â€œChestnuts roasting on an open fireâ€¦â€ is one of my all-time favorite lines in a Christmas carol or any song for that matter. As the Christmas season draws near, I play that classic and it never fails to put me in the mood. I have roasted chestnuts on an open fire several times and it isnâ€™t as romantic as it sounds! There is actually a specialized contraption that is used to enclose the chestnuts while you put them over the flames in your fireplace. Why, you may wonderâ€¦ itâ€™s because the bloody nuts heat up and often explode like firecrackers if they are not restrained! Nevertheless, the whole process screams â€œholidays are hereâ€ so I donâ€™t mind the potential hot and fast trajectory of a wayward chestnutâ€¦
My Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson states that there are different species of chestnuts around the world, where they thrive in temperate zones. The larger European chestnut (Castanea sativa) originated from Western Asia though it thrives in Southern Europe in Spain, France and Italy. These are the nuts they make into that sinfully sweet and rich delicacy Marrons Glaces (sugared chestnuts). Chinese chestnuts (Castanea mollissima) are the ones we see most often here in Manila and they are generally smaller but have great flavor and we know them best as roasted and sold still hot. Chestnuts have a tremendous number of uses in several forms, dried and pulverized into flour, used as stuffing in fowl, as desserts, in nut pastes, etc. But most of us in the Philippines simply remember the distinct fragrance that emanates from the supermarket or canto chestnut vendor as Christmas draws nearer and we usually cannot resist at least ONE small paper bag filled with Â½ a kilo or so of hot chestnutsâ€¦ then we begin the internal expletives when the chestnuts prove tough to peel, the skins stick to the insides, we use a particularly well-shaped tooth to make â€œkit-kitâ€ the meat stuck in the shells, we donâ€™t know where to discard the messy shells, etc. Donâ€™t you just love them???