Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Nausea Nipping at Your Belly

by | Oct 13, 2008 | Food | 9 comments

Dave has been an adventurous eater for as long as I’ve known him. He’s eaten rattlesnake and goat, and has gotten sick from something or other over the years (oysters and other questionable fish, and once from something called “The Wurst Sandwich” which he really should have known better about). I love eating, but tend to avoid things that look like they might flatten me for several hours.

Henry and a neighbor boy have been gathering chestnuts from a tree around the corner for days now, and we keep saying we’re going to roast them. It sounded so cozy, roasting the chestnuts, having soft hot chestnuts and some spiced cider, and everything will be all happy and autumnal. We roasted them in the oven, and everyone was playing outside when I came in to check on them. They seemed soft. I cracked one open and tasted it. It tasted really, really bad. Incredibly bitter. Dave came in and tasted one. “The one I ate tasted awful,” I said. “Yeah, this is pretty bad,” Dave agreed. Then I read the part in Joy of Cooking that said something about how Joy recipes use the edible chestnuts, and not the poisonous ones used “in ornamental allees.” What’s an ornamental allee? Is it the tree around our house? Or just some complicated buffet table centerpiece? And How to Cook Everything said something about how you can’t get American chestnuts anymore and they all come from Europe. What had we eaten?? Of course I immediately started to feel sick. Dave (not too generously, I thought) assured me it was all in my head. What if these false chestnuts were really some form of hazelnuts (I have a mild hazelnut allergy, but maybe it was going to explode outward, triggered by these scavenged nuts)?

I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling pretty awful. Dave felt fine, but then, he’s armored his stomach from previous food experiences, and something like a little poison nut doesn’t affect him anymore. And maybe there is a wee possibility that it was all in my head. I did feel gross, though. Lesson learned: I am not a squirrel.

Postscript: The roasted chestnut recipe in Joy of Cooking is in the smorgasbord section, and now I’m kind of obsessed with having a smorgasbord. Dark bread, cheese, butter, herring, deviled eggs…it sounds like the best meal I’ve never had. “Let’s go to Sweden!” I told Dave. He said, “Maybe we should just make a smorgasbord at home.” Oh, yeah, that probably makes more sense.


  1. Clog

    This is “Clog leave a comment” day. Once we went to visit that friend of your father’s who made huge amounts of money being a voice over. I don’t remember his name. It was an autumnal afternoon and they had a spread of dark bread, different cheeses, pate, herring etc. and this wonderful cold beer. Why I still remember this meal I don’t know. I think the food so perfectly fit the setting.

  2. Christina

    I have had chesnuts in Europe- they smell so good roasting on those old fashioned carts they have there in Christmas markets and they look really good- and you think “oh these are going to be so tasty” and then- yuck. Like a pasty bitter macadamia nut. When the boys were showing us those chesnuts around your house when we were there (and putting them under our car tires in order to crack open the shell) those looked like the same ones I had in Europe- so I think you had the edible type.

  3. admin

    Yes, it definitely tasted like a pasty bitter macadamia nut. And it was sort of like picking crabs: you got 1/8 teaspoon of chestnut for the five minutes of peeling and picking.

    Clog: I am definitely doing smorgasbord dinner sometime this week. I can’t wait. It sounds just right for mid-October.

  4. Beth

    My in-laws are from Italy and they love Chestnuts. I can’t figure out why–they taste like mortar. (Not that I’ve tasted mortar. Well, not recently.) They also eat these beans called Lupini (lupine?) which I hated at first but have started to like.

  5. admin

    The IDEA of chestnuts is certainly nice. But there are certainly other things we could roast that would smell good and also taste good. Or you could just go down to Standard Baking and get a pumpkin scone.

    Now that I’ve gotten over my shock that Anne linked to a recipe with capers in it (I’m picturing the printed-out version, with a notation from Anne that circles the capers and says, “OPTIONAL! OPTIONAL!”), that sounds great. I think I’m going to do something like that, but not assembled, so it will still be kid friendly.

  6. Sarah

    Yesterday I actually used the word smorgasbord when talking with Jaya. He was like “SMORGasBORD!!!!” He thought it was the funniest word ever.

  7. admin

    Yeah, that’s because it IS the funniest word ever, or at least a strong contender, right up there with “tiddlywinks” and “mumbledy peg.”

  8. Sarah

    It sounds totally yummy to me now too. I am going to IKEA on the 26th, maybe I will do some smorgasbord marketing. Although since it does not include A) rice B) anything spicy I will probably be smorgasbording alone.


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