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 a day.
(Editor's note: Please make sure you are 100% certain that the chestnuts you pick are of the Castanea genus. The comoon sweet chestnut, Castanea sativa is edible. However, it is common that people incorrectly identify chestnuts, and can get them confused with the horse chestnut, Aesculus hippocastanum, which is poisonous to eat.)
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. You can roast, boil, make chestnut flour (which is gluten free), chestnut butter and/or freeze them.
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 them dry for a few days and most often the chestnuts will fall out.
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 Fareheit (200 degrees Celsius) 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
I use a 9 inch cake tin (greased and floured).
Note: If you have chestnut flour in the refrigerator, take it out to become room temperature before using.
- Sieve 1 cup of flour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit (180 degrees Celsius)
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
Note: You can add 2-3 tbsp milk if batter is too thick.
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.
Pour into your prepared tin (can be made into cupcakes too). Leave about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool before frosting (I prefer cream cheese frosting) but the flavor is best while warm!
Farmer and homesteader, Susan Tipton-Fox writes and teaches at The Mushroom Hut @ Fox Farms, a CSA farm in Burnsville, North Carolina. She teaches at Mayland Community College, presents on-farm workshops and tries to keep the knowledge and culture of the Appalachian Mountains and her Native American roots alive and thriving by seed saving, crafts, canning/preserving, making cheese (using goats’ milk), growing and grinding corn, making soap and much more.
BOOK: Trees for Gardens, Orchards and Permaculture by Martin Crawford