SWEET chestnuts are everything a strawberry isn’t. Whereas the latter is all sun-warmed succulence enjoyed the instant it’s picked, only a few months from planting, sweet chestnuts might be the definition of slow food. For a year or two, they act like an ambivalent lover, offering scant encouragement by way of a few—and I do mean a few—chestnuts and it is your job to keep the faith. Unseen, long roots push deep in search of nutrients and water: eventually, this expansion is mirrored above ground, and when it is, all is quickly forgiven.
Autumn has become synonymous with sweet chestnuts for me. Their earthy, sweet nuttiness perfectly suits the short days and dropping temperatures and I love the festive cold-backs-and-warm faces palaver of cooking the first of the harvest, balanced on a cleaned shovel over a blazing fire. As an old friend often reminds me, smoke is an ingredient, and rarely do I feel it more than then. It’s also this time of year that I planted my first sweet chestnuts and am usually organizing for trees to go to those whose gardens, orchards, or batteries I have designed.
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