Ahhh... chestnuts. They conjure up images of flickering fires in a cozy fireplace, eggnog, and stabbed, bleeding fingers. Wait, what?
Yes, folks: chestnuts are cozy and friendly-looking when they are removed from their seed pod and roasted gently over a fire or even in an oven (more on this later). But getting TO that point is easier said than done. For starters, check out these murderous seed pods, which are just begging for you to say, "I wonder how sharp that is?" The answer is: Holy hell, SO SHARP.
There are chestnuts all over the city right now, but sadly, most of them are the giant, poisonous horse chestnuts. But while out for a run, I stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove: an entire city block lined with majestic, enormous, American chestnut trees. The residents obviously wanted nothing to do with them, as most of the seed pods had been raked into giant piles on the street. Enter: urban forager girl! I picked up a seed pod to bring home and photograph in the daylight, but in order to carry it home, I had to wrap it in about 20 leaves. And it STILL poked through and stabbed me the entire run home. The things I do for you, readers.
Now that I knew where to find a bounty of chestnuts, I returned with the proper gear: heavy-duty gloves, bags, and shoes (hopefully you are wearing shoes anyway, but I'm not here to judge). Chestnuts are "ready" when they fall off the tree - so actually, it's best to gather the ones that have already fallen, assuming they haven't been pulverized by car tires. I learned a neat trick: lightly stepping on them and rolling them with your feet (hence the shoes) cracks them open, and you can gather the nuts from the pod, avoiding having to deal with the ungodly sharp points.
Now, phase two of attempting to keep your fingers: cutting. You know those cute pictures of chestnuts with neat little "x" marks cut in them, sweetly roasting on a fire, or fresh out of the oven? That's because without the "x" cut, the frickin' things EXPLODE. So before cooking, you have to make deep cuts into a hard shell of a round object, and are expected to keep your fingers through the process. Yeah. Right.
Well, HAVE NO FEAR! I have a wonderful trick to share with all of you.
Most people like to use those little "x" marks because it looks cute when you are cooking them - but really, you need to peel the chestnut while it is still super duper hot and fresh out of the oven. And then you are likely going to just eat all of them, because they are delicious, or put them into some recipe.
So unless you are hoping to get some adorbs photos, it's actually much, much easier to just... cut them in half, put them face down on a baking sheet, and cook them at 375 for about 15 minutes. Cutting them in half also makes it easier to peel when they are hot. Of course, if you are mostly concerned about presentation, feel free to use the "x" marks. Just be careful of those fingers.
So there you have it. Chestnuts roasted in conventional oven. Now you have that Christmas song stuck in your head. YOU'RE WELCOME.