Monday, November 15, 2004

Proust Memory Jogger

I was remembering collecting chestnuts around the neighborhood of my alp. Peeling the fruits and cooking them into a paste. Creating a confiture so unlike anything I'd ever had in my life.

Last week in Chinatown, I bought a pound of chestnuts (they were ridiculously cheap and wonderfully fresh - almost felt like Mexican jumping beans) to see if I could remember how to make my beloved crème de marrons. I figured that, at $3.50 a pound, I could afford to take the hit if things didn't turn out as I'd planned.

The worst thing (and I'd forgotten what rotten work this was) was peeling the blessed fruits. I had to slit the shells and steam them for something like 20 minutes. Then peel the shells off with a knife, taking as much skin off as possible (bitter and stringy) and excising worms if need be. After I accomplished this task, I put the nut meats into a pot with a couple cups of water.
After cooking till the material was soft, I ran it all through a food mill to get rid of the bits of skin I missed.

To this stuff, I added enough water to make roughly four cups of paste. To this, I added 3/4 cups of brown sugar for every cup of paste, brought everything to a boil, then simmered it for 45-50 minutes. When done cooking, I put the paste into clean, sterile jars, capped them, then processed in a boiling water bath for roughly 1/2 hour (hopefully enough time). I got roughly six cups of paste out of this. Not bad, since, expensive as chestnuts are fresh, the paste or sweetened comfiture is extortionate here. I think that my homemade stuff tastes a fair bit better, too. Just more artisanal looking, as it's not as smooth and is a lot darker than the 'industrial' chestnut paste. Will I make it again? Probably. It's delicious on bread, crackers, plain cookies, ice cream (as in 'coup Mont Blanc' - vanilla ice cream with chestnut paste and whipped cream.) I might try a bit of vanilla in it next time, too - if my vanilla's good enough for it.

I also made two loaves of the standard Fanny Farmer yeasted oatmeal bread.

Yes, the house smelled delicious, and I really enjoyed the kitchen activity. Unfortunately, like so many other of my more fulfilling pastimes, this one seems to have fallen by the wayside.

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