Sweet Chestnuts

Sweet Chestnut and it's uses

It is during November and December that the sweet chestnuts are falling from the tree.  Threatening to knock me senseless as I picked up the nuts around the base of the tree.  They are full of carbohydrates and so would have been a great source of energy through the winter period and if turned into a flour, could supply energy all year round.

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) is traditionally understood to have originated in Asia Minor before spreading to Central and Southern Europe during the Miocene and is thought to have been cultivated since the Neolithic era (4000 BC).  Although the first unambiguous evidence of chestnut cultivation is reported in Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria, and dates back to around 2100-2050 BC.  It is commonly thought that sweet chestnut trees were introduced to the U.K. by the Romans who used them extensively as a food source.  However, earliest written evidence of it being grown in the UK is not found until the 12thC which would put it well out of the period of Roman occupation.

In Europe, and in particular in the mountainous regions of Italy such as Tuscany, Campania, Calabria and Piedmont, sweet chestnuts were often cultivated and harvested to be processed into flour. Indeed, in these regions there developed quite a chestnut culture, with families owning trees and having various culinary uses alongside methods and tools for cultivation, harvesting, and production of food. One tree was enough to produce 75 – 100 kg of nuts a year and if adequately preserved, this could feed 1 – 2 people over a long winter. The nutritional content is also high with sweet chestnuts being a rich source of vitamins C (the only nut that is) and B, and minerals including magnesium, potassium and iron. Their high level of starch is similar to that of wheat and twice as high as potato.

Sweet Chestnut Nutritional Information
Sweet Chestnut Nutritional Information


  1. Collect sweet chestnuts – lots of them because they are generally smaller in the UK than the ones grown in Europe. The casings are quite prickly on the fingers so you might need gloves. Hint – stamp on the casings if they are not open, to reveal the nut inside.
  2. Slit chestnuts along curved surface try not to cut into the meat. I find it’s a lot easier to peel the chestnuts if a long slit is cut rather than a cross as some suggest.
  3. Soak in cold water for 2hours
  4. Drain and dry in a tea towel
  5. Place in a roasting tray slit upwards
  6. Place in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for 20mins
  7. Increase oven temp to 220 degrees for 15mins
  8. Take out of the oven, wrap in a damp tea towel and leave for 15mins.
  9. Shell while still warm
  10. Eat some freshly roasted nuts – they are delicious.


Marron glacé
Candy some nuts by adding 250 grams of sugar to half a litre of water in a large pot and heating until it dissolves. Keep stirring until the liquid until it simmers and thickens. Pour the syrup over 500g of the shelled roasted sweet chestnuts and then return it all into the pan and let them simmer in as low a heat as possible for 30mins then allow to cool in the pan. Take out and put out on a plate.

Chestnut stuffing – it isn’t just for Christmas either.
200g chestnuts – blitzed roughly in a food processor
Rosemary or thyme
Olive oil
140g Bread crumbs or oatmeal
Salt and pepper
Mix all the ingredients together. Stuff into the bird, or roll into balls, or fill buttered ramekins. Place in the oven as you would normal stuffing at around 190oC for 30 mins. There are so many options to add to the basic recipe, add pork sausage meat, bacon, cranberry, pate, mushrooms or anything else that takes your fancy.

Chestnut flour

  1. Roughly chop or roughly process the cooked sweet chestnuts in a food processor.
  2. Place in a dehydrator for 12-15 hours or put in an fan oven with the door ajar at 75 degrees overnight.
  3. Blitz in a food processor to make it as fine as possible or use a flour/coffee mill to produce a fine flour.

The flour can be used to make bread, crepes, and cakes. But also pasta and polenta. In fact, I have heard that polenta was originally made with chestnut flour before corn flour was used.

In a large heavy pot, bring lightly salted water to a boil. Slowly pour in the chestnut flour, constantly stirring to avoid clumps from forming. Continue cooking over low heat for 30-45 minutes when it will begin to ‘plop’ and pull away from the sides of the pot. Serve the chestnut polenta hot with:
1- soft pecorino or ricotta cheese (or any cheese to be honest!)
2- pork dishes, sausages, braised game, bacons
3- cooked (foraged) greens and mushrooms
Any leftover chestnut polenta can be cut into slices and fried in olive oil or butter and topped with parmesan / pecorino.

Try necci, an Italian crepe made with chestnut flour and ricotta sweetened with honey.
275g of chestnut flour
250ml of water
Mix the chestnut flour with water to form a batter.
Pour the crepe mix into a frying pan
Make a crepe!
Mix a tablespoon of honey into ricotta and place a dollap onto the crepe and roll the crepe around the sweet ricotta. Drizzle with honey…. smirk!

Sweet chestnut culture in the Southern Alps – Oliver Bender https://www.researchgate.net/publication/215509070_Sweet_chestnut_cultures_in_the_Southern_Alps_-_conservation_and_regional_development

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