Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Homemade Chestnut Puree

As many of you know, chestnut puree is not readily available in most supermarkets in USA. Even if you are lucky enough to find it, it is quite an expensive item to stock up on. Until a couple of years ago, my solution to this problem was to bring my yearly stock of chestnut puree from Turkey. This, too, had its problems. First of all, since we went to Turkey in the summers, I had to bring the previous year's produce; secondly and more importantly, it is not practical to transport chestnut puree in glass jars or plastic containers in a suitcase over the Atlantic ocean. After a couple of disasters I would rather not remember, I decided to make my own puree. Initially, I had an ad hoc approach to it, but then I chanced on this Internet recipe, and have happily been using it for the past two years.

This year, when I posted this recipe for my Turkish blog, my commentors came up with a shortcut to peel the shells and husks of the chestnuts. It goes something like this: First cut an incision on the chestnut shells and steep them in hot water to soften. Then pan fry the chestnuts if you have a small amount, or oven fry for a larger quantity. It was reported that with this method, the shells and husks came out readily. It is too late for me to try it this year, but I will certainly do so next year, as getting rid of the shells and husks is the most tedious part of preparing the puree.

This year, I fell asleep as I waited for the chestnuts to cook in the oven. When I woke up, there was almost no liquid left in the pan and the top portion of the bulk of chestnut meat was seriously browned. This required the extra step of sieving the chestnuts to get rid of the tough parts. All this had to be done at 4:00 am in the morning with the help of my daughter who woke up to the sounds coming from the kitchen. As you see, she was a very eager participant during preparation. Luckily, there was very little waste, and I ended up with 8 (1 c) packages of chestnut puree which are nicely stacked in my freezer as I write this, waiting for their turn to be transfomed into some kind of chestnutty delicacy. As you might see from the photograph above, the new produce (seen on the right) turned out to be darker and denser compared to last year's, but it actually tasted better.

In order to add the pictures I took during preparation, I will copy the recipe from the link above. [Source: Helen Witty and Elizabeth Schneider Colchie, Better Than Store-Bought: A Cookbook (NY: Harper & Row, 1979, ISBN 0-06-014693-1, out of print), pp. 248 - 249.]
  • 4 lb large, heavy chestnuts (watch out for worm holes)
  • 4 cups water, more if necessary
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, split
  • Optional: milk (to thin the puree)
Halve chestnuts with a heavy knife or cleaver. Place in a very large skillet or saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Boil for about 10 minutes or until the shells can easily be removed.

Preheat oven to 350F. Remove chestnuts, a few at a time, from the water. Peel off shells and husks.

Place nuts in a large heavy saucepan. Add water, sugar, and vanilla bean to the pan and stir to mix in the sugar. The liquid should just cover the chestnuts. (Add more water if it doesn't.) Bake uncovered for 2 to 3 hours. (Time will vary considerably, depending upon dryness of the nuts.) Stir nuts every 30 minutes, adding water, if necessary, until they are very tender and the syrup is very thick.

Let chestnuts cool completely in the syrup, then puree them in batches in a food processor or blender, adding milk or cream if you want to have a thinner puree. Press the entire mixture through the fine disc of a food mill.

Divide the puree among 1- or 2-cup freezer containers. Seal, date, and freeze.