A change in the weather in late October is that time of the year you’ll find Chestnuts forest with the floor covered with nut shells waiting for picking. You do not pick chestnuts from the tree, only off the ground. In fact they are only ripe after they have fallen. So “picking” entails searching around on the ground rather than climbing ladders and reaching into high branches. Not an easy task!

The outermost layer of a chestnut is a prickly shell, almost like a hard, spikey sea urchin. Inside that layer you’ll find the shiny, brown chestnuts we’re all more used to seeing. Because of the prickly outer layer, sturdy gloves are a must. Luckily that prickly covering splits after the nut falls so harvesting the nut is not too perilous if you have hand protection. The key word of advice from the experts: go for the big ones. When you consider the effort to prepare chestnuts (blanching, roasting, shelling), the little ones hardly seem worth the effort. Also look for chestnuts that are firm, shiny and feel heavy for their size.

Once picked and ready for eating, slit the chestnut’s hard, shiny shell with an “x” (to provide a way for steam to escape and make peeling easier), roast for 20 minutes at 200 degrees or roast them over fire, wrap in a towel for 5 minutes, it makes sliding off the skins easier. Sounds simple, right? There are four DOPs (Denominaҫões de Origem Protegida) for chestnuts in Portugal: Castanha da Terra Fria, Castanha dos Soutos da Lapa, Castanha da Padrela and Castanha da Marvão. Ready to try some?

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Sérgio Mendes