The season to forage for chestnuts is October through November at Skyline Chestnuts, a gather-your-own orchard in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 20-acre orchard is blanketed in the morning fog at around 2,500 feet off Skyline Boulevard, above Palo Alto and maintained by the Johsens family on Midpeninsula Open Space District lands. They provide the gloves and buckets, and you bring your team of gathering kinfolk. Collect to your heart’s content in a big white plastic bucket. At the end, simply weigh to pay by the pound. Be careful — these spiny protective pods can catch tender fingers by surprise! Roasting pans are sold on site to complete your Currier and Ives moment of roasting them over an open fire. Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to gather up these fallen nuggets from centuries-old trees. Don’t miss the recipe for a chestnut stuffing at the end of this post.
- 6 cups torn bite-size pieces of day-old homemade-style white bread
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 ribs of celery, chopped
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves or 1 tablespoon dried, crumbled
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves or 1½ teaspoons dried, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh savory leaves or 1 teaspoon dried, crumbled
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 1 pound fresh chestnuts, shelled and peeled, chopped coarse, or ¾ pound vaccuum-packed whole chestnuts, chopped coarse (about 2 cups)
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- With a sharp knife cut an X on the round side of each chestnut. Spread the chestnuts in one layer in a jelly-roll pan, add ¼ cup water, and bake the chestnuts in a preheated 450°F. oven for 10 minutes, or until the shells open. Remove the chestnuts, a handful at a time, and shell and peel them while they are still hot.
- Reheat the oven to 325°F. In a shallow baking pan arrange the bread pieces in one layer, bake them in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden, and transfer them to a large bowl. In a large skillet cook the onions, the celery, the sage, the thyme, the rosemary, and the savory in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, add the chestnuts, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the vegetable mixture to the bread pieces, tossing the mixture well, stir in the parsley and salt and pepper to taste, and let the stuffing cool completely. The stuffing may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. (To prevent bacterial growth do not stuff turkey cavities in advance.) Makes enough to stuff a 12- to 14-pound turkey with extra to bake on the side.
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