In the autumn, trees provide us with all sorts of fruit and nuts. Just in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the edible chestnuts are ripe. In some countries people are lucky enough to be able to go picking chestnuts for their own consumption; the rest of us have to buy them in our grocery stores. Chestnuts are a savoury addition to the turkey stuffing, but I find them even more appealing when they’ve been roasted in an open fire, just as the song suggests.
In my twenties, and newly wed, I was visiting at the home of my in-laws. We sat on the carpet by the fireplace watching as a batch of chestnuts, enclosed in a wrapper of tinfoil, roasted in the fire.
“I’ve never tasted chestnuts before,” I said. “This will be a first for me.”
“You’re in for a treat,” everyone agreed. The room was cozy with the warm glow of the fire, lights turned low, soft music, and loving people—a perfect evening.
My father-in-law fished the hot tinfoil packet out of the embers. “I think they’re done.”
I watched to see how the chestnuts were eaten. The tough pellicle had to be taken off first, and I learned that teeth worked just fine for opening an edge of the chestnut skin. Inside was the rich meat of the chestnut, hot and fluffy like a baked potato, so delicious with its mild nutty flavour.
“These are so good,” I said, reaching for another one. More confident now, I bit into the skin of the next one. A loud pop inside my head sounded like a gun had gone off, and the steaming hot chestnut meat shot towards the back of my throat and filled my mouth.
I wanted to spit out the starchy mass that was burning my cheeks, tongue and gums, but I was a guest—a shy one—in this lovely home. I couldn’t just spit out the exploded chestnut onto the wool carpet. I leapt up, ran to the bathroom, and spat into the sink.
The family came running and hovered around me. “Are you okay? Let’s see.”
“Oh my! Quick! Have a glass of cold water.”
My husband rubbed my shoulder. “Does it hurt?”
“You should have spat it out on the floor right away.”
That night my throat swelled up so much I could hardly breathe. I thought a small child would never survive this without medical intervention.
At the clinic the next day I got some gel to take the pain away. I worried at first that I might lose teeth if my gums were too badly burned. When my cheeks healed I could feel ropy ridges of scar tissue, but at least I had my teeth.
Since then I have learned that the skin of the chestnuts should be cut before roasting to allow the steam to escape.
I still love chestnuts, but I’m very careful when I eat them now. I’m guessing my thoughts are different from those of most people when I hear the song, “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire.”