NZ Lifestyle Block

WILD FOOD: sweet chestnuts


We’re lucky enough to have wild sweet chestnuts growing here in North Canterbury. Don't confuse them with the horse chestnut that we used to play conkers with when we were young, as they're inedible.

You'll know you have a sweet chestnut – the outer shells are as prickly as little hedgehogs, so we wear gloves and harvest them using kitchen tongs.

Sweet chestnuts are perfect for this time of year. We roast them in a big pan over a fire and serve them in little paper bags, which double as hand warmers on chilly autumn evenings.

To start, you need to remove the outer shell. There are a few ways to do it:

boil them;

prick them with a knife and roast them (don't forget to prick them or they'll explode during cooking).

The shells can be tricky to peel, so be careful if you're using a knife. Then pop them in a pan with oil or butter to roast, and sprinkle with salt. They're so delicious!

Other autumn must-haves

We often eat chestnuts with fermenting wine. You can only get this seasonal treat in May when the grapes have been brought in, and the ferments start to bubble. Keep an eye out for it at your local winery.

Depending on which part of the ferment they use, this wine can be non-alcoholic. But if the yeasts have gobbled up the sugar in the grapes, it will already be wine. Either way, it's a special little seasonal treat.

We also use the grape must in baked dishes. Must is the mix of juice, skins, seeds, and stems left behind once the grapes are pressed. It makes a beautiful sauce, which we love with pork sausages. The basic principle is to brown the sausages first, add a cup of the must and a cup of fermenting wine, then cook until it's reduced by half. Add another cup of must and another cup of wine and cook for 20-30 minutes. Serve with seasonal vegetables and your first mashing spuds of the season.

Whether it's quinces, chestnuts, or fermenting wine, we love to slow down and find the time to prepare dishes that might take a little longer. As the growing season draws to a close, it feels right to savour the rich, warm flavours from autumn's change

• of pace.

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