Chestnut

Revive Slouchy, Jarred Chestnuts With Vanilla, Fennel, and a Quick Roast

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November 28, 2016

Whether you're roasting chestnuts (over an open fire) for your family, to gift this season, or just for yourself, we partnered with If You Care to share a recipe that's better bagged up, roasted, and a little savory-sweet.

Maggie Dietz’s poem “November” landed in my inbox recently (Are you signed up for the Poetry Foundation’s daily emails? Do it!) and surprised me yet again that this month—my birthday, Thanksgiving, the pitch of The Holidays growing tremulous and shrill as a tea kettle, the point where fall stops being fall and starts being winter—is here.

Nothing left but fool's gold in the trees.
Did I love it enough, the full-throttle foliage,
While it lasted? Was I dazzled? The bees

Have up and quit their last-ditch flights of forage
And gone to shiver in their winter clusters.
Field mice hit the barns, big squirrels gorge

On busted chestnuts.

Cheer up, chestnut. Photo by James Ransom

November—the only time of year chestnuts make an appearance in the States, even though they’re beloved year round elsewhere, especially in France, where crème de marrons and marrons glacés are commonplace. Here, particularly in the Northeast, chestnuts are mostly reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas stuffings. This is partially because a massive blight in the early 20th century decimated North America’s native chestnut tree population, chestnuts hence going out of style and becoming expensive; they’re also a special-occasion food because they’re a pain-in-the-you-know-what to peel.

My family’s stuffing traditions never included chestnuts, and though I met and immediately loved crème de marrons in France, I’d never cooked them at home. So, to finally experiment with them, I bought a jar of roasted, peeled ones and slid them into the oven for a second roast.

Chestnut cream is usually made with lots of sugar and vanilla, and I wanted something similar but less sweet, less puréed, more suited to serving warm in a bowl for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning (or whenever my big family got together), ready to spoon into yogurt or oatmeal or over a slice of pound cake. Steam-roasting the already-roasted turned out to be just right for this: Roasting them again revives the chestnuts from their stay in the jar, and adding water—and maple syrup, a vanilla bean, some butter, and a small handful of fennel seeds, which are earthy-sweet in the same way chestnuts are—and doing the whole business inside a parchment roasting bag or envelope helps the chestnuts soften rather than caramelize, and makes for a heck of a sauce.

Serve them warm and saucy over tangy yogurt for breakfast or with ice cream for dessert, or refrigerate them for later; do the latter and they’ll soak up that sauce and become all glazed and buttery—the better for gorging on later, with your fingers, and the fridge door open.

Whether you're roasting chestnuts (over an open fire) for your family, to gift this season, or just for yourself, we partnered with If You Care to share a recipe that's better bagged up, roasted, and a little savory-sweet.

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