May 15, 2013

If ‘that old chestnut’ is used often enough, doesn’t the idiom itself become an old chestnut?

Uncooked chestnuts

Let’s make the collective noun a VENEER of chestnuts

Never mind, I’m marking autumn and the cooler weather by eating record numbers of chestnuts. I can’t resist the sweet, nutty flavour and smooth floury texture. They’re low in calories and high in Vitamin C, and the bonus is the shell’s beautiful faux wood veneer pattern.

My own ‘old chestnut’ is 24 years old and lives happily in a winter coat pocket in my wardrobe. I bought the purple coat for my father’s funeral in Italy in December 1989 and after buying hot roasted chestnuts the same day from a street vendor, I saved the last chestnut in the paper cone and put it in my pocket. It’s been there ever since. I haven’t worn the coat for many years but occasionally put my hand in the pocket just to touch the smooth chestnut.

Various Italian community groups in Australia celebrate what was once known as “poor man’s food” with harvest events, and I was pleased to see Sydney restaurateur Stefano Manfredi recently host a chestnut and wine sampling outside his Balla restaurant. He tells me he’s the Ambassador for Chestnuts Australia and conducts masterclasses at Myrtleford, NE Victoria where they’re mostly grown.

I roast them under the griller (after scoring the shell with a cross to prevent explosions) and eat them neat, but also like them in cakes and desserts especially the traditional Tuscan cake made with chestnut flour, nuts and rosemary – Castagnaccio. DO NOT under any circumstances confuse them with ‘horse chestnuts’ which are bitter, mildly poisonous and sound like something that Colonel Potter from the TV series MASH would splutter loudly.


Chestnut in all its natural glory. Was it also a Muppet character?

Let’s embrace chestnuts in Australia. Why not organise a sing-a-long next Christmas of Nat King Cole’s famous Christmas Song that begins ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire …’

Help spread the word. And don’t forget to SHARE, lest the First Witch in Macbeth (Act 1, Scene 1) takes revenge again and casts an evil spell on you.

Nigella Lawson does a great chocolate chestnut refrigerator cake   

And for chestnuts with a kick, try this: Chilli Spiced Roasted Chestnuts via Not Quite Nigella 

PS. I’ve  just discovered a delicious Mario Batali recipe for Chestnut Crepes



  1. Ooh, chestnuts … years ago I had no idea that the skins should be scored before roasting on the open fire and we had such fun with sudden explosions and bits of chestnut flying across the room. I live on the mid-north coast and as far as I know, no one here sells them.

  2. Yes, the explosions are quite a treat when you’re not expecting them. Shame you can’t get them on the mid-north coast, they’re so plentiful in Sydney these days, especially the inner-west. I suppose you could substitute with tinned chestnut puree?

  3. A 24 year old chestnut. That is amazing. My father was a great fan of castagnaccio though when I tried to make it for him, I only had half the amount of chestnut flour required so I added plain flour – it was a spectacular soggy mess. I have a couple of kilos of the right flour now so might try it – though dad is no longer here to taste it. Do you make anything with chestnut flour? I am not a fan of actual chestnuts but think the flour has potential (eg. Pasta made with chestnut flour and mushrooms)

  4. I never liked chestnuts as a child, but as a grown up I finally discovered the wonderful flavor of chestnuts. I’m always looking for new recipes for them, so I appreciate all the ideas.

    • Thanks for your comments. I think that most people only start appreciating chestnuts when they’re older as they’re a complex flavour and texture sensation. Hope you enjoy making the recipes. I can particularly recommend the chilli chestnuts.

  5. Great to hear you love chestnuts…we do too. We have a stand of 8 chestnut trees that were planted in a row in circa 1867. You can look at our website, Growlers Creek Grove to see photos, worth a look.

    • Checked out your site Deanne, it looks wonderful. I’m not familiar with that part of Victoria but hope to go there one day.

  6. This is a gorgeous story Ambra. I am sorry for your father’s passing but think keeping that chestnut is monumental. I too had to learn the hard way about scoring the chestnuts before ‘firing’ them and when available, they are a huge treat.

    • Thanks Merryn. I just can’t bear to throw that chestnut away: it reminds me of cold, crisp Italian winters. And yes, they’re a real treat, especially the aroma when they’re roasting.

  7. […] food/films/families and more « THAT OLD CHESTNUT […]

  8. […] My blogger friend Ambra, a Triestina, in her blog The Good, the Bad and the Italian writes about a chestnut she carried in her coat pocket for 24 years. Clearly we Northeners a have a thing for chestnuts. Roasting them is easy – over an open […]

  9. Yum!

    • It’s easy to make and very filling – everything I like in a cake.

  10. […] My blogger friend Ambra, a Triestina, in her blog The Good, the Bad and the Italian writes about a chestnut she carried in her coat pocket for 24 years. Clearly we Northeners a have a thing for chestnuts. Roasting them is easy – over an open […]

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