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.
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.
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.
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.
When to harvest chestnuts
Autumn is the season for chestnuts! And chestnuts are ready for harvesting when they have dropped to the ground.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
What to do with the spent burrs?
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.
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.