Friday, 23 October 2009


We went out for a cycle ride last weekend, taking in some of the Grand Union Canal towpath.  As we were hurtling down a long hill into Berkhamsted Rob suddenly screeched to a halt.  I immediately suspected some kind of problem - most likely a flat tyre (which seemed destined to happen, as I had forgotten to bring the puncture-repair tools with me...) but thankfully there was a much more pleasant reason for stopping - Chestnuts!

And not just a few.  As you can see, the road was covered in them, many squashed to a pulp by the passing cars, but plenty still nestling within their spiky shells.

The UK is home to two kinds of chestnut tree, although confusingly they are not related to eachother.  The Horse Chestnut produces the conker, inedible to humans but much used by children for playing conkers.  The Sweet Chestnut tree was introduced into Britain by the Romans who made much use of its edible seeds.  These chestnuts are available to buy for a few months over the winter (often seen as being symbolic of Christmas - 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire', etc) but those in the shops are usually imported from countries such as Italy.  It seems that few people collect their own nowadays, although I suspect this is in part because the chestnuts you might see growing wild here are often tiny, too small to be of much use. 

These chestnuts however were a great size, the biggest I'd ever seen here, and we proceeded to fill up our rucksack-pockets with them.  Those prickly cases are vicious though, so I soon discovered that the best way to free the nuts was with my feet!

I'm not sure what the people in the passing cars thought of us...  I wonder how many people realised what we were collecting?

We had so many that I wondered how on earth we were going to use them all.  I had great plans for marrons glaces, chestnut cake, chestnut stuffing, etc, etc...

But you know, sometimes the simplest ways are the best.  We have just been roasting them on the glowing embers of the fire, eating them with nothing more than a sprinkling of salt, and drinking a glass of fine English beer while we do so.  

I love the Spring, I adore the Summer, but Autumn is pretty fantastic too!