I really love sweet chestnuts. Seasonal, run-up-to-christmas, eat-with-game, things-that-help-make-sprouts-bearable, isn’t-it-brilliant-when-you-find-a-tree-of-them-in-a-park-(though-really-infrequent-in-a-country-with-few-hedgerows), lovely chestnuts. I like to find them in the wild for all to take advantage of, I like to cook with them, I like to thicken soups with them, I have never eaten them in marron glacé form, but I expect they are also lovely.
I haven’t found any in any great quantity while foraging over here. You might be much luckier than I am, or just get them at your local market. I bought some very cheap ones, but the reason why they were so cheap was that they were a little past their best, and a number contained insect larvae (probably moths), which is the same as if I had foraged them anyway! I had to go and get some slightly less cheap ones from my local greengrocer’s. Still, it was nice to watch the jays pick through the discarded ones this morning, as I made the jam.
Serve peeled chestnuts at a party, and people think that you have gone to a lot of trouble for them. And the fact is, they would be right too. I always go into it thinking that it will be a quick job, and always forget how fiddly the damn things are.
Today, I spent a good few hours peeling chestnuts. I suspect this is because I am a little bit too anally retentive about removing the skin from all the folds of the nut. I also spent a considerable time online trying to find ways to speed up the process. I did come across this video from the people at badgerset. I think this method has a lot of potential, but it will take practice to recognise how long is enough boiling time. For the record, I found that my chestnuts needed much longer in the boiling water to allow the skin to detach. I guess I need more practice. And possibly a decent pair of pliers. One brilliant thing about this method, is that you get to see the ones that have insect larvae in before you eat them.
After I had done all that peeling, I made Melissa’s Chestnut Jam, from the River Cottage Preserves book, by Pam Corbin. I have had my eye on this jam for a little while, not least because Pam recommends them to be eaten with meringue. I usually have a glut of egg whites around, due to my fondness for egg-based sauces and real custard (As a Brit who loves her puddings, vla does not really cut it for me). We are having are christmas minced pie and mulled wine party soon, so I will make the meringues for these, and I will serve them with this jam. I also gave a jar to my friend, for her recent birthday. She has been hankering for egg-free chocolate mousse for a little while, so I hope this jam will be a fitting accompaniment for the one that I made her.
A few things to note about this jam. Firstly, do not try to blend too many chestnuts at a time – they quickly clog up the food processor, and take quite a lot of mixing in to avoid lumps. I didn’t manage it. It would probably be easier to blend them all together at once, with a little cooking liquor, in a bowl, using a stick blender. I am a little gadget-averse, and won’t buy one on the grounds that I have a food processor, so why have two things to do the same job? Seems my tight attitude has not paid off in this case. I also used to whip meringues by hand, until one time I broke my collarbone, so had to ask the Big Guy to whip them for a party we had. The next day, he came home with an electric whisk, saying that it would have saved him a couple of hours of his life, that he will never see again.
The chestnuts and the cooking liquor form quite a thick paste. Being much more used to fruit jams, I was very worried that this would not be liquid enough to form a jam. I was wrong, when it is added to the sugar syrup, it quickly liquefies. Do not be tempted to add more than the recommended 100 ml of the cooking liquor to the chestnuts when blending them.
My top tip for this jam is not to cook it if you have children or animals in the vicinity. Pam mentions that it sputters, but not how much, and it is very, very sticky. I have spent ages trying to remove it from the splashback, random bits of kitchen work top and my utensils pot. I also recommend wearing a long-sleeved top when you cook this. Those little splashes hurt.
The jam also sets quite quickly off the heat, so probably keep it on the lowest simmer when you fill the jars, so that the rest remains liquid enough to pour into the rest of them.
It is very nice, and not too sweet, although I think I will up the amount of brandy in the next batch I try. So, try it with meringues, chocolate mousse, or even on toast with some chocolate spread, if you are feeling lazy.