GROW­ING AND FORAGING FOR… CHEST­NUTS

NZ Gardener - Garden Diary 2018 - - Crop Of The Month -

Ma­ture chest­nut trees (Cas­tanea sativa) are lovely but not suited to small gar­dens (see foraging hints be­low if you don’t have the space to grow one or two your­self at home!). If you do have the room to grow this crop, plant them out of harm’s way – at the back of a mixed shrub­bery or at the edge of a pad­dock. Their burrs are prickly and, when they split and fall, the kina-sharp spines are fierce enough to pierce right through jan­dals and sneak­ers. Young chest­nut trees don’t like heavy soil (in poorly drained soil, they’re sus­cep­ti­ble to root rot) and nor do they ap­pre­ci­ate a com­plete lack of ir­ri­ga­tion. They are hardy, though, coping with freez­ing win­ters, but if you get se­vere spring frosts you can lose the new buds. Pro­tect young trees from pos­sums, rab­bits, hares and graz­ing stock. It’s a good idea to buy one of each of the avail­able va­ri­eties (sold as ’1005’, ’1002’ and ’1015’). While ’1002’ and ’1015’ cross-pol­li­nate well, ’1005’ is self-fer­tile but still prefers the com­pany of ’1002’.

WHEN TO HAR­VEST

Chest­nuts are in sea­son now. Un­like most nuts, which are picked and dried be­fore con­sump­tion, chest­nuts have to be eaten fresh (or frozen) be­cause they are 50 per cent wa­ter. Store fresh chest­nuts in your veg­etable bins in the fridge.

HOW TO EAT

Steamed or boiled for half-an-hour in salty wa­ter, chest­nut flesh is as ten­der as a waxy new potato. Slip the nuts out of their skins and mash with olive oil and gar­lic, chicken stock and English thyme or whipped cream and choco­late.

If you in­tend to roast them over an open fire, or a bar­be­cue plate, use a sharp knife to score a cross in the skin of each nut to re­lease the steam (re­mem­ber, they’re 50 per cent wa­ter) as they cook. They take about 15-20 min­utes to cook and will pop eas­ily out of their skins when done. Let them cool a bit be­fore eat­ing or you’ll burn your fin­gers and tongue.

FORAGING HINTS

Chest­nuts have a long and proud his­tory. They’ve been an im­por­tant crop in Europe for thou­sands of years, both for their nuts and their tim­ber, and early set­tlers planted many trees upon their ar­rival in New Zealand. Some of those trees re­main in pub­lic parks and street plant­ings.

If you’re go­ing foraging, be care­ful not to con­fuse chest­nuts with the toxic shiny brown seeds of horse chest­nuts ( Aes­cu­lus hip­pocas­tanum). Horse chest­nut conkers have spiky outer shells rather than prick­les, and they are smooth and round, whereas chest­nuts are pointy at the top.

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