Jones has been roasting chestnuts in Stirling’s main street for 28 years, selling cones of the hot, salty snacks to locals and visitors as an antidote to the cooler weather.
When at home, he and partner Deb Cantrill run Nirvana Organic Farm at Heathfield, where they grow organic and biodynamic chestnuts and berries. They also provide a “living” classroom for workshops and farm tours.
From their orchard of 50 chestnut trees, Jones and Cantrill produce fresh nuts, frozen chestnut meal and chestnut jam, which they sell from the farm shop on Longwood Road, Heathfield. And in Stirling, from the end of March until they run out (usually sometime in June), they sell up to 100 kilograms of hand-picked roasted chestnuts most weekends.
“Only 6 per cent of the population are familiar with chestnuts,” says Cantrill. “It’s mainly people with Greek, Italian and Asian heritage.”
Chestnuts have a nutty flavour and a texture similar to sweet potato. They are gluten-free, high in Vitamin B and low in fat.
As well as being eaten roasted as a snack, chestnuts can be used as a gluten-free starch alternative for making gnocchi, and in soups, stuffing for roasted meats, cakes and desserts. The Nirvana Organic Farm website gives instructions for roasting fresh chestnuts at home.
But Cantrill warns they are a fresh fruit product and can go off. She says for best flavour, chestnuts should be consumed while their skins look shiny and are firm and cool to touch; they should be stored in a paper bag in the fridge.
Nirvana’s frozen chestnut meal provides an alternative to cooking with fresh whole chestnuts.
“Our chestnut meal is made from par-cooked and sieved fresh chestnuts prepared ready to create either savoury or sweet dishes,” Cantrill says. “It’s a little bit like polenta – in Northern Italy the Italians use it in place of polenta.”
Jones says that in the Adelaide Hills chestnuts are well known to the locals, who either have trees of their own or buy hot roasted chestnuts as a treat.
“I’ve fed a whole generation of people and now they’re bringing their kids.
“Visitors to the markets come up and say, ‘We had these in Rome or Paris’, and older people say, ‘We lived on these during the war’.
“I have people who come regularly on Mother’s Day – there’s lots of nostalgia, it’s quite fun.”
At home, Jones and Cantrill like to make chestnut and porcini soup, mashed chestnuts with roast venison, and Brussels sprouts with chestnuts.
“We also make a chestnut, chocolate and orange paste that you can put on pancakes which is outrageous, but so delicious.”
Jones will be roasting chestnuts this weekend at the Stirling Laneways Markets, and the Nirvana Organic Farm chestnut frozen puree is available at the farm shop which is open seven days, 11am to 5pm.
“This weekend I’m going to have a bit of a practice with the locals on Saturday before being at the markets on Sunday and then I’ll come out again on Monday, but with respect to the diggers I won’t start cooking till midday,” Jones says.
Here, the pair share a recipe for chestnut, chocolate and orange cake from the Biodynamic Food & Cookbook by Wendy E Cook.
Chestnut, chocolate and orange cake
You will need two 23cm loose-bottomed cake tins, buttered and lined with baking paper.
6 large eggs
350g chestnut puree (see instructions below)
225g caster sugar
175g dark chocolate, grated
Grated zest of 1 large orange
275ml double cream, whipped
25g icing sugar
1 tbsp Grand Marnier
75g chestnut puree (see below)
175g dark chocolate
1 tbsp orange juice
50g unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 180C.
Separate the eggs, then beat the yolks and caster sugar together until thick, pale and creamy. Add the chestnut puree and grated chocolate.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the chestnut and chocolate mixture, without losing too much air, until reasonably homogenised. The chocolate will stay in flecks.
Divide into two cake tins and bake for 30 minutes. When cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool before turning out on to a serving plate.
Combine filling ingredients then sandwich the two cakes together.
Prepare icing by melting ingredients together over a double boiler. Pour evenly over the cake. Allow to cool and harden before serving.
You can make your own chestnut puree from fresh chestnuts, dried chestnuts or Nirvana Organic Farm Chestnut Meal.
If using fresh chestnuts you will need to double the quantity – ie you will need 850g of fresh chestnuts to make the 425g of puree required for this recipe. If using dried chestnuts, cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn off heat and allow to soak overnight (250g will reconstitute to approximately 700g).
If using fresh chestnuts, you will first need to peel them. Put a small cut in the bottom of each nut, then place in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. As soon as the water is bubbling briskly, remove from heat and peel off the outer shell and inner skin. (This is easier to do while the nuts are hot, so hold in a cloth. Don’t allow nuts to continue boiling or they will turn floury and be impossible to peel.)
To make chestnut puree, place peeled or soaked dried chestnuts or chestnut meal in a saucepan and cover with water, milk or stock and simmer gently. When soft, mash or put through a mouli or blend in a food processor. Add sugar or salt to taste.
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