Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stalking the Wild Chestnut

It's Saturday afternoon, the baby won't nap, and we decide it's time to go for a walk. Berlin is in full-on fall mode, and we want to walk around as long as we still can. So we bundle the kiddo into his stroller, and head to Hasenheide.

Ah, Hasenheide. Each corner its very own dealer. I am thinking I should do an art project in which I collect the favourite recipe of each drug dealer in the park, and publish them all in a cookbook. And then I see it: a chestnut.

I had picked up a few chestnuts in Berlin in the past few days, but this time I really started to look for them, gathering them in my pockets. My husband got into the spirit of things. We realised we had no idea what chestnut leaves look like, but we followed stray nuts around the park path until we found a tree. Took a leaf to remember it by.

And it was a goldmine -- the wind was blowing hard, scattering more chestnuts down. I pulled two plastic bags from my purse, originally meant for diapers, and we gathered more and more. I managed to get stung by nettles as I reached for a few chestnuts under a fence. We started talking about maybe buying some cream, boiling the chestnuts, making a pasta sauce from the sweet meat.

On our way out of the park, we hit bonanza. Two trees, surrounded by dozens and dozens of chestnuts. They are so fresh and large and beautiful. I remark that the chestnuts I got on the streets of New York in winter were never so big and luscious. Some of them are still in the light green casing, so we have the fun of prying them free. The baby is sleeping soundly as we leave the stroller, and I pull out two thick shopping bags to carry our massive hoard. We imagine all the different recipes we can make now... roast a few, make pasta with others, perhaps a chestnut cheesecake...?

A little girl joins us for a while. But otherwise we get only funny looks. What silly people these are, we think, who don't see how much free food is available here for the scavenging. Every time we think we are ready to go, the wind blows again, and we scurry to catch the nuts that fell.

On our way out of Hasenheide, we are delighted, giggly. We kiss each other, and I smell the fresh air on my husband's face. We feel young. We are carrying enormous bags full of chestnuts, but we still stop to get some cream on the way home. On our way out of the market, my husband remarks that he should have bought some red wine too, as it goes well with chestnuts, but I proudly inform him I had some at home already. I'm just that kind of prepared wife.

So we go home, and I call a friend to invite her and her husband for dinner. We figure if they come, we'll have enough time to get a pork butt or something, and stuff it with chestnuts and herbs and roast it and make it wonderful. I tell her we picked up all these chestnuts, looking over to where my husband has started weighing our hoard on the kitchen scale.

"You found edible ones?" she asks.

"What do you mean, edible ones?"

Then she starts describing these beautiful, shiny, large chestnuts, and it turns out that they are not, in fact, edible. Actually, they are horse chestnuts, and they are poisonous. And we have about twelve kilos of them.

The second layer of ridiculousness? We had actually also picked about thirty edible ones, but they were unripe and looked so small, and their cases were so sharp, that I tossed them all out once we found the beautiful horse chestnuts. This is why dyed-in-the-wool city people should not try to forage. The supermarket is our friend.

So what do we do with twelve kilos of horse chestnuts?

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