“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” every time I heard that song during the first 23 years of my life I wondered what a chestnut was and how to roast one. And what it tasted like. Was it sweet? Was it rich? Do you coat it with sugar or cinnamon?
The thought of chestnuts roasting on an open fire conjured up visions of snow and hot chocolate and family togetherness. A kind of Currier and Ives-ish Christmas. All from one little nut.
Did I ever tell you about the chestnut roasting fiasco of 1982?
We lived in West Virginia where my husband was working on a PhD. Apparently we had lived a sheltered and pitifully uneducated life in the South because we’d never seen a chestnut, much less eaten one.
“Oh, you have to try chestnuts!”
“Why we used to buy paper cones of roasted chestnuts from a street vendor while we were shopping at Christmas time. They’re delicious!”
“No! You don’t put anything on them, they are delicious by themselves.”
“What? You’ve never had chestnuts? What do you people put in stuffing?”
Well, first of all, we call it dressing where I come from and that should probably have been my first clue.
So we’re at the grocery store one day before Christmas and I see little bags of chestnuts in the produce area. I was so excited! Finally! Chestnuts would be roasting in our home on Christmas. I bought a bag and they were pricey.
My husband took one look at the bag and said, “You paid what for a bag of buckeyes?”
There are no instructions on the bag of chestnuts and I figure how hard can it be? Indeed.
I asked a decidedly northern neighbor what temperature to roast them. “Around 400*F”. Thank you, I’ve got this now.
I preheated the oven and got the chestnuts all lined up in a baking dish. Placed them in the hot oven and set a timer.
About 15 minutes later we’re watching TV and enjoying the evening when what sounds like gun fire going off in the kitchen nearly causes heart failure in us both. We had only been living there for a few months. What kind of neighborhood had we moved in to?
I ran in the kitchen, peeped through the glass window and as I jumped and screamed with every POP, I watched as the rest of the little nuggets of treasure exploded mush all over the inside of the oven.
What a mess!
I scraped and wiped the inside of that oven for 4 days. It still smelled like burning wood when I used it for weeks.
Moral of the story: Be sure you get all the info about how to cook something for the first time. I had no idea you were supposed to score the nut shells. I guess if I’d really thought about it, it would have come to me but I was so excited.
Fast forward to this year.
Twenty nine years later. I see chestnuts in the grocery produce aisle at Christmas; In Kroger; In Clarksville! “Oh, you tricky little things”, I thought. ” I will not let you get the best of me again.”
I bought them. Scored them all around the outside edges. Baked them. They opened up like little clam shells to give up the treasure. I smelled the aroma wafting out of the oven. I was on pins and needles to see if it would work! The timer went off and I took the pan out of the oven. They hadn’t burst! And the taste?
My plan for next year, now that I can roast them without having an adrenaline rush, is to use them in stuffing and to make Marron Glacés because around here, everything is better with a sugar syrup.