I mean I really, really want to do a little bit of nature writing. It's just that it's winter and everything is gray out there right now--the sky, the bare trees, even the dirt is gray. (Well, the dirt is gray because I keep scattering ashes from our woodstove on it, because did you know wood ashes are packed with plant nutrients? That's why slash-and-burn works so well despite being such a lousy thing to do to the rainforest. But anyway.) Actually it was warm enough to take my little guy out today; he pretended to be a bear and walked along logs. I know that's not really a good sign. (The weather, not the bear thing.) I told him the other day the world was getting warmer, and immediately felt like a character in the kind of book that ends with the character wistfully remembering what it was like back when we still had plants. (Little guy wasn't impressed though. He's three. As far as he's concerned last winter was the Ice Age.)
Anyway, since it's winter, I'm going to share a recipe instead. This is how I stay connected to the earth & the garden in the winter, and actually it's no small thing. I think cooking from scratch is the first step to saving the earth and a bigger step than people think, and if you do it or are learning it, kudos, because modernity doesn't make it easy. And then cooking from the root cellar, from the pantry, from the freezer; I've been learning this since I moved to the country and started living, to a certain extent, off the land. An art that we're losing, the art that since the time of the caves has made traditional women and other cooks so necessary to their people's survival, the art of saying "What has nature/God provided, and how do we make it into food?" Because you don't place orders, with nature or with God. Probably you've noticed. You get what you get.
What I'm trying to say is, I have chestnuts. A LOT of chestnuts. Why's a long story beginning with someone planting about ten chestnut trees, but anyway, they are here. And I have to figure out what to do with them.
So I looked up something from my childhood: crème de marrons. It means chestnut cream. If you're American you might want to think of it as chestnut butter, like apple butter only browner. And sweeter. It's a traditional local product in south central France where I grew up--a traditional kid food, actually. And turns out my little guy loves it too.
So here's the recipe, for fun, or, you know, in case you have a ton of chestnuts too. Because that's likely.
Crème de Marrons
2 lbs unpeeled chestnuts
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup to 1 cup water
2 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
Peel the chestnuts. This is tedious. Although, if you've got a three-year-old and a floor you're going to vacuum tomorrow anyway, this is actually fine; just sit there and peel them for an hour with a knife while the kid pretends to be a bulldozer and pushes the unpeeled ones around the floor. If you don't have a kid of the appropriate age, you could try the recommended methods I didn't try: score an X in each chestnut with a knife, then boil them or roast them at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, which makes the skin start to peel off, then cool them and peel them.
Boil the chestnuts till they're soft. This takes 15 minutes, maybe 20 at the outside. Stick a knife in them, it should go through easily.
Make a syrup with the sugar and water. Boil it on high heat not only till the sugar dissolves, but till the syrup foams up & starts making slightly larger bubbles. There's a technical term for this but I forget what it is. I don't think it has to be super precise, but I think the more you boil this syrup the thicker your crème will be.
Puree the chestnuts and the syrup together. Use something heavy-duty. I was lucky enough to have a blender they made in the good old days. Add the vanilla and salt at this point. Add more water if your food processor or blender's getting stuck.
Heat the crème de marrons in the pan again till it's thick enough. You're basically just boiling the extra water out of it, but when boiling a thick puree you do need to stir constantly. You can be the judge of how thick you want it, but it's good if it's spreadable rather than pourable. Get a spoonful, see if it falls off the spoon. If not, you're done.
Enjoy! & share it with the kids. It's pretty sweet, so it tends to be a hit--and also very nutritious.