Monday, April 14, 2008

Majestic Flavour

''April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom,
holiday tables under the trees.''
E.Y.Harburg (1896-1981)

Do you remember your winter stories? Maybe there is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts all the time when telling your stories around the Christmas fire... I like to think of it that way. Because I like the feeling of warm. Because I like the roasted chestnuts:)

The roasted chestnuts are sold especially on cold winter days in Istanbul, as seen in the photo above. On each corner of the streets in Istanbul you can see a chestnut seller. A guy, young or old, tries to roast them on such open fire like a small charcoal grill. Usually you pay more than you pay for raw chestnuts, but believe me that's the beauty of it paying some more: because it's very cold outside, perhaps its snowing or about to snowing, your hands are cold, your heart gets cold and your nose cannot resist to the smell of the roasted chestnuts:)

You quickly pay, get your little brown hot bag of roasted chestnuts, your hands feeling the warmth of the bag, it's full of hot, and you start whispering your favorite song while eating your chestnuts one by one -as I do:) How fun to forget it's cold and spend a few hours on a shivery cold wintery day and to dip your cold hand into a warm, brown paper sack of chestnuts, and plunging your teeth into naturally sweetened and soft chestnuts!

Isn't it a wonderful life? Yes, yes, it is:) It's also good to go back in winter when we are now in spring:)

Just a simple beauty to tell you how I love the winter because of those roasted chestnuts. Otherwise I can live without it;) Not only me, many Istanbulities love roasted chestnuts.

Besides buying them outside, roasting the chestnuts at home is a bit of work but so funny, if you ask me:) Some nights I prefer to roast it even at home. How? Well, here is the way how I make them:


1. Cut an X into one side of the chestnuts to allow steam to escape. It will prevent the chestnust from exploding.
2. Place the chestnuts on a baking sheet with the X facing up.

3. Bake the chestnuts in a pre-heated ~425F oven until they are tender and easy to peel, appr 15-25min.

4. Let the chestnuts cool.
5. Peel the shells and the skin from the nuts.

Very easy, no?!

I remember my childhood... To me, the taste was not quite as good as its smell, roasty chestnuts were sometimes undercooked, and they were chewy. At the same time, opening them was a very hard work for me with my small tiny hands;) However today chestnuts are a very enjoyable treat for me:) I should tell that I am a good cook of chestnuts today:) You can also make them as directed above, and feel like a kid once more;)

Chestnut in blossom

As to my search, I see that the chestnut had a wide area of use especially in pre-Renaissance Europe, that was a staple source of nutrition for the common people. Not only it was consumed in its roasted or baked form, it was also cooked together with vegetables in stews, ground up as flour, and used in breads, cookies and cakes, and made into candy or pastries. But the importance of the chestnut, which was used not only in food but also in the field of medicine, unfortunately began to wane in the 18th century.

One of the main reasons for this decline is that the tree only begins to bear fruit 15 years after it is planted, taking 50 years to reach its peak fruit-bearing age. The picking and cleaning of chestnuts is demanding work. The excessive cold and a disease that appeared in the 1700s were a cause of enormous damage to the chestnut tree. A diversifying economy coupled with the diversification of nutritional sources in a developing Europe meant that rather than replanting chestnut trees, which only bear fruit after many years, people preferred instead to plant berry trees. Meanwhile the free trade in wheat and the arrival in Europe of the potato, whose nutritional value is equal to that of the chestnut, spelled the demise of this magnificent tree and its fruit.

Did you know...

* The scientific name of the chestnut, which is harvested in October and November, is 'Castanea'.

* In colloquial language chestnut is called 'the bread of the mountains'.

* Since chestnuts do not contain wheat gluten they're safe for the consumption of Celiac Disease patients.

* The sources state that around 3000 BC the Persians fed their children chestnuts to fatten them up.

* A chestnut is truly a ideal food for growing children since it's a rich source of starch, protein, sucrose and tannin.

* Fresh chestnut contains as much as vitamin C as 100 grams of contained in a lemon.

* Turkey holds the 4th place in the world concerning chestnut production with a sum of 50.000 tons per year (data for the year 2000).

* Chestnut has taken its name from the city Kastamonu, an Anatolian city.

* The biggest chestnut tree is located in Acireale city near the Etna Volcano of Italia, and it's appr 400 years old.

Chestnut leaf

The sole species of chestnut, of which there are 16 species in the world, found in Turkey is the Anatolian chestnut, called Castanea sativa. It grows over a broad area extending from the shores of Northern Anatolia to deep within the Marmara region and then up to the Aegean.

With a longlife span of around 500 yrs, chestnuts are among the most majestic trees of the Anatolian forests with their giant statue that can reach as high as 30 meters. According to the historic resources, chestnuts have been cultured in Anatolia. The cultured chestnuts whose fame have been widespread since ancient times, was spread by Anatolian Greeks first to mainland Greece, and from there to bellissima Italia:) and other Mediterranean countries.

From Noah's pudding to stuffed turkey, the journey of a chestnut in the plate is another interesting story... Centuries ago the chestnut was cooked as a stew in traditional Ottoman cuisine, and it was used Noah's pudding as well.

One of our best companions during the melancholy days of autumn and the freezing days of winter, Kestane (English: Chestnut) has a wide variety of uses in the Turkish cuisine in everything from soups to meat dishes to desserts and candy. The chestnut is also main ingredient of the traditional stuffed turkey that we have been roasting it at New Year's for a half century, so delicious!!!

Let's come to joyful part of the chestnut, candies;)

In Turkish cuisine there are various types of sweets. The most well-known sweets associated with the local cuisine are Turkish Delight (Turkish: Lokum) and baklava that they are the typical desserts eaten after meals. Additionally, Candied chestnuts (Turkish: Kestane Sekeri), an important specialty of Bursa, -a city in northwestern Turkey- is among the most wonderful nutty desserts for us:)

A couple of weeks ago my aunt was coming to visit us. As she knows how I am very fond of candied chestnuts with its such a wonderfully unique flavor melting in the mouth, she brought us an exclusive selection of Kestane Sekeri from my favorite Kafkas -as seen above- that is the famous name, and plaquette awarded in chestnut candy manufacturer of the country, and a leading exporter as well. Of course, it would be doubly good to eat some of this delicacy during fiestas.

The reputation of the candied chestnuts made from the Bursa variety has spread far and wide today. In the meantime, the chestnut honey, which adds flavor to cakes, pastries and cookies is one of Mother Nature's greatest blessing.


  1. Nihal dear, didnt know so much facts until i read it here, you always post very informative and complete facts and information, unlike me lazy, only pictures :) happy week my friend :)

  2. Such amazing information about chestnuts. I've eaten the roasted by street vendors in New York City and I've used chestnut flour in cooking but I've never tasted a candied chestnut. Something new to look for.


  3. @ Kate: Let me state I 'see' things differently than others, and that is the secret to my art(=my writing work here). However I also enjoy seeing interesting parts of your world through your eye. More than it, beauty is where 'empathy and honest emotion' meet. I think we perfectly realize this meeting between our zones, rest is not important, believe me:)

    @ Darla: Yes, I know there are street vendors in NYC selling roasted chestnuts like ours. The same also available in Rome, early this year I've eaten roasted chestnuts by a vendor around La Fontana di Trevi.
    Why not coming here to taste our traditional nutty candied chestnuts, LOL:)

  4. roasted chestnuts... yum! I'm for something chocolately and nutty now; maybe some chestnuts chocolate ice cream... yes!

    Have a nice week, sweetie!