How to harvest and cook chestnuts 

Harvesting, a meaningful way of spending quality time with others.

Last week I invited people to attend a chestnut harvest, for it is autumn! and chestnuts are bountiful in this area (Daylesford, Victoria, Australia) thanks to the work of previous generations who planted the trees from which I harvest.

Caroline Harvey joins us for a chestnut harvest in Daylesford at a private property. A big thank you to Greg whoo kindly let’s us harvest.

Chestnut trees are beautiful and not to be confused with horse chestnut trees. Both trees are very beautiful but only one produces nuts that are edible. 

Artemisia loves foraging and I am so glad she does because I cherish her company.
An unripe chestnut with discolouration.

Horse chestnuts are harvested to produce a game called conkers, an excellent and simple game, the kind that makes me excited because it turns the forest into a playground for children. The horse conkers are threaded with string and children try and hit each other’s homemade conkers to see which one breaks first. 

This burr looks very green and I wrote in this blog that when the burrs are very green the chestnuts are not ready, but this one looks
ready !

But it is edible chestnuts that we focused on this autumn. Our small group of adults and children wearing sturdy comfortable shoes, visited trees that had dropped their treasure to create a carpet of edibles.

Chestnut trees create wonderful shade, are deciduous and have beautiful leaves. I have planted many in my garden.

When to harvest chestnuts

Autumn is the season for chestnuts! And chestnuts are ready for harvesting when they have dropped to the ground. 

Harvesting chestnuts in the shade of this magnificent tree.

You will find them all over the place at the base of the tree trunk. The burrs should be slightly ajar and the colour of the burrs a light to dark brown. If the burrs are very green, then they are not ready and the chestnuts will be hard to prize out. Although some people like to harvest them when they are immature and will go to various attempts to open up the burrs. 

They look so beautiful to me! So very beautiful and bring back the loveliest of memories. This ones have yet to be scored.

How to prize the nuts from the burrs

I love to use my feet to release the nuts. I stomp on the burr quite hard and this forces the nuts out. I do this repeatedly and then go back and collect what I have released. This is great fun to do with others. All of you stomping and collecting and talking and laughing. An hour will go past easily as you greedily hungrily harvest. And like all foraging activities the hardest part of the harvest is knowing when to stop. When to say, “I have enough”. 

These chestnuts have been scored and boiled and are ready for eating. You can score them any which way. I always score them as you see in this picture but I think from now on I will score them the opposite way as I suspect that the nut will force the shell open a little more.

How to cook chestnuts

Chestnuts are slightly sweet and creamy. They can be roasted, boiled or steamed. You must always score them before cooking, regardless of how you cook them. This means breaking the chocolate-coloured skin. If you don’t do this, they will explode and make a big mess. Once cooked place them into a bowl with a plate on top and let them sweat for 10mins as this will help you remove the brown papery thin skin they are wrapped in. 

Together with others is how I like to spend my time. I love the company and good conversation of others. This is Assunta who joined us and helped to score many chestnuts.

All three methods produce delicious results. Baking them dries them out a bit, while boiling and steaming creates a moister result. Bake them if you want to eat them like chips while watching a fantastic film on a cold autumn night. Steam and boil them if you want to make a Nutella like spread, or you want to create a crumbed chestnut meal for adding to pasta dishes and desserts. Because they are slightly sweet you can use them in many creative ways, including to make cakes, pancakes and smoothies. 

The lovely Tracey! Thank you for coming Tracey, you brought such kind warm energy with you!.

Nutritional Value of Chestnuts 

Chestnuts are a rich source of protein and fibre, they contain potassium, phosphorus, vitamins B2 and E, as well as small quantities of iron. They are a non-processed often free food source. They are really good for you so if you have not tried them before give them a go because preparing them is great fun too.  

A team effort, which culminated in a sit down spaghetti and chestnut lunch.
Assunta thank you so very much for brining music into our home. What an incredible gift you gave us. Your voice full of passion and heart.

What to do with the spent burrs?

Boiled chestnuts.

Use them as mulch in an area not regularly visited as the burrs continue to be spiky for long periods of time. Don’t put them in your compost unless you plan to leave your compost for a good 12 months or you are doing a very well managed hot compost that will speed up their decomposition. Basically, be aware that the burrs are very spiky and that if you don’t compost them well you will hurt yourself when planting into poorly composted compost full of chestnut burrs.  

Crumbed chestnuts on home made bread.
Chestnut spread made by processing boiled and peeled chestnuts with honey, cointreau, water, a touch of lemon juice.
Artemisia likes eating them every which way and I do too.

Why I love seasonal activities like chestnut harvesting

This way of living really speaks to me, it really gets me all excited and happy. It’s absolutely my thing and I can’t get enough of it. It motivates me to be outdoors more, in ways that other things don’t. And the seasons set a strong agenda, with timelines and deadlines, the kind of deadlines that while at times can make me a little agitated (fear of missing out) for the greatest part they create these wonderful opportunities for me to eat healthy food, harvested by me in the company of others and in a healthy nature-based environment.