Chestnuts mean alot to me. Until recently, I didn't really like them. In fact I hated them. They are one of those things that your really dislike during your childhood, but as you get older you begin to appreciate them on a different level.
The reason why chestnuts mean alot to me is because they remind me of my dad. He passed away a couple of years ago. He adored chestnuts.....no correction, he went CRAZY for them. We had at least 30 chestnuts trees planted in our back yard, before you think that must be some sort of chestnut forest, it really wasn't. They were of various sizes. Most still tiny. He would plant trees and then assign them a purpose, like "when Maria buys a house she'll take this tree" or "when my first grandchild is born, we'll give them this tree". Since his passing, both those events have happened. He was constantly giving them away too. The biggest tree in the back yard is over 30 years old, planted for the birth of my brother. It even survived a house move, yep that's how crazy about chestnuts he was, he moved home and took the chestnut tree with him! I wasn't kidding when I said he went crazy for chestnuts.
Every year he would go on a pilgrimage to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the city for a chestnut scavenger hunt. He would leave in the early morning, take public transport and then return late in the afternoon with bags full of huge firm chestnuts. Suffice to say that we ate roasted chestnuts almost every night for months. Probably one of the reasons why I wasn't such a huge fan.
So this year when chestnut season rolled around, I thought I just had to do something with them. The nights are getting longer and colder, and what better way to warm up than some roasted chestnuts in port. Of course I had HEAPS of chestnuts, so I roasted a massive batch and gave them away to family and friends.
Roasted chestnuts in Vanilla and Port Syrup
I didn't measure the quantities, but I made 8 medium jars.
1. Make a small nick in the bottom of each chestnut. I usually cut off a sliver of the skin. This will prevent them from exploding. Although if your up for a laugh, exploding chestnuts are cool, besides fireworks are banned in Victoria, how else are you going to get your kicks?
2. Roast chestnuts. You can place them in the oven for a while or under a hot grill. Since my dad loved chestnuts so much, he made his own apparatus to cook chestnuts quickly and easily in the comfort of his kitchen. He took an old frying pan and drilled holes through the base. This way you could place the chestnuts in the pan and then roast them over a gas burner.
3. Once the skin becomes blackened transfer them to a tea towel lined bowl and wrap them tightly with the tea towel. Made sure that they remain wrapped until you have peeled ALL the chestnuts. Chestnuts have two skin, a thick out skin and a thin inner skin. They need to sweat in order for the skins to peel easily.
4. After they have been wrapped for a few minutes take a sharp knife and begin to peel them by removing one chestnut at time from the bowl. I won't lie to you, this is VERY time consuming. It might be an idea to con something into helping you, I find a bribe helps.
5. Once all the chestnuts have been peeled, in a small sauce pan combine Port and a few tablespoons of Castor sugar (sweetened to your liking). Add a few vanilla pods that have been split with the beans scarped into the port. Heat over low-medium heat until just before boiling. Allow to cool slightly, about 50-60C.
6. While the port is cooling, arrange chestnuts into jars making sure that they are tightly packed. Pour port over chestnuts until they are all submerged, making sure that each jar gets a piece of vanilla pod. Allow to cool completely and then place lid on jar. They will keep for a VERY long time, and in fact they taste better the longer you leave them, maybe because you want to eat them so bad. Its been a couple of months size I made this batch, and the port has not fully penetrated the chestnuts yet. Might take a few more months until the port makes it all the way to the center.