Do it yourself food
A nut for you and your grandchildren
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