From The Forest
Roasted on the fire or my favourite, a savoury puree that is perfect
with a filet mignon of pork or confit de canard, the chestnuts are
the result of our efforts gathering the windfalls after the tramontane
has shaken the châtaigners (they usually open on the tree and only
fall when ripe). There are many methods to preserve them – we are novices
and used a recommended system involving nine days in water, refreshing
the water each day and then drying the chestnuts on large tables in
the sun – in theory any worms are drowned.
‘Marrons’ are the largest, found in the centre of the open casing,
plumper and rounder than any other segments. As our chestnuts are wild
(marrons are cultivated) they are different, and the larger chestnuts
that resemble marrons have extra folds of inner skin to remove. The best
results have been from peeling and freezing – worthwhile labour for
the puree. Confiture de Marrons is a compliment to Nutella on the
baguette ‘tradition’ which is now my daily breakfast – I reduced the
sugar in the recipe and added a pod of vanilla.
Confiture de Marrons
2 kilos of large chestnuts, 1.5 kilos of sugar, a vanilla pod
Make a circular incision around each chestnut and place in boiling
water for 4-5 minutes. Take out one at a time and peel the outer and
inner layers of skin (when cool the inner skin is difficult to remove).
When peeled, place in a basin with 1/2 litre of warm water. Cover and
cook on a gentle heat without stirring. When tender, puree with a moulin
à légumes. Place puree in the pot with the open vanilla pod (scrape out
seeds and mix in), cover and leave to infuse.
Melt sugar with 30ml of water and mix the syrup with the chestnut puree.
Cook for around 30 minutes, continuously stirring until smooth and
‘well bound together or sticky’ (bien lisse and collant). Remove vanilla
pod and ladle into sterilised jars.
Conservation: 3 months (I kept it in the fridge, once open it is best
to consume faitly quickly) or longer with larger sterilised pots: 15 mins
sterilisation for a 1/2 litre; 25 mins 1 litre.
Note: on the first attempt I used 500g chestnuts, and reduced the sugar
to 150g – with this recipe I thought the ratio was far too much as I reduce
the sugar for all jams, but it changes the consistency and temperature,
so modify depending on your own preference. I found that much more
water was needed for the initial puree, and I needed to stir. The water
for the sugar syrup was adjusted for the smaller quantity. Depending on
how well the chestnuts are peeled, sometimes there are little pieces of
the inner skin that are inside folds and float when boiled, I remove them
as they appear, or check inside for them, so the chestnuts are completely
clean. I used a ‘stick blender’to make the puree. 500g of chestnuts made
2.5 Bonne Maman jars, 370g vol each.
In The Garden
The quinces didn’t really ripen before they started to fall, so I kept
them in the kitchen in the hope they would. The first recipe I tried
was quince paste (pâte de coing or ‘membrillo’), drying it in the hot
sun for three days and then turning it over, and finishing it in a
moderate oven. After a holiday with Frédéric’s family, we returned
with an abundance of giant quinces and selection of recipes, and
started cooking in earnest – preserving them in white wine and wild
thyme, making batches of paste to wrap and store, and experimenting
Liquer de Coings (Quince Liquor)
Eau de vie (or equivalent 45% proof alcohol)
Cinnamon stick, cloves, sugar (quantities depend on the
amount liquid obtained from the grated fruit)
Wash and coarsely grate the quinces into a basin. Cover with a tea towel
and leave in the fridge for 3 days.
After 3 days, place a muslin cloth (mousseline) in a sieve over a large
bowl and strain the grated quinces and juice, squeezing the fruit pulp
gently in the muslin to extract liquid.
Weigh the juice and add the same measure in alcohol. Place in a
large bottle (I used a glass ‘bonbon’ but you can use wine bottles)
with a small piece of cinnamon stick, 1-2 cloves, and 300g of sugar
for every litre of juice. Seal with a cork covered in muslin.
Leave to macerate 2-3 months.
Over summer we developed a system of communicating between the forest
and home – a couple of toots on the car horn signaled ‘à table’
(meaning lunch was ready) and Frédéric would then sound his cow horn
from deep in the forest in response. I sewed together a Robin Hood style
leather sling so he could wear the horn, adding feathers found here
– mainly from our blue jays (geai bleu).
Exploring Another Region
We had our holiday well after the peak season, enjoying the autumn
colours in the Loire valley and La Vienne.