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Chestnuts exploding over an open fire / veganmofo 2009

Posted Oct 19 2009 10:01pm

My mother was a pretty straightforward cook, and our dinners were usually meat, potato, salad when my father was home, and chicken, potato, salad when he wasn't. There was an occasional foray into frozen green beans or canned peas, but she didn't experiment much. For every holiday, we knew the menu. I can remember the few times she experimented with new recipes; for example, there was the flounder baked in sour cream, the schnecken, and the roasted chestnuts...

I was about 14 the first time my mother made roasted chestnuts. She made them in a covered pan on the stove. We were pretty excited as this was something we'd never had before. There was a nice toasty smell, and then suddenly there was the sound of gunfire, or firecrackers. The lid flew off the pot, and sharp, hot objects began catapulting around the room. We started shrieking and ducking for cover under the kitchen table. We soon realized the chestnuts were exploding, and stopped yelling, but all hell was breaking loose, and we were powerless to leave our shelter. The shrieks turned to gales of laughter as we waited for the disaster to end. All of the chestnuts had exploded into a zillion pieces and the kitchen was covered with debris. We were practically paralyzed with hysterical laughter as we tried to undo the damage. My mother checked the recipe and found she'd skipped the part about cutting an x into each chestnut to allow the steam to escape. Oh well.

Before we moved here and rented the house we're living in, I don't think I'd ever seen a chestnut tree. Here, I noticed trees with odd, prickly green fruit and wondered what they were — some kind of nut tree? All of a sudden, the tree at our house dropped its fruits, and chestnuts were lying all over the sidewalk and street. The minute I saw this nutty display, I ran for bowls and started collecting. But wait a minute ... are these really chestnuts? After a bit of Internet research I've learned that what we have covering the street and sidewalk are HORSE CHESTNUTS, and they are POISONOUS. Figures. The question here is why do people plant poisonous horse chestnut trees when they can have sweet, edible chestnuts instead? Why, why, why?

Here's what a sweet chestnut pod looks like.

This is a horse chestnut pod.

Sweet chestnut pods are covered in long, thick spines that go every which way. The spines are so thick the pod skin can't be seen. Horse chestnut pods have much fewer, shorter spines. I collected the sweet chestnut pod on a walk. If I could just remember where...

Horse chestnuts


Today is my birthday and we plan to try out a new (to us) restaurant tonight. The restaurant I really want to go to is closed on Mondays. Sometimes we get caught in a restaurant rut and go back to the same places again and again, so I'm willing myself to try someplace different tonight. With so many options available to us, it's the fun and adventurous thing to do. Right?
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