Do it your­self food

A nut for you and your grand­chil­dren

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents -

Add a chest­nut or two to your or­chard to­day and you'll be do­ing a big favour for gen­er­a­tions to come.

We are lucky that set­tlers planted so many when they first came to these fair shores. Most chest­nut trees be­gin to bear fruit only af­ter 15 years, reach­ing op­ti­mal yields once they are 40+ years old.

There is an amaz­ing old tree in Sant'al­fio, on the east­ern slope of Mount Etna in Si­cily which is be­lieved to be the largest and old­est known chest­nut tree in the world.

It would be nice to give this tree a hug. It's named the Hun­dred Horse Chest­nut and is be­lieved to be over 2000 years old.

The tree's name orig­i­nates from a leg­end of grand pro­por­tion. The queen of Aragon and her com­pany of 100 knights were caught in a se­vere thun­der­storm dur­ing a trip to Mount Etna. The Hun­dred Horse Chest­nut pro­vided wel­come shel­ter for all the hu­mans and their horses.

Har­vest­ing chest­nuts can be dan­ger­ous but is well worth it. We wear gum­boots and thick gloves dur­ing har­vest, then ‘crack' open each spiny shell by press­ing on it with a boot. The chest­nut will usu­ally open up al­low­ing you to reach in care­fully and ex­tract the nut.

Some trees will have pods that con­tain two or three flat­tened empty shells and no ker­nels. This is be­cause chest­nut trees re­quire cross pol­li­na­tion (car­ried out by wind and in­sects) from a dif­fer­ent com­pat­i­ble va­ri­ety to en­sure good nut pro­duc­tion so you need to plant at least two.

Chest­nut stor­age stumped us for a long time. My hus­band and I have been col­lect­ing them for years, and we've tried var­i­ous ways to keep them over win­ter, but we found they went mouldy very quickly due to their high wa­ter con­tent. We were keen to find some way of pre­serv­ing this high en­ergy food, full of nat­u­ral sug­ars and packed with valu­able min­er­als and vi­ta­mins, and also gluten­free, fat and oil-free, choles­terol-free and with a pro­tein con­tent very sim­i­lar to eggs. We had to find a way to crack this nut.

Our sal­va­tion came three years ago when a good friend came to stay dur­ing chest­nut har­vest. Krista is one of those rare peo­ple who can make use of any food source and has a brain that I love to pick when it comes to liv­ing more self-suf­fi­ciently. She and her four en­thu­si­as­tic daugh­ters helped us process loads of chest­nuts and we put away nearly 4kg of chest­nut 'meat' into the freezer. I've been adding it to bread, cakes, bis­cuits and soups ever since. I re­cently adapted an al­mond meal choco­late cake recipe so that I could use up last year's chest­nuts in time for the next har­vest. It proved to be such a favourite that we ran out in early sum­mer and will have to wait for our fix when this year's crop falls from the tree.

Mak­ing my own nut spread has been on the food ex­per­i­ment list for years and I love us­ing chest­nuts for it purely be­cause of the name sounds so good: chest­nutella!

WORDS KRISTINA JENSEN chest­nuts proved to be such a favourite, we ran out of sup­plies in early sum­mer

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