Sunday, November 18, 2012

Hard Knock Lessons: Chestnuts

The weather is cold outside, which means that châtaigne season is upon us.

For some people, roasted chestnuts evokes fond memories of going out by the chestnuts trees with their families to collect the nuts fallen into the grass. For me, it evokes fond memories of when I lived in Dijon and saw as my friends gladly supported the street vendors with their carts selling roasted chestnuts in paper cones for 2,50 Euros to hungry passersby.

Get 'em while they're hot!

To this day, I have never eaten a chestnut because I don't want to risk having an allergic reaction to them. In short, my experience with chestnuts revolved around being a mere spectator.

Little did I know that two years later, I would be asked to help collect some nuts from their natural habitat.

It all happened during the one weekend that I spent on a farm that belongs to one of my work colleagues and his family. His wife, a lovely and charming Scotswoman, loaded me into her trusty car and announced that she was going to make me "work." Nothing made me more excited than hearing the phrase "We're going to pick chestnuts."

Being a spoiled city girl whose first hand account with nature is limited to palm trees, humidity, mosquitoes and the odd dangerous hike through Burgundy hills, I was eager to learn something new.

I imagined that the act of picking would require the use of my hands and fingers. So, in preparation for the task ahead of me, I removed my trusty gloves from my bare hands and left them in the car. After all, how was I expected to pick chestnuts properly if I had these cumbersome gloves impeding my grip?

Little did I know that removing the gloves was the last thing that I should have done.

(For those of you who know what's wrong with this picture: don't worry. I can hear your whoops and guffaws from miles away.)

I had been used to seeing ready-to-eat chestnuts, the ones that were completely nonhazardous to chew and swallow. What I had not anticipated was that the dastardly nuts came coated in an impenetrable urchin armor that pricked whatever sensitive and defenseless skin surface dared to touch it.

Thus, my once-enthusiastic task of emancipating the edible nuts from their burr was punctuated by little jolts of pain followed by involuntary yelps and winces. This spectacle made the Scotswoman chuckle and offer as advice that I should open the burrs by rolling them under my shoes. Turns out that I am rather useless at doing that as well and I preferred to keep using my bare hands to do the job.

The aftermath of having umpteenth million injections released into my skin featured days, DAYS, spent trying to remove the minuscule thorns that had lodged themselves into my swollen, Hulk-sized fingers.

Hard Knock Lesson Learned: unless you are a masochist, wear gloves to gather chestnuts.

Oh, and to the Experienced Chestnut Gatherers: if you know for a fact that the person helping you obtain chestnuts wouldn't be capable of identifying if a chestnut grows on trees or under ground, PLEASE tell them to wear gloves. Yes, it's funny to watch them suffer, but it's not nice to laugh at them, and they will hold on grudge on you for the rest of their lives.

Barb the French Bean

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  1. I had no idea that Chestnuts were the balls of the nature world.
    ...... Nature sure was a nasty way of protecting it's balls?

    I've never had Chestnuts either. I've never actually even seen any until this year. They had some at the grocery store and my wife bought some. I'm curious to try them.

  2. You know it's not that I didn't know chestnuts came in spiked armour, but I'm not sure when I learned that chestnuts were also conkers. For me chestnuts were the spiky green things. I've never eaten one myself. I do feel sorry about your hand though :(

    1. Now that I think about it, the French actually have two different words for "chestnuts," marrons and châtaigne. I forget which is which. :P

  3. I have never eaten Chestnut either. Now I don't think I ever will. Mean Chestnuts.

    1. I appreciate the solidarity, but if you do get the chance to try some, by all means, do so!

      Just keep in mind that somebody suffered swollen hands to get what you blissfully munch on. :P

  4. lol! I saw that coming a mile away when you said you'd taken your gloves off!!! :p

    Your poor hands! Hope they're feeling better by now!

    Happy Thanksgiving! Have you introduced your new French neighbours to turkey day?

    1. My hands are definitely much better now, Cris. And I pretty much did a whole cultural day talking about Thanksgiving with my students! I absolutely loved talking about it with them. :)

      Still no turkey or pumpkin pie, though. Welp.


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