Autumn is deepening here on the Adelaide Plains and night-time temperatures have fallen to around 10 degrees C. Loud bangs outside in the darkness signal yet more chestnuts falling onto the shed roof and bouncing onto the driveway from the magnificent Italian chestnut tree that overhangs our fence. Come morning, we roll these prickly ‘tennis-balls’ underfoot to release the chestnuts without getting spiked, and the chestnuts quietly build-up in the cook’s pockets and so find their way to the dish on the sink.
It’s the gardener’s job during the colder months to keep the home fire burning, bring up kindling and mallee logs, light and maintain the fire in the centre of our home, and to take out the ash.
But it’s not all work; a dozen chestnuts wrapped in silver-foil and dropped into the glowing ash of the fireplace make a hot TV snack better than any bar of chocolate. Peeling off the inner and outer skins of knife-scarred boiled chestnuts is another fireside job; these will be frozen and used in dips and soups as winter moves on.
Boiled chestnuts also make a tasty addition to a dish of thinly shredded raw red cabbage, honey, salt and grated Granny Smith apple that is let stand overnight. The next day the cook fries onion, cloves, juniper berries and bay leaves together, then adds the red cabbage and meat stock before simmering gently until tender. Only when this is all done are the boiled chestnuts added.