails