What David Ogilvy doesn't know about growing chestnuts isn't worth bothering with. David has been growing these prickly little blighters for over 40 years and over time has developed an orchard of thoughtfully grafted, carefully curated trees perfectly adapted to their cool climate.
The Ogilvy's first began growing chestnuts here in Mullion Creek (just out of Orange) in 1976 and now their 500 trees produce some of Australia's best. From 'buche de betizac to de coppi marrone', David selects, grafts, re-grafts, studies and nurtures his trees so that each one is productive, healthy and happy in its environment.
I visited the Ogilvy's orchard; Brittle Jack's Chestnuts a couple of years ago and on returning last week, was kicking myself for not heading out here more often. The orchard is quite beautiful, there's a great picnic spot and David and Margaret love having visitors. From families to big groups (they welcome many busloads of Italian visitors every season), you can come out, collect your fill of chestnuts then stick around for a picnic and a chat. It really is one of the coolest, most fun 'farm gate' experiences I know of.
If keen to head out, just call them on 02 6365 8353 and make an appointment (though don't dawdle as the season ends in the third week of April, give or take). Oh, and wear thick-soled shoes as the chestnut conkers (or casings) are pretty prickly.
How to prepare chestnuts
There are a few schools of thought about this; but really it depends on what you are using the nuts for. Whichever of the below methods you choose, just start by scoring a cross onto the flat 'face' of the nut so it doesn't explode while cooking. Apparently you can microwave them but David isn't a fan of this method so neither am I. Lots more information sourcing, selecting, preparing, storing and cooking chestnuts can be found on Chestnuts Australia's website.
This is the go if you are using your nuts to thicken a soup/stew, or if the nuts will be pureed at all. Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the nuts and let them bubble away for about 20 minutes. Drain, wrap in a tea towel and as soon as you can handle the heat, peel away the outer layer then the inner 'skin'.
This is the method I usually go for when preparing chestnuts for a casserole like the one above, to finely chop for cakes or just to eat sliced with some figs and grapes for dessert. The result is creamy, smooth and just delicious. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place scored chestnuts on a tray and bake for 20 minutes or until the shell splits at the cross. Remove from the oven, wrap in a tea towel and as soon as you can handle the heat, peel away the outer layer then the inner 'skin'.
Roasting, grilling or barbecueing
Great fun if you are camping or just having an Autumnal barbie, this method is easy but just takes a bit of turning and timing. Place the scored chestnuts on a fire-proof plate or pan and cook, turning often, until the shell splits at the cross (about half an hour). Remove from heat, wrap in a tea towel and as soon as you can handle the heat, peel away the outer layer then the inner 'skin'.
Venison braised in verjus with chestnuts and pine mushroomsI am ridiculously excited about this recipe. It's a real amalgamation of some of my favourite Autumn flavours, and one of my favourite new recipes. Plus, it uses almost entirely local (to us) ingredients, from our own venison to mushrooms from my mother-in-law Judith's garden, the Ogilvy's chestnuts, Orange Mountain Verjuis, onions and aromatics from The Agrestic Grocer.
Braising the venison in verjus delivers a light, tangy casserole, the chestnuts are sweet and creamy and the mushrooms a wonderful addition of texture, flavour and colour (though regular brown ones would also be beautiful here too). Of course if you can’t source venison, veal or beef shin or shoulder would also work a treat. Serves 6.
About 1 kg venison shoulder, diced into 4cm cubes
1/4 cup plain flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 handful combined woody herbs (I use a mixture of rosemary, thyme and a few bay leaves)
1 1/2 cup verjus
1 cup veal stock
3 cups pine or brown mushrooms (thinly sliced)
10-12 chestnuts, (baked then peeled)
Preheat the oven to 120C. Toss the diced venison with the flour and season to taste. Heat half of the olive oil in a large, heavy based frying pan on high and brown the meat, in batches, on each side. Set meat aside, reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining olive oil. Cook the onion, carrot, celery and herbs, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft and the onion translucent.
Pour in the verjus, stock and mushrooms. Return the venison to the pan, add the chestnuts and cover with a lid and cook in preheated oven for 4-6 hours. Gently reheat and serve with creamy mash.