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Posts Tagged ‘Greek chestnut dressing/stuffing’

My thumbs hurt. Both of them. Underneath the fingernails. The kind of hurt one gets when a sliver slides in – or a chestnut shell.

See that chipped nail polish on my thumb? It took me days to find the courage to remove it with nail polish remover. When you hear Johnny Mathis crooning “chestnuts roasting on an open fire”, don’t be fooled. Roasting them in front of a blazing fire with your sweetie may be romantic, but, taking the hard, outer shell off and rescuing the nut meats in not for the tender-hearted.

I should begin at the beginning.

Throughout my childhood, all our Thanksgivings and most other holidays, in fact, were celebrated at our house. My grandmother, Yia Yia, lived with us and her children and grandchildren nearby. A large, extended family, there were also first and second cousins and anyone else who needed a place to be on Thanksgiving. My yia yia was known to be a gracious hostess and an extraordinary cook.

Thanksgiving brought us the traditional turkey, seasoned with Greek herbs and lemon, and chestnut/meat stuffing. Oh, the aroma of the holiday bird roasting in our Tappan oven. It was only matched by the scents emanating from the turkey as the stuffing was removed to a bowl and the turkey sliced onto a platter. It was like the spirits of the Pilgrims and the native Americans transcending hundreds of years and as many cultural divides one can imagine a country like ours having.

Ah, I tend to wander in my thoughts when it comes to food and history.

I don’t know if it was the fact that my sister and her family were joining us this Thanksgiving or the headiness (or nuttiness) of our first walnut harvest several weeks ago, but, I had a “hankerin'” for my grandmother’s stuffing this year.

I had never made it before and it had been more than twenty years since I last tasted it. A few years before my Aunt Christina had died.

So, dear readers, off I went to buy some chestnuts with all the rest of the turkey fixings, including ingredients for bread stuffing, which everyone was used to. Now, not any old chestnuts were to be had. No, along with organic oranges for our traditions cranberry relish, because the entire orange goes into it, rind and all, the chestnuts were to be organic as well. After I paid with the usual arm and a leg that one pays in such stores, home I went to start preparations.

First, the chestnuts have to be slit. X marks the spot. The shell is pierced so the nut doesn’t burst in a heat induced chestnut explosion in the very hot oven. ¬†When toasted, the shells then have to be opened, while still hot, and the nuts removed. The longer the chestnuts cool, the harder it is to get the meats out. A skin starts to form on the nut that becomes rather hard and, well, that’s where my thumbs came into use.

A pound of chestnuts, ground round steak, all manner of chopped vegetables, Romano cheese, breadcrumbs, and enough butter to weaken any heart, and into the oven that stuffing went. Fennel was the ingredient that gave off the most essence of my past and it was worth the effort, I must admit, just for the smells. The stuffing, however, did not measure up. Maybe it was because I cooked it outside of the turkey, or not enough herbs, or, whatever . . .

. . . maybe just too much time had passed between my own childhood and my granddaughter’s.

It was a lesson, perhaps, not only in the fine art of chestnut roasting, but, in holding on to those family recipes as long as one can. I’ve managed a good many of my Yia Yia’s dishes and pastries, but, this one, well, maybe once my thumbs heal, I’ll give it another try.

How about you? Do you have a family dish that you wish you could make?

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