“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” I’ve always pictured a couple – seen from the back – sitting on the floor gazing into the fire. They have their chestnuts sort of setting on the hearth, near the flames, maybe just inside the fireplace…and they wait for the nuts to pop open from the heat. And then the guy reaches over and pulls one of them out. They laugh merrily as he waves his hand around. “They’re a little hot,’ he warns, holding the fragrant chestnut meat invitingly toward her…
This was not the scene that played out in our house last night.
I was so excited to finally see chestnuts for sale. I had looked all over for them last summer, when I was making several Italian meals that called for chestnuts. “They are a seasonal item,” the produce man told me.
So finally, ‘tis the season! I saw them for $4.75 a pound and promptly bought two pounds. I wanted to have plenty to last all year for those Italian recipes, and John and I had become obsessed with the idea of bringing Mel Torme and Bob Wells’ song to life right in our own home!
So how do you roast a chestnut? I looked at several sites on the internet and found all kinds of – often conflicting – instructions. Most people roast them in the oven or on the barbecue grill.
Combining bits of information from here and there, we came up with our plan.
To begin with, the nuts need to really be above the coals to roast. Not on the hearth near the flames. In fact the flames should be pretty much gone while the coals need to be very hot. So while we were waiting for our nice roaring fire to die down, we came up with the idea of using an 18” pizza screen, and sort of setting it across the metal basket that holds the burning logs in the fireplace.
You are supposed to cut an “X” in the top of each chestnut. Which is not easy. The shells are hard and the slippery. I even discovered that there are special knives for cutting that “X”
My X’s were more like little slit holes.
It takes 20-30 minutes for the nuts to roast. Or 15-20 – depending on which instructions you follow. And probably on how big the chestnuts are, and how hot the coals are.
And you are supposed to move them around so they won’t burn. Sure.
I have to say they smelled wonderful about 10 minutes into the process! The shells were burned on the bottom, but they hadn’t popped open so we turned them over and let them go a little longer.
Finally we figured they had to be done. Once again, the scenario didn’t match the one in my mind. The guy had to carefully pull the pizza pan from above the coals, being careful not to dump the nuts into the fire. Balancing it in his oven-mittened hand he carried it to the kitchen and plunked it down on the counter. You have to open them while they are still hot or it will be hard to get the shells off. So the man and woman worked together, both of them waving their hands around… “Hot, hot, hot!”
Most of the nuts were too hard to bite into. John said he is certain that song was really written by a dentist.
But one or two were perfect!
So here I am, still with about two pounds of chestnuts. ($4.75 a pound) Undaunted, I will try again, but the next time it will be in the oven in this cute little chestnut roaster I found at a yard sale.
“And so I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from 1 to 92. Although it’s been said many times, many ways Merry Christmas to you!”