Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This year we had a bumper chestnut crop because of the heavy rains, which not only pumped up the tree, but also helpfully kept down the insects that usually spoil many of the chestnuts. In a normal year at least 30% are unusable; this year we had twice the usual crop, but only about 5% insected. Delight comes in infinite forms.

Thus it was that on the first morning of the heavy chestnut fall I gathered a bucketful of the thoroughbred beauties, then two mornings later (workday in between) I came out to do some other gardening work and the ground was covered with sleek brown gems gleaming in the morning sun, where they had bounced out of the spiky burst husks, all that hearty tastefulness and nutrition just lying there to be picked up. I forgot about the other work (a groundful of ready chestnuts is irresistible) and went about just picking up the free good ones, leaving those that were still in their husks, and got another bucketful. I left the ones in the husks because I knew that the Chestnut Thief was coming.

Sure enough, that afternoon I was planting potatoes and heard behind me "Kuri no dorobo kimashita!" ("The Chestnut Thief has arrived!") It was Ms. T, our upmountain neighbor, who lives in Kyoto but has a plot of land here on the mountain that she tends once or twice a week (a lot of tara-no-me there). On her way back home she often stops by our place to pick some wild herbs (we have a lot of fukinoto and mitsuba) and, every year about now, to garner the last of the fallen chestnuts. We chatted as we worked at our tasks for about an hour (she said an inoshishi (wild pig) had uprooted one of her herb beds, looking for earthworms). When she left our place she had a big bag filled with chestnuts to help make up for it.

Speaking of chestnuts, I saw on an organic gardening forum somewhere the question "Can I add chestnut husks to my compost pile?" The answer is yes, but first let the husks dry out enough, then rake them into a pile and burn them, tending the fire to watch out for (and keep out of the way of) any exploding chestnuts; then throw the ashes on the compost pile. If left to decay on their own, the spikes take a couple of years to disintegrate; you don't want to get stabbed by surprise in the meanwhile. Having a chestnut thief helps make the whole process easier.

Then you make one long slit across the 'crown' of a handful of chestnuts, roast them in the oven for a few minutes, take them out and you have a crowd of waraigumi (laughing chestnuts), sitting there all wobbly and laughy, ready to crack open and eat. Kids love the happy creatures.

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