Friday, December 21, 2018

Do people still roast chestnuts on an open fire? What roasted chestnuts are like in France and Europe

A chestnut stand in Vienna, Austria.

We're all familiar with the Christmas classic The Christmas Song and its beginning verse, 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...', and although that song has made roasting chestnuts synonymous with Christmas, it's something Americans do less and less of. It's hard to believe today, but at one time nearly half of all trees in America's east coast forests were American Chestnut trees. Unfortunately, blight struck in the early 1900's and by the 40's almost all American Chestnut trees were wiped out. Which might explain why it's not so popular in the States anymore and roasted chestnut vendors are few and far between. As a lover of all things chestnut, I'm happy to say that is not the case in France and throughout Europe – roasted chestnuts are just about everywhere this time of year.

Spiny chestnut hulls and shelled roasted inner nut (photo courtesy of  U. Leone 'Ulleo', Pixabay).

Chestnuts are called châtaigne in France, or marron. It can be a bit confusing which is which and you'll see châtaigne and marron used interchangeably, but they are technically not the same thing. Both are different varieties of the châtaignier tree. The châtaigne is grown on the wild version of the tree. It normally has three or more small nuts in each spiny hull (which is called a bogue – see photo above). The marron version is grown on the cultivated châtaignier tree and has only one big round nut in the bogue. When you're talking roasted chestnuts, it's the marron version you're more likely to be eating.

Hulled chestnuts for sale.


We love chestnuts in France and grow them in many areas; the most famous being from the Ardèche département. We use them in a variety of ways all year round – soups, cakes, spreads, liqueurs, etc. – and they are especially popular at Christmas as marrons glacés, a decadent candied style, but for the sake of this post I'm focusing on their roasted form. Just about any European city in the winter will have roasted chestnut stands stuck here and there (follow your nose, they smell wonderful!) and they are staples in Christmas markets across the continent.

Whole chestnuts are sold in the produce section of supermarkets and in open markets as well, making roasting your chestnuts at home with a poêle à marrons  (chestnut roasting pan) or its electric equivalent quite easy. I'm lazy though and prefer to buy mine.

A market vendor's chestnut roaster.

We were in Vienna, Austria recently, and this stand was in a market there, although it could have been anywhere in Europe. I couldn't resist and bought a cornet de marrons chauds (hot roasted chestnuts in a paper cone).

A cone of hot roasted chestnuts.

The main spiny hull has been taken off to roast them, but there's a thin skin you need to remove. Peel that off, pop in your mouth, and enjoy! As an added bonus, they make nice hand warmers on a cold day.

Peel and enjoy!

Often, you'll see individuals selling them on the street, roasting them over metal containers, like this one I photographed in Paris, although I personally don't buy from these.

A chestnut street vendor.

Now, maybe next time you hear The Christmas Song, you'll think of roasted chestnuts European style!

4 comments:

lisa808 said...

Merry Christmas, Shani! Though I don't eat roasted chestnuts, I have always enjoyed the aroma of them.

JanR said...

So interesting! I have never had a roasted chestnut. *Googling what do roasted chestnuts taste like....* Huh! I would have guessed like a walnut, but that's not it at all according to The Google. I bet I would like them. (Not a fan of water chestnuts, and yes I know they are not even close to the same thing, but they are both "chestnuts" so my tongue was telling my brain yuck when I was reading your post. (: ) Thanks for sharing this, Shani!

Fanny DG said...

Miammmm!! ça m'a donné envie de manger des marrons!!! En automne je préparé toujours une délicieuse crème de marrons, et ma belle sœur une glace de marrons... Une délice!!!

~ginny said...

Very cool factoid! I have never seen a roasted chestnut... thanks for the tour my friend!

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