Nostalgia

For someone who is already prone to nostalgia, you can safely assume that the Christmas holidays stirs up more than your average share of memories, both sweet and melancholy. My sappiness-meter spikes at this time of year, and I’ve come to realize that I inherited…

Nostalgia

For someone who is already prone to nostalgia, you can safely assume that the Christmas holidays stirs up more than your average share of memories, both sweet and melancholy. My sappiness-meter spikes at this time of year, and I’ve come to realize that I inherited this trait from my mom.

When we used to get ready for the holidays and all the family gatherings, she would wistfully recall the elaborate and beautiful Christmas traditions of her childhood in the Philippines. To her, our wintery New York Christmases were never quite the same as what she remembered as a young girl. While my mother was never one to complain, I could sense a bit of grouse with the blustery cold and the absence of the traditional Simbang Gabi, the nine-day Mass at Dawn that begins on December 16th and ends with Midnight Mass on Christmas eve. She often spoke of the beautifully lit homes, decorated with paper lanterns shaped like stars – the parol – as they walked to mass. And she especially missed the walk after mass, as vendors would greet them outside the church, offering delicacies such as suman, puto, and bibinka, along with something warm to drink.

Funny enough, the Christmases that she created for our family, in that too-cold city, with more slush than snow, is what I look back upon with fondness. For me, Christmas is about the cold air, the steam that comes with each breath, the singe in your nose. It’s about the Santa on each corner, ringing his bell, the tree at Rockefeller Center, the yearly trip to watch the Nutcracker by the (back then) Joffrey Ballet. It was about the smell of chestnuts in the air.

Carts with roasted chestnuts were tucked on nearly every block it seemed, but nothing was better than roasting chestnuts at home. My parents would painstakingly score each brown shell with an x at the tip, and our house would be filled with the glorious aroma of Christmas. As soon as they emerged from the oven, I would sit with a dishtowel full warming my lap, and set to work opening them, nibbling on the nutmeats as we watched Rudolph and Christmas specials on television.

For some reason, chestnuts are not as abundant out here. So when I see them, whether it is the Italian or the Chinese chestnut, I buy them. I roasted some Italian chestnuts yesterday, and couldn’t wait to share them with my children. I told them stories of how my Christmases were frosty, how I would sing Silver Bells down Broadway, and how we would roast and peel chestnuts. I hope they remember one day.

How to Roast Chestnuts

Select chestnuts that are firm, with no air pockets between the shell and the meat.

There are as many, many methods for preparing roasted chestnuts, and I have tried them all. I grew up using a small knife to score an “x” on the pointy tip of the chestnut, however, this seems a little dangerous to me, no matter how skilled one might be with a knife. Some like to score the round side, but lately, I have been favoring scoring an “x” on the flat side.

Roast the chestnuts on a rimmed baking sheet in a 400° oven for about 15-20 minutes, until the shells crack to reveal the tasty meat inside. Any longer, and they may explode, resulting in fireworks in your oven. Wrap the roasted chestnuts in a towel for a few minutes, and when you can no longer stand the wait, peel and enjoy.

Comments

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  1. Lindsey

    The French DEFINITELY know how to roast chestnuts, it’s part of their Christmas feast! Great photos, great tutorial!

    Reply
  2. Tracey@TangledNoodle

    I remember my parents buying bags of chestnuts to roast during Christmases in Canada but I was not such a fan. Now, I have to force myself to walk the gauntlet of castaña stalls without buying a single brown, toasty, shell-encased goodness. But your post has weakened my resolve – I will have to buy some from across the street tomorrow. 8-)

    Reply
  3. fooddreamer

    I’m prone to nostalgia too, especially in the fall and around the holidays. This is such a lovely post, and I am glad to have a method for roasting my own chestnuts!

    Reply
  4. Jackie

    Wow, I’ve never thought to roast my own chestnuts. I love getting them from a vendor on the street, though – it’s such a Christmassy thing! Roasted chestnuts, hot off the coals. Nothing is better on a cold day.

    Jax x

    Reply
  5. Becky

    i have never roasted chestnuts, but I bought some in my local Italian grocery store . I’m going t try and roast them in the fireplace… “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. My sappiness meter is off the charts. If all else fails, I know how to roast them in the oven. Thanks for the tutorial.

    Reply
  6. Jean

    Liren, I love the smell of chestnuts. And more than Christmas, they remind me of my mom, too. She loves them. I also remember vendors selling them in NYC from past visits.

    Thanks for sharing your fond Christmas memories–I also remember the time for midnight mass. I’ve also never roasted chestnuts myself so I’ll be bookmarking this (and maybe one day surprise my mom!).

    Reply
    • Liren

      What is it about moms and chestnuts? :) Seems like so many of our moms have a penchant for them. I just love midnight mass, and can’t wait till the kids are old enough to stay up and attend :)

    • Liren

      Thank you, Brian! Join the chestnut bandwagon :) Once you start, you’ll never get enough.

    • Liren

      Oh, you must try! You will love it, Lindsey, I can see you easily adding chestnuts to your repertoire.

  7. Kita

    I could have used this post a month ago! lol. My father is impatient and wanted to roast chestnuts – he couldn’t be bothered to wait until I got to a computer to look it up. It was an interesting kitchen experience :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Oh no! Now I wish I had posted it sooner – hopefully there weren’t too many exploded chestnuts in the kitchen?

    • Liren

      Glad to know I’m not the only one, Adelina!

  8. angi

    What a wonderful post with beautiful photos, Liren – I can almost smell the chestnuts through my computer screen. :) Happy holidays to you and your family!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Happy Holidays to you and Mr. Wheat. I wonder, is he able to eat chestnuts?

  9. Anna's Table

    Roasted chestnuts were always a must at Christmas when I was growing up and continue to be a treat in my own home this time of the year.

    Reply
  10. Trish

    I, too, am getting a little sappy right about this time of year. Thank you for sharing your memories of Christmas past with your mom. New York is part of my Christmas memories too- kinda miss it :( The chestnuts sound perfect. Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Oh Trish, I know you can understand :) As much as I love life here, I do miss those moments in NYC!

  11. Monet

    Roasting chestnuts…the nutcracker…cold gust of air…now I’m feeling nostalgic! I loved hearing about your childhood memories because they made me think of many of the wonderful traditions my own mom instilled in our lives. Thank you so much for sharing, sweet friend. I hope you have a wonderful Thursday!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hello, dear Monet! I know, I know, I’m such a sap! I’m glad you enjoyed this post, thank you for always being so sweet!

  12. Tiny Urban Kitchen

    Love this post Liren! My mom used to make chestnuts all the time too! She would make that same X and roast them in our toaster oven. I loved it, yet I’ve never tried it myself.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Jen! Tis the season to try roasting chestnuts yourself! It’ll definitely bring those memories back!

  13. Cristina @ TeenieCakes

    I do luv the way roasting chestnuts smell…but sadly, I’ve never had roasted chestnut. Next time I’m at the mkt, I’m going to pick some up and try it this holiday season. Great post…can’t wait to make it at home too.

    Reply
    • Liren

      They do smell so good! Hope you get to try roasting the chestnuts at home soon, Cristina! They are rather addictive!

    • Cristina

      Hi Liren: Just wanted to thank you (and Brian) for the inspiration on roasting chestnuts. I gave it a try and enjoyed the experience and outcome.

      Now I won’t be so mystified if I need to make my own chestnut flour, etc. Thanks again for a great post. ;)

      ~Cristina

  14. Paula - bell'alimento

    Have I mentioned how much I LOVE reading your posts…You are such a talented and gifted writer Liren! I happen to have picked up a container of Italian Chestnuts a few days ago. I’m off to the kitchen to roast them. <3 <3 <3 them!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hugs, Paula, thank you so much for your kind words! Glad you got to enjoy roasted chestnuts the other day :)

  15. Kelsey{itsybitsyfoodies}

    Awww…this takes me back to wandering the cold, wintry streets of Europe with a paper cone full of roasted chestnuts to warm me during my walk. I LOVE chestnuts but have never thought to try roasting them at home. Thank you for the inspiration and for the beautiful post!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Isn’t it amazing how nostalgic chestnuts can be? I can picture you warming your hands on a cold winter walk in Europe :) Do try it at home, you’ll be transported, I’m certain :)

  16. Spicy Green Mango

    This post is so sweet in so many ways. I just saw chestnuts the other day and I absolutely love them roasted over hot coals. Beautiful writing and such wonderful memories, Liren. Love it! I’m going to hunt for chestnuts now (hehehe, I also score my chestnuts with an “X” and admittedly, I put it on those dangerous tips).

    Reply
    • Liren

      Ah, so you know about scoring the tip, too! It makes me so nervous, I have dealt with too many close calls with the knife, so I avoid that method now. But I’m glad to hear that someone else uses that method!

  17. A Canadian Foodie

    What a beautiful post with beautiful images of chestnuts (great picture taking) and wonderful images painted in my head with the stories your mother told you about her Christmas as a child and how she missed it… and now – I have to check your about me page to see where you are now – but, clearly, you are no longer in New York. I didn’t know they used to roast chestnuts in NYC on the street corners at Christmas. I thought this was only a European thing.
    It is VERY hard to find decent fresh chestnuts here (in the Canadian prairies) as well… even at the Italian Store, or the Chinese Markets… but, with patience, they can be hand picked through… and now that I know how to roast them, I will!
    Thank you!
    :)
    Valerie

    Reply
  18. A Canadian Foodie

    Ah, yes – Liren. SF area – where my daughter is… in Palo Alto. I should have remembered! So different than NYC in December… Lauren will be coming home to join us, so will (hopefully) be able to see her breath in the air and huddle by the fire on a cold, blustery evening… but – there have been many winters in this new era without much of that, too…. sadly.
    :)
    Valerie

    Reply
    • Liren

      Valerie, how neat that your daughter is out in Palo Alto! Do you ever come to visit? Would love to meet you, if you are out here. Enjoy Lauren’s visit home – whether or not it’s a blustery winter, it will be cozy with the family together, I’m sure :)

  19. Jun Belen

    The smell of roasted chestnuts – kastanyas – definitely trigger so many memories of home and the holidays. Thank you for sharing, Liren.

    Reply
  20. Ben

    My mother steams them, and I have definitely exploded a few in the fireplace. We are now definitely obsessed with the shelled ones you can buy in Asian markets wrapped in mylar. But there is something about the quality and ritual of roasting your own.

    Beyond the actual chestnuts, I really love the second-hand account of your Mother’s experiences, contrasted with your own. This was really a pleasure to read.

    Reply
  21. skip to malou

    It’s not Christmas for my parents without roasted chestnuts and parol and apples and grapes, puto bumbong, ensaymada and queso de bola haha… these are the visuals and smell of Christmas that i grew up with… it’s been awhile since i’ve seen roasted chestnuts and your pictures triggered sweet memories of the Christmases past!

    Reply
  22. norma

    I like your idea of scoring on flat side. Many a times i have nicked myself.

    My mother used to score them and leave them overnight in red wine and then removing them, finishin them off as you did in the oven…so nostalgic now that she is no longer with me.

    Reply
  23. Lina

    OMG! I love this post! Your nostalgia is my own! My mom used to roast chestnuts all winter long and we always sat with a handful wrapped in a tea towel to keep them warm and we’d pretty much burn our fingers off trying to open them! LOL! Great memories. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    Reply
  24. maria dicaprio white

    Coming in very late. But what a wonderful post. Could have been my childhood only my mom was Italian. My husband just planted 5 chestnut trees in WA State. Give me a few years for them to mature and maybe we could ship some to you! Thanks again.

    Reply
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