Chestnuts are one of my favorite foraging foods. The chestnut we have is the Chinese chestnut as most of the American chestnut trees were wiped out many years ago. Here in my area, Western North Carolina, the chestnut burs/nuts start falling around the first week in September.
The reason I try to watch for the first fall is that you want to get the chestnuts as soon as they start falling. Otherwise, they can become wormy. I try to pick the chestnuts up at least once per day. If they stay on the ground and become wet they can "sour" in the shell. You want to process your chestnuts as soon as possible don't let them sit around. You can roast, boil, make chestnut flour (gluten-free), chestnut butter and/or freeze.
You may find "green" burs with the chestnuts still inside. Be careful when handling they can really hurt (you may want to wear gloves). You can pick these up and let dry for a few days and most often the chestnuts will fall out.
Some people think there is too much work involved in processing the chestnuts after you collect them. They need to be heat treated before eating because they do contain tannins that can cause stomach upset to some people.
I prefer to oven bake my chestnuts and grind into a chestnut flour.
To get your chestnuts ready for baking, most people will tell you to "score" or make an X on the bottom of the chestnuts. I find this is one too many steps. I take a knife and put the chestnut on a cutting board and cut each chestnut in half. Be very careful when doing this part that the knife doesn't slip. This allows you to see if the chestnut is a "good" one and this saves a step later. When heating, the chestnut will pull away from the shell and when cooled is much easier to peel!
I bake at 400 degrees for at least 15-20 minutes. You could also use an outside cob or pizza oven. Just make sure if it is temperature for pizza that you watch the chestnuts so as not to burn — they may need less time. When cool enough, peel the shell away. At this point you can freeze, eat or grind for flour. Flour can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen. If you are going to grind, I suggest using a food processor to grind your flour/meal. If you are using in a cake recipe, I suggest getting a fine "flour", which may need to be sieved after one grind and then put remaining bits through again.
Simple Chestnut Cake Recipe
• 1 Cup Chestnut flour
• 3/4 Cup sugar (white, refined)
• 7 Tbsp unsalted butter
• 1/4 Tsp salt (I use himalayan sea salt)
• 1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
• 3 eggs
Note: You can add 2-3 Tbsp milk if batter is too thick
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I use electric oven)
2. I use a 9-in cake tin (greased and floured). If you have chestnut flour in refrigerator, take out to become room temp before using. Sieve 1 cup.
3. Add the chestnut flour, salt, baking powder and sugar and whisk together. Add softened, not melted, butter and eggs and mix with electric mixer just until smooth. Add the milk if needed.
4. Pour into your prepared tin (can be made into cupcakes, too). Leave about 20-25 minutes until toothpick comes out clean.
5. Cool before frosting (I prefer cream cheese frosting), but the flavor is best while warm.
Susan Tipton-Fox presents on-farm workshops in Yancey County, North Carolina, and growing her on-farm agritourism by promoting "workshop stays" on the farm (extending the farm experience). Find Susan on Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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