My next recipe comes from The French Farmhouse Cookbook. I’ve started to really appreciate this cookbook because like my Moroccan one, it not only incorporates lesson of culture, but history as well.
This particular recipe is called Boiled Chestnuts with Star Anise. There is a whole two page section about the history of chestnuts in France before the recipe is even mentioned and to me it’s very interesting. Chestnut trees came from the Romans. After that, Chestnuts became a big deal to the French. In the past, chestnuts were the equivalant of potatoes to the Irish. Poor families could live off of chestnuts for months. They would even store some for later and grind up into flour for bread or as spices for soup.
The times have changed, however, and now it’s expensive for farmers to grow chestnuts in France. Although the author of my cookbook claims that it’s not a bad investment if you are patient. It can take four years for a decent crop though.
My favorite history lesson from this book was how it talked about farmers and their families. Apparently chestnut season falls around the same time corn has dried on the stalks. I found this interesting on multiple levels because I had assumed corn was only grown in the Americas. It’s native to America, yes, but I don’t know why I had assumed it wouldn’t be imported to Europe. Anyway, in the evening after the corn was harvested, farmers and their families would snack on chestnuts, cheese, and wine as they husked.
This is such an easy recipe. It’s ridiculously easy. All you do is boil chestnuts with Star Anise. That’s it. You just patiently wait while they boil and let it soak up flavoring from the Star Anise.
After the boiling, you drain the water and take out the star anise. I actually left the star anise with the chestnuts, though, because I thought they looked pretty mixed in.
This recipe came to me right before I left Los Angeles to join my family in Indiana for the holidays. I thought this was perfect timing because chestnuts make me think of Christmas because of the Christmas carol song lyric, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
It was also perfect timing because my acting class was having a Christmas party. My classmates admittedly didn’t know what to do with them at first. I started to feel a little embarrassed that I had brought them, admittedly. One of my teachers joked that he thought it was decoration, because it looked like potpourri.
I wasn’t offended at all. It did look like potpourri. Eventually some of my classmates tried it and they were all surprised by how soft the insides were. We also made a lot of jokes about the old christmas carol and how the chestnuts weren’t exactly cooked on an open fire. We’re entertainers, what can you expect?
I unfortunately forgot to take a picture of my tasty potpourri but I’m sure you can use your imagination by combining the two pictures below.