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.