Sunday, April 15, 2012

Underneath the spreading chestnut trees

After so many weeks of incessant rain, two clear days in a row has become almost unheard of in the mountains. It's a rare day of sunshine then that welcomes my first outing to an Kookootonga chestnut farm. Being from the UK where few chestnuts are safe from squirrels, mice pigeons, pheasants to name but a few, I'm relishing the idea that these trees have no natural 'predators' here, and hoping to find more than an occasional spiky casing still full of nutty treasure. No squirrels here, but plenty of squirrelling, as we find scores of families, bucket in hand visitors by the coach load. Whether from New Zealand Taiwan and Singapore all are chestnut lovers together scouring the grass beneath the trees in search of perfect nuts. Off we go!

There are nuts everywhere, and its easy to get picky about which ones to take. The chestnuts vary in size considerably and some are split out through the shells, a growth pattern resulting from this year's continuous summer downpours. We're cautious of the split nuts at first but soon think its work the effort of trying them out, after all, no need to score them before cooking. While there are heaps of vehicles outside, its easy to walk a solitary path through these lovely spreading trees and its after about half an hour of foraging that we head back into a more populated area to weigh in. An impressive line of families visiting from Blacktown show us how its done as they sweep through the paddock. "Just get the big ones!" I hear a father call to his children, "quickly". This wiggly little line of people draws back through the trees like a line of foam marking the tide receding from shore, only the smallest nuts left in its wake. 

My efforts today bring in about 3 kilos. Back in the kitchen out come small sharp knives, essential for scoring the back before roasting or boiling, so that they don't explode. There are a few different ways to do this, we score a cross covering 2/3 of the flat surface before roasting for a tasty lunchtime treat.

Fresh Chestnuts must be kept in the fridge and don't last long making them a rare seasonal treat, although there are a few ways to preserve this particular harvest including delicious traditional marron glacé. Kookootonga farm at Mt Irvine has a few varieties of chestnuts which extends the season a little; the 'easy peelers' develop a little later and are still available til around April 21st.

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We can harvest a wide range of fruits and nuts locally each season.

Local fruit and/or nut gardeners are invited to make additions or suggest modifications to the following work-in-progress compiled by Lizzie Connor.


Across the mountains: loquat, mulberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late spring) raspberry

Best in the lower mountains: avocado, jaboticaba, lemonade


Across the mountains: apricot, blueberry, boysenberry, cherry, currant (red, black, white), gooseberry, kumquat, loganberry, loquat, mulberry,nectarine, peach, plum, raspberry, rhubarb, strawberry and (in late summer) almond, apple, fig, hazelnut, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), pomegranate, youngberry

Best in lower mountains:lemon (Eureka), lemonade, lime, mandarin, orange, persimmon (non-astringent) and (in late summer) avocado, babaco, macadamia, rockmelon, wampee, watermelon

Best in upper mountains: jostaberry, lemon (Meyer), persimmon (astringent)


Across the mountains: almond, apple, chestnut, feijoa, fig, grape, hazel, kiwi fruit, kumquat, medlar, olive, passionfruit, pear (incl. nashi), plum, quince, raspberry (some), rhubarb, strawberry, strawberry guava, walnut

Best in lower mountains: avocado, babaco, cherimoya, grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), macademia, monstera deliciosa, orange, pine nut, pistachio, rockmelon, tamarillo, walnut, watermelon, white sapote

Best in upper mountains: lemon (Meyer), mandarin (Satsuma)


Across the mountains: apple, hazelnut, kiwi fruit, kumquat, pear (incl. nashi)

Best in lower mountains: grapefruit, lemon (Eureka), orange, tangelo

Best in upper mountains: avocado (Bacon), lemon (Meyer)