Going Nuts C H 

Where has the time gone? I’ve been working so hard on Struggle and Suffrage: Women’s Lives In Bristol 1850-1950, my non-fiction book for Pen and Sword Books, that I missed out on a conventional summer holiday.

 Going Nuts CH

The view of the sweet chestnut coppice and bluebells, from my kitchen window

Instead, any time I could spare from my computer keyboard, I spent out in my garden. The only exception was when I used the voucher I won in an Oapschat draw to visit Ralph Court Gardens (you can read about that here).

I’m determined not to miss out on the joys of autumn. As I’m writing this, the sweet chestnuts are falling outside my window. They are being helped on their way by hordes of squirrels stockpiling food for the winter. Alex, our labrador/golden retriever cross, hasn’t twigged to the fact he’ll never catch them, and pounds around the tree trunks while the squirrels bounce around in the branches, laughing down at him. You have to watch out when walking in the woods at this time of year.

The prickly sweet chestnut seedcases patter down like miniature hedgehogs, which is no fun if they happen to land on your head.

Going Nuts CH

Sweet Chestnuts

The Romans are thought to have introduced the Sweet Chestnut to Britain, from Europe. The tree is now naturalised in this country, but the chestnuts around our house are in a dedicated plantation. They were planted for their wood, not for nut production, in the days when every building site was protected by chestnut paling. Cut down to the ground (coppiced) every twenty years, these trees throw up multiple long trunks which produce long catkins in late spring that my bees love.

The ground underneath these trees is a sea of bluebells in spring—or at least it was, until some idiot released boar into the wild. With no natural enemies, those feral boar are now breeding faster than rabbits, and have ripped up great swathes of this ancient bluebell wood.

Sadly, with expensive building materials and machinery now protected by high metal panels, chestnut paling is rarely needed. Wood from trees here is pulped to make paper instead. The nuts ripening now are small, and a bucket of prickly seed cases doesn’t produce much once the nuts have been shelled and peeled. It’s such a long, painful and unrewarding process, we only tried it once. If I find a recipe needs chestnut puree, I open a tin!

Have you tried roasting chestnuts over an open fire? Was it worth the time and trouble?

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