The first time I had a chestnut was overseas in Istanbul, Turkey. My husband and I were walking hand in hand down the streets of Taksim. The smell was inviting and intoxicating. An aroma like no other during the cold days of early Winter. On a small fire, the street sellers enthusiastically greeted”‘passer-buyers” with great cheer and hospitality. They offered a sample of “one of the best treats on Earth” and with an extended hand place a few warm freshly roasted chestnuts into my palm.
“How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea….All that is required to feel that here and now is happiness is a simple, frugal heart.” – Zorba the Greek (1946) chapter 7 by Nikos Kazantzakis.
The gesture of giving wrapped with a blessing in the eyes was my first connection with this amazing fruit of the Earth. A rich full bodied roasted Earthy taste that was soft and warm to eat. From that moment on, my love for Chestnuts grew each year. With anticipation for the winter months, I look forward to a brown paper bag filled with healthy delights to captive my senses. We would sit with friends and family together, surrounded by the fires that roasted the soft delicate nut and shared the moments of life eating them as soon as they were ready from the stovetop. There are many ways to roast chestnuts like in an oven or outdoor fire-pit but my favorite memory is of family members joining together in the kitchen and with a knife making small x’s on the bottom of each nut. Placing them in a pan and watching them carefully as they roasted and matured into a delicious delicate soft warm flavor of goodness. Sometimes we would add them to dishes too like pilaf rice or sweet desserts drenched in a honey of sticky gooeyness. With the arrival of Winter, arm in arm, sharing a bag of hot roasted chestnuts prepared by the sellers on each corner of Istanbul streets reminded me of a greater connection in life.
“To pull the chestnuts out of the fire with a cat’s paw.” – L’Etouridi (The Blunderer) (1655) act III by Moliere (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.
The ancient methods of sharing a delicious food and festive giving as a treat for another has always held a remarkable spot in my heart. I use to buy small bags for each of my children when we lived in Istanbul. They would cheerfully play with the warmth of the delicious chestnuts and open them as if each one was a special wrapped gift with its shell still in tack and the food inside waiting to be unwrapped. With all my childhood memories of the famous songs about chestnuts, it was destined my first one would be in a new land. It seemed perfect around the Holiday times as it connected me with the memories of yesterday and treasures of now. For as long as I shall live, this grand delight will hold a magical place in my heart and memories with each Winter filled with love, joy and festivities.
Much love, Jennifer