There is one story. Of the made-up kind. The one I started to tell you – more than – a couple of weeks ago. And really, some of it is true.
It was a perfect autumn day. The first we’d had this year. That morning, I woke up early and made breakfast. As I was waiting for the kettle to boil – ground coffee in the french press, eggs boiling without a timer, the pink jumper that never leaves me these days – I thought about the chestnuts one of my friends found in Greenwich park earlier that week.
We had breakfast in bed. With our coffee cups not-so-safely resting on a book, and perhaps, a few English muffin crumbs in the duvet.
And as K. left for work. I packed a not-so-neatly folded plastic bag in my purse. Warm boots. And wind-induced pink cheeks. Rode a driverless train. And before I knew it, I was gazing methodically up and down.
Up for leaves I would recognise. Down for almost-fluo green spiky balls.
I found a tree. And by any means, I think the squirrels found it first. And the worms too. A few chestnuts playing hide and seek in the grass. In the mud too.
But then, I spotted this trail of fallen treasures. And followed it.
A few hours later – hours made of this magical feel that only gathering can bring – the wrinkly plastic bag was then full with chestnuts. And I very well knew I would be making jam as soon as I got back home.
But the truth is that I now remember why I only make it every five years or so.
It’s a wonderland. Until you come home with that plastic-bag-full of chestnuts.
Yes, this is the other part of the story. The one that people-who-make-chestnut-jam never really tell you about.
The one in which you stand by the stove for hours. The one in which you burn your fingers and make your sink messy with chestnut skins. The one in which you pour the thick jam into glass jars that are too hot to touch.
But well, I can’t blame everyone else. Because once you get past the ultimate patience test and land three jar-ful of jam. You’ll be happy.
And forget about it all. Until the next time.
Confiture de châtaignes
As I’ve just told you, making chesnut jam is messy. But damn, it’s amazing during those cold months, when nothing else but crêpes layered with it and a fat dollop of vanilla ice-cream will do.
If your chestnuts are anything like mine – home of little worms – a quick way to find out the intruders is to plunge the chestnuts in cold water. Any that floats is either empty or wormy (is that even a word?).
When it comes to cooking the jam, the amount of water you add needs to be enough to cook the chestnuts through. I don’t have a standard amount, and since you’ll be reducing the jam to 104°C, it doesn’t really matter as you’ll always be left with the same water content when you reach that teperature, regardless of whether 1 or 2L of water have been added (only the cooking time will be different – the more water, the longer).
Confiture de châtaignes
makes 3 x 300g jars
1 kg chestnuts, with the skin on
Start by scoring the chestnuts using a small knife. Then place under running cold water. Discard all the ones that float and place the rest in a large pan of boiling water. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat, and peel the hot chestnuts one by one.
750 g peeled chestnuts
3 vanilla pods
550 g granulated sugar
Place the peeled chestnuts in a large pan, along with the seeds from 3 vanilla pods. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and simmer for 30 minutes or until the chestnuts are soft. Add the caster sugar and handblend until smooth.
Cook this paste over low heat until it reaches 104°C.
Pour into sterilised jars and screw the lids back on. Turn the jars upside-down and allow to cool down completely before refrigerating.
What are your favourite recipes to make with chestnut jam? I was thinking of making a loak cake, replacing half the sugar by the chestnut jam. More to follow… In the meantime, dearest chestnuts, see you in five years ;)