That old chestnut is very apt for the Sierra Aracena which on the north slopes is full of very old chestnut orchards. Some trees must be over 200 years old. For visitors November is a major attraction because the changing leaves of Autumn are a rare sight in these southern parts of Andalucia. The chestnuts, poplars and fruit trees all add to an intoxicating colour spectacle. There are coachloads of tourists and the plazas of the small white villages are full of people enjoying local food after some walks around the area or just views from a coach tour. However, the local people who historically have some land are busy with the chestnut harvest. Except it is difficult to really make this profitable and each year seems to bring a different problem.
Last year it was a raging storm called ‘ Borrasca Barbara. Due to Covid and the birth of my second granddaughter, Jessica Rose, we were not here to witness the devastation to the old trees. On our return most of the fallen branches had been converted into firewood. I am sure I would have been more upset but friends helped clear the worst of it.
This year the price of chestnuts is very low at 1 euro a kilo so this has not made it worth paying to collect and it is backbreaking to do this all myself. I managed some at the rate of 3 kilos in about 20 minutes!
Then there is the peeling to do. And there is always some advice on the best way to do this, Mine is revealed if you read on!
At Navasola we have many old chestnut trees and each tree can deliver up to 10 kg of chestnuts if there has been plenty of rain in both spring and autumn. My main tasks in November is to prepare and preserve as many chestnuts as I can for my own use. This involves the tedious task of trying to peel off the inner skin. I believe chestnuts do not intend to be eaten by humans. The wild boar and other creatures do not seem to mind and can continue foraging or inhabiting these belligerent nuts for many months. However for humans there is a procedure to follow.
First here is the outer spiny case which is referred to as a hedgehog in Spanish. Gloves and good boots are needed to get the chestnuts out of these if still in them on the ground. Am sure this makes mechanical picking impossible.
Then once picked, beware, these are fresh fruits of the earth which can be infested with a maggot or go mouldy very quickly. I think commercially they are dried but for my own use it is good to keep some in the fridge. This year I was told to then put them in the sunshine in order for the peels to come off more easily.
Ah ha, I sat in the warm sunshine about two weeks ago, not possible now as the chill has set in, and began peeling off the outer layer. Not too bad but the inner thin brown skin which is so bitter was still pretty reluctant. But it was a very meditative and pleasant sun filled serotonin inducing time. I sat for about two hours and had some beautiful whole peeled chestnuts at the end of this. About 20. A labour of love and certainly not profitable. I felt privileged to have the time to experience this but my aching hand that night rebelled. Two years previous to this (as 2020 was lost to this chestnut experience) I developed a chestnut callous on my finger from peeling.
So why do this? Well I feel the chestnuts are a good and sustainable source of protein and make good additions to stews, and chestnut rissoles. And there is this desire to pick them up all glossy and shiny. And roast them.
We hear from some friends in Tenerife that they are enjoying walking down to the plaza and having roast chestnuts and red wine. Mmmm. I must retire to a place in the sun where that is the only way I experience chestnuts.
Well, this year we have discovered the secret to removing the inner brown skin is steaming. After roasting, cover with a cloth to allow the steam to remove the thin skin more easily. Using a steamer was also much quicker than anything I have tried before. Still takes some time but easier!
And the olives this year have been amazing but very high up in the old olive trees which makes collection more difficult. But the olives and the different types and different methods for preserving must be another post.
One of our major issues post Brexit seems to be the changes to our roaming data and use of our mobile Wifi. So until we work out another system I cannot use up too much data. But soon I will catch up with you and all those wonderful photographs on so many amazing nature blogs.
With good wishes to all from Navasola for Thanksgiving time.