Every fall we used to have a well dressed woman in a large black Cadillac would show up at our back door to sell us chestnuts. We would excitedly welcome her and buy about 100 pounds from this tweed clad Virginia farmer. At the time there were not many farmers markets around and before she started showing up, the only chestnuts that we could find were imported from Italy. The Italian chestnuts were always a bit tired by the time we received them and not nearly as good as the local chestnuts.
This woman who grew and delivered chestnuts also taught us a method of shelling chestnuts which prior to her information was torturous. She told us to cut the chestnuts in half, place them in water, bring the water to a boil and as soon as they were cool enough to handle remove the shell. This method is vastly superior to the other methods that we had previously tried. We added the provision to always use a dinner knife to remove the chestnut, not your fingers. Using your fingers inevitably results in chestnut being jammed under your nails. A condition that to this day we call “chestnut thumb”. Pain that results from any substance under the nail–no matter what job or discipline is now Chestnut Thumb.
There are certain repetitive jobs in the kitchen that I really enjoy and mark the change of seasons. In the spring there are peas and then fava beans, in the fall there are chestnuts. Minds wander as monotonous prep jobs become moments of conviviality. The mark of a good kitchen is conversation…
For the last couple of weeks we have been buying chestnuts on Saturday morning at the 14th and U Farmers Market, from Kuhn Orchards. We use chestnuts in a variety of savory and sweet dishes. At last weeks Home Restaurant we served a Poussin Noodle Soup with Chestnuts and Turnips. This week we will pass a warm savory Chestnut Soup while guests are gathering. Over the next couple of weeks I will pair chestnuts with chocolate and also probably make a dessert with chestnuts and fall fruits.
Sweat onion and garlic. Add water and chestnuts and cook until chestnuts are soft. Puree until smooth adjusting the amount of water until desired thickness is achieved. Season with sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and sage to taste.