October is the perfect time to head to your local woods and find a bounty of sweet chestnuts to enjoy both alone, or within sweet and savoury dishes. They really are very versatile and quite easy to prepare. Don't assume that foraging is just for the experienced person, all it means is searching for and using what nature has provided for us to eat. I suspect you've done it with blackberries before if nothing else!
Collecting your Sweet Chestnuts
The first thing you need to do is identify your sweet chestnut tree. You don't want to be trying to cook and eat conkers (the fruit of the horse chestnut) as they are mildly poisonous. You tend to find that conkers fall a bit earlier from the end of August through September and then sweet chestnuts fall more like the end of September and through to early November. Of course, this depends on the temperatures/ weather for that year.
The main difference between the trees is the casing that the tree fruit is held within. On the sweet chestnut, you are looking for very prickly cases. they will be green on the tree and will go brown on the floor, but they are super sharp to the touch, like a little sea urchin. Quite different to the outer shell of the conker, which has much smaller prickles, more like little rose bush thorns on it.
Storing Sweet Chestnuts
Preparing Sweet Chestnuts
As mentioned earlier, you can also boil the chestnuts and if you are making a puree or want a more mashed consistency then this is an easy option. Place the chestnuts in a large pan of boiling water and cook them for 30-35 minutes. You can then either try to peel them or chop them in half and scoop the middle out. This is great for making chestnut puree or adding it to a soup or sauce.