“There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, for we are telling Winter Stories.” ~ Charles Dickens, A Christmas Tree
We’ve had a lot of rain here, and on a recent rainy afternoon we ventured into the deep Dutch woods. We were looking for chestnuts. I wasn’t at all sure what to expect, but it was a foraging expedition, and I’m always up for one of those.
Kind of like oystering. On dry land.
My extended Dutch family heads into the woods in search of chestnuts
I couldn’t get Dickens out of my head. I don’t really read Dickens, because I’ve always found the Victorians a bit ponderous, except for A Tale Of Two Cities. But I knew somewhere in Dickens there were chestnuts, and I knew from the Christmas song that they needed to be roasted on an open fire.
I wasn’t sure how we’d manage the fire part in the waterlogged Dutch woods.
There are certainly chestnuts in New England. They must be distant relations to the ones we were seeking that afternoon. The New England variety are known as Horse chestnuts, and if you look in front of the courthouse in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod you’ll find a magnificent specimen. Of course the American Horse chestnut tree is bigger than the Dutch chestnut tree, but I’ve always been warned Horse chestnuts are not the eating kind, so in New England we just collect them because they’re beautiful.
Now we were going to eat their cousins.
There is a familial resemblance between Dutch and American chestnuts, just don’t eat the American ones
The trail through the deep Dutch woods wound through the gray damp chill. We all carried bags with our eyes were glued to the ground where the chestnuts has fallen. It was enough to reveal the inner hunter/gatherer.
We scanned the ground for these, the chestnut is often found beside the prickly pod that housed it
We hit the jackpot and quickly filled our bags and fled the rain. Once home, we began to cook.
Turns out you don’t need an open fire.
After rinsing the soil and forest debris from the chestnuts, you put them in a pan of water, from which you remove any floaters. Floaters are not good.
The floating stage
Then you simply score each chestnut with a knife in an ‘x’ shape to avoid explosions and roast in the oven.
The going in the oven stage
They smell sweet while cooking.
The ready to eat stage
They taste warm, soft, and surprisingly sweet.
This Christmas I will appreciate the Chestnuts roasting on an open fire song in a whole new way. But I’m still not reading Dickens.
He’s not Dutch anyway.
Mary Petiet is a reporter, writer and story teller. Her work is inspired by both her native Cape Cod, where she covers the local farm beat for Edible Cape Cod magazine, and her experiences in The Netherlands. Mary is the author of Minerva’s Owls, (Homebound Publications) finalist in the American Book Fest’s Best Book Awards 2017, religion and spirituality. Minerva’s Owls remembers the divine feminine to reenvision the world. Mary is currently dividing her time between Cape Cod and The Netherlands.