You don't have to wait for Christmas if you fancy chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Lia Leendertz shares her recipe for roasted chestnuts as well as a bit about the history of these festive treats
Despite their comfortable presence in the landscape, chestnuts are native to the Mediterranean and north Africa, and were only brought to the UK by the Romans. So happily have they adapted to our conditions though that they are now regarded as ‘honorary natives’.
Although many have naturalised and can be found growing in woodlands and copses, they were beloved of the aristocracy of the 18th and 19th centuries and were widely planted in parkland, and this is where we should set off now to find the biggest and most productive trees from which to forage.
Don’t get them mixed up with horse chestnuts (conkers), which are really not so nice to eat, roasted or otherwise. Sweet chestnuts have cases with long, bristly prickles, whereas those of horse chestnuts are smoother with short spines.
Chestnuts roasted on an open fire, perfectly softened and with a light charring at the edges are delicious, but this is surprisingly tricky to perfect. My chosen method is to cheat and start them off in the oven to ensure that they are well cooked through, before finishing them off with a spell on the fire.
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Use a small sharp knife to make a cross in the skin of the curved side of each chestnut, leaving one or two untouched.
Place them in a baking tray, cover tightly with foil, and bake for about 30 minutes or until you hear one of the uncut ones pop. Then wrap them in a few layers of foil and pop them onto the embers of a fire for fire minutes, before eating them hot and freshly peeled with butter and a pinch of salt.
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