Monday, October 22, 2007


When I was in Italy last, a good portion of a fun side-trip to the mountains revolved around finding castagne - chestnuts.

It was fall, we were in the mountains, we had access to an open fire so, of course, why wouldn't we want to roast some chestnuts on it? You see.

We went on a trek. An epic and unfulfilling trek where I learned that produce delivery days vary from town to small Italian town and trying to find produce as seasonal and bizarre as chestnuts on an off-day was a laughable idea. This was evidenced by the looks of sarcastic disbelief on the faces of store clerks when we asked them if they had any chestnuts, on this the day of no produce.

This is also when I learned the word, "Giovedi". As in, "No! Non abbiamo castagne! E' Giovedi!" As in, "No! We don't have chestnuts! It's Thursday!"

Oh, well obviously. How silly of us. Forgetting that Thursdays are the international holiday of No Chestnuts.

Anyway, their tone implied that we must be out of our damn minds to:

A. Think they'd have chestnuts on a Thursday, and

B. Not know that in this minuscule mountain town produce day was, perhaps, Friday, and they'd be out of everything on a Thursday, obviously you idiots.

I would have just taken this as another intricacy of the Italian world and their sarcastic tones as an affront to my obvious American know-nothingness, except that my fabulous native hosts were just as taken aback by the whole thing. Like, how are we to know that there's no produce on Giovedi in this teensy town? What, do we all have countrywide produce schedules in our back pocket at all times?

To quote my wise Italian friend, "Boh."

Anyway, we ended up sans chestnuts but in the presence of a Brontosaurus steak and a lot of wine and bizarre liquor of an origin I can't recall, so it all worked out and none of us went blind.

And I told you all of that to tell you this, I went fishing on Saturday and on my hike up from the stream, encountered my very first productive chestnut tree. Well, actually, Bubba first found the chestnuts by picking up something big and bulbous off the ground and going, "Dude. What the hell is THAT do you think?"

To which I said, very knowledgeably thankyouverymuch, "That, my love, is a chestnut."

And it was! (I was actually not 100% sure. But, like, what else could it have been, right?)

It wasn't long before I was grabbing them off the trees and ever-so-satisfyingly peeling back their bumpy skins from the shiny nut inside. Really, so fun. I thought about it a lot as I stood in the river up to my waist and caught not a damn thing all day long.

The trees are a little Dr. Seuss-ish with their long gangly nekkid branches dangling these big pear-shaped whatthehellarethoses. I didn't laugh right at the trees, but they were a little silly compared to the Regal Chestnut Tree picture I've had in my head since elementary school. Something about the circumstances of every chestnut tree in my Scholastic Reading library had them pegged as these big mythical Sycamore-esque beings rather than these squat, awkward pear danglers.

Again, whatever, it was a fun surprise and I picked half a sack full (see, those grocery totes come in handy even when I'm not fighting with the cashier at Safeway) to do something with when I got home. I didn't know *what* that something would be until I got home and flipped open this month's issue of Sunset and found this recipe for chestnut soup right in there.


Yes. I plan these things. I am in sync with the earth's rhythms. I find mystifying produce (note: it was NOT Thursday) and the world provides a recipe.

Woooooooooeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooo ~ mysterious.

I'm just glad the recipe cropped up since I was worried I was going to have to explain what half a bag of chestnuts were doing in my car in two weeks when they started to go bad and Bubba was back there looking for a bottle of water or something.

Um...that's nothing. The dog did it.

And anyway, can chestnuts even go bad? I'm not sure. Either way, I think I'm going to attempt to make this soup even though I basically just met a chestnut two days ago and am not totally sure if they're ripe or ready to cook or about to give us the poisoning of our lives or whatever.



I'm pretty retarded.

So, I went home and made this soup. I peeled the nuts. I chopped all the vegs. I did the bit with the immersion blender. It really looked very good and nice all in the bowl with the sour cream and parsley fresh from the garden on top.

And it tasted like a horses ass.

Know why?

Those are not chestnuts. They are buckeye nuts.

Best part is that buckeye nuts are, in fact, POISONOUS TO HUMANS, as I found out as I searched the web for "how do I know when chestnuts are ripe" and found photos of chestnuts that looked nothing like the pear shaped dandies you seen above. I was starting to doubt the legitimacy of my chestnuts. They had been very bitter and much unlike the chestnuts I'd tasted in Italy only one year ago.

I started to wonder if I had perhaps stumbled upon some lost variety of California chestnut. What a find! But no, I had, in fact, stumbled upon a buckeye tree in full fruit-mode and had been charmed by a lustrous nut poking out from behind a smooth husk rather than the much referred to spiny husk mentioned in all the chestnut articles.


Well, if it isn't a chestnut, I wondered, what could it be? I searched my fingers to the bone looking for "smooth husked chestnut" and a variety of other nonsensical terms and somehow I managed to come upon an article about horse chestnuts with a tiny mention of the buckeye nut and its poisonousness.

At that moment I knew. It HAD to be a buckeye nut. Because that is the kind of person I am. The kind that gets all excited about "oh I'm going to live off the land and make dinner from found vegetation!" and then dies at the dining room table from an overdose of bitter almond cake or buckeye nut soup.

You may (or may not as the case may be) glad to know that Bubba and I only needed one small taste of the soup to know that it was 100% inedible despite the pleasing aroma and how nice it looked in the bowl. We dumped it and the leftie over part still in the pot and made for the remains of the Sunday night dinner I prepared without any death defying ingredients.

And then I went to the Internet. Why, oh why, I take chances with random found nuts rather than just go five feet down the hall to the office to look it up on The Internets is really beyond me. Bubba says it's adventure. I say it's at least mainstream stupidity.

Either way, we're alive, not hungry (wuv you left over pot roast and old soup from last week) and better educated on what IS and IS NOT a chestnut and buckeye tree.

On the bright side, my whimsical imaginings of The Regal Chestnut Tree have been restored since it looks like this in real life and not like the tree you see above.

See, I know some things aren't right when I see them. I'll just endeavor to keep my deciding skills to my eyeballs rather than my tastebuds. That way we don't have to go out and get purple sheets and matching Nikes.

What? Too soon?


  1. I thought you just roasted them on an open fire. Soup? Scary.

  2. Nigella Lawson has a FANTASTIC chestnut soup that I would never have eaten, had my worldlier friend not suggested it to me. Will scan overflowing recipe box for said recipe and (hopefully) send along.

  3. Complimenti for the Italian sentence reconstruction! :)

  4. Oh I feel bad! I was going to comment last night how weird it was that that tree and those nuts looked nothing like the chestnut tree from my childhood. I decided to wait and do some research (i.e. ask my mom if "our" tree was REALLY a chestnut) before I made a fool of myself in comments. Turns out I could have almost saved your life if I had commented! :)

  5. When you talked about dying at the dining room table, I pictured the forensic team standing over you at the table, face down in your soup, saying something like Wow, another case of buckeye poisoning.

    Glad you made it.

    (And I totally would have done the same thing.)

  6. Hahahahahahhahaaa

    OMG. LOL!!

  7. I love this post.
    A. I am so glad you are okay and didn't eat the soup to prove a point, which is what I would do -- I'm afraid. They'd find my stubborn ass dead the next day.
    B. I've seen trees like these and never known what they were!
    C. I said to myself more than once when reading this, "God I hope she is checking some field manual and those are what she thinks they are."
    I just read Into the Wild. It is a crazy read and needless to say, he didn't read the field manual well.

  8. Oh I'm so glad that you're ok and are still here to make these hilarious posts! When I started reading, I was thinking hmm, this sounds kind of like those poisonous mushroom stories... but finny is super gardener! Definitely adventurous!

  9. My grandmother had some chestnut trees when we were children (she cut them down because they were a serious pain in the neck). I remember sticky burrs on the outside. When I saw the photo your your "chestnuts," I thought my memory was wrong.

    I'm so happy that you were not poisoned. Although, it is kind of funny. (I said "kind of.")

  10. Oh my god. you just made me laugh sooooo hard. Hilarious. Whatever you get into next, pray it not be foraging for mushrooms.....

  11. Oh, man! That was a close one!!

    I'm actually pretty glad that there tree isn't a chestnut tree, 'cuz it's pretty creepy-looking.

    Too bad those aren't edible though... you might have invented a new recipe!

  12. Boh! Indeed. I'm glad you didn't poison yourself on what we used to call conkers. I just got back from Rome on Giovedi and I can tell you with some minor authority that Giovedi is Gnocchi day. The days for castagne (at least the roasted kind) seem to be random and associated with temperatures under 60F or a tourist to Roman ratio of 5 to 1. Rome is sorta up to it's ass in chestnuts right now and the smell from the vendors drove me nuts. I shoveled them into my face in a manner that made small children cry and adults draw back in horror. I also considered surgery so I could put an entire leg of prosciutto into my mouth like a pork lollipop with just the hoof sticking out as a handle. I don't know if you eat the treyf, but when you go back in December I highly recommend the all pork fat diet I went on.


[2013 update: You can't comment as an anonymous person anymore. Too many douchebags were leaving bullshit SPAM comments and my inbox was getting flooded, but if you're here to comment in a real way like a real person, go to it.]

Look at you commenting, that's fun.

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Sucks, right?

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