Glossy brown chestnuts peeping from a little sack what fascinating ideas they conjure up for the enterprising cook.
If you have never made a dish of curried egg and chestnuts, or tried chestnuts in mayonnaise, or eaten chestnut tart with chocolate frosting, or tasted chestnut soup, you have some treats in store.
To prepare the chestnuts, use your vegetable knife or kitchen scissors to snip a tiny bit off the pointed end of each nut. Then drop the nuts into fast-boiling water and boil 10 minutes exactly.
Lift one out with a spoon. Hold the scalding nut with a cloth and gently widen the top slit at either side with the point of a knife. You should then be able to peel off the blown “coat” and then the papery skin without much trouble.
If the test is right, remove pan from heat, but let the nuts remain in the hot water till the last one is peeled.
Throw away the water. If to be used in a soup of pastry, the nuts may require a little longer cooking so that they will pass easily through a wire sieve.
Just drop them into boiling water with a little salt and sugar added. Simmer 5-10 minutes. Then drain and press through your soup sieve.
The two most important points in chestnut cookery are velvet-smooth sieving and an intelligent use of flavoring. The chestnut “meal” itself is neutral in taste.
One word of warning! Use sieved chestnuts the day you prepare them. The feathery “meal” is moist and can mold very rapidly if it is not used.
No extra cooking of the nut should be necessary for this delicious dish, as they will simmer for a short time with the other ingredients.
Allow five or six nuts for each person (1 lb of nice-sized cuts will give approx 50). Gently break the cooked nuts in halves. Don’t worry if some divide up or crumble a little. Hard boil the required number of eggs (1½ for each person).
Make a beautifully smooth curry sauce by melting two level tablespoons butter, mixing in two level tablespoons flour and adding a breakfast cup milk (half at a time). Stir constantly till thickening.
Remove from heat and beat in one level teaspoon of curry powder, mixed with a little extra milk. When smooth again, stand the pan in gently boiling water. Add the nuts and eggs and blend all together. Leave to simmer 10 minutes. Serve with a border of green peas or finely chopped parsley.
This quantity of sauce is enough for two or three servings. Double quantity for four or five.
Prepare nuts as usual. If too firm to eat with pleasure (test one), simmer five to seven minutes longer in salted, sweetened water. Drain.
Take any left-over poultry (or rabbit or venal) and cube it. To each cup of meat allow ½ cup of chestnuts cut in quarters, one cup diced or shred celery and one chopped, hard-boiled egg. Blend with enough mayonnaise dressing to give a creamy consistency.
Pile in lettuce leaves. Garnish with chopped olives or slices of sweet pickled gherkin.
Take ½ lb chestnuts. Boil, skin and simmer until tender enough to sieve to a feathery texture. Now make a short crust pastry lining for a 9-inch tart plate.
Sieve 4 oz plain flour with 2 oz self-raising flour. Cut or rub in 3½ to 4 oz margarine. Sprinkle in just enough cold water, a tablespoon at a time, to produce a nice, non-sticky paste, which will leave the bowl clean.
Dust with flour and roll out at least 1 inch larger than the tart plate. Grease plate, lift paste into position. Don’t stretch. Pat into place and trim paste right up to rim of plate. Damp rim of paste.
Take the surplus strip and twist in a ribbon. Lay around damped rim and press down with a skewer between each twist. This makes a very pretty edge. Slip plate into ice chest while the filling is mixed.
Cream 2 oz margarine with 4 oz light brown sugar. Beat in 2 egg yolks adding a slightly rounded tablespoon of self-raising flour mixed with ½ teaspoon each of powdered cinnamon and mixed spice.
Beat smooth, and then stir in your sieved chestnuts, adding ½ teaspoon lemon essence and dessertspoon of sherry or rum. (If wine is not liked use vanilla essence and black coffee.)
Last of all, blend in the stiffly whisked egg whites. The texture should be like a creamy thick cake mixture. Spread in the chilled tart case.
Put into a hot oven and when pastry is set and palely tinted (15 minutes), reduce heat or lift tart to lower level. It will take about 30 minutes longer to cook and brown the center filling.
Cool. Frost center with chocolate icing or chocolate fudge. Use as cake or pudding. This tart will cut into eight large slices or 15 afternoon tea fingers.
You will probably have enough pastry over from bits-and-pieces to roll out thinly, and cut into six little tartlet cases to bake on inverted patty tins.
Boil, peel and skin nuts. Don’t re-cook as you want them to remain whole. Make a syrup with a cup sugar to each half cup water. Stir till sugar is dissolved.
Boil one minute. Drop in nuts. Simmer slowly till glossy and semi-transparent. Lift on perforated spoon. Drain over pan. Lay on a dish covered with a thick layer of granulated sugar. Turn in sugar till well coated. Place on wire rack till absolutely dry.
Always make enough syrup to cover nuts when dropped into pan. Save surplus syrup for using with stewed fruit. This is a simple version of the elaborate French sweetmeat which has a fondant coating.
If you are making chestnut soup, 12 chestnuts cooked and sieved are enough to flavor one pint of soup. If the peeled nuts are simmered in equal parts of milk and water with a dessertspoon of shredded onion for 10 minutes you will have a nice base.
Sieve nuts. Return to liquid with a dessertspoon of butter and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Thicken wits discretion, as the chestnut “meal” is a natural thickening, and a too thick chestnut soup is distasteful.
A level dessertspoon of plain flour mixed to a thin cream with cold water is generally enough to a pint of the chestnut puree. Simmer 10 minutes over hot water. This gives time for the chestnut meal to play its part.