Friday, October 21, 2016

Nutty fall: finding chestnuts and others in the forests of Yokohama

Ah, chestnuts … the image of Frank Sinatra and chilly early winter night in Manhattan …, or a romantic stroll along Camps Elyseés where yellow leaves of marronnier decorate the scenery … with wafting smell of roasted chestnuts … right? Whichever, I had an image of chestnuts that must come out late autumn, or early winter … Few weeks back, I posted my adventure with a hare in chestnuts orchard. That was in August, and, yeah, I noticed the trees had lots of nuts already. But their burrs were still green. I thought the bounty would be ready in October or November. I a kind of automatically felt it must have been so, otherwise Sinatra or Camps Elyseés does not make sense ...

The burrs are still very green in the middle of August …
Oh, by the way, there was a newspaper article last month
reporting Japanese hare is approaching for Red List entry.
They wrote in some prefectures including
Saitama (north of Tokyo) and Aichi (where Toyota has HDQ)
they are declared as “extinct.”
Oh my … I met a treasured resident of Niiharu …

In the morning of the last Sunday of August this year, when we cleared the dangerous branches above the trekking roads for kids, the other group of Niiharu Lovers declared they went to the chestnuts orchard to harvest. At that time, I thought it was only because Lovers come to the forest only once a week and it was a kind of measure taken under unavoidable circumstance to utilize the occasion. Then, I noticed on that same day several landlords actually went into their orchard in Niiharu and collected the nuts. I asked one of them “I thought chestnuts would be ready in October … wouldn’t they?” He looked at me with a puzzling face and said “Huh? Chestnuts must be ready in late August around here.” Sure enough, my seniors came back with a mountain of nuts. As with the bamboo shoots the bounty was shared equally among the volunteers who came on that activity day.  My family had a supper with crème de fresh marrons for dessert, in August.

The harvest from the chestnuts orchard Lovers take care of.
They are not all.
Could you see the plastic bags at the background?
Each contains a bag-full of nuts, literally.

I was honestly surprised. It was still crazy-hot, and we sweated heavily all day long. … We had fresh chestnuts in summer. Since then, I became attentive about the news for local market of chestnuts. And, YES, at least in Japanese archipelago, chestnuts are harvested by the middle of September. In order for having Sinatra-style Christmas, the nuts in Japan are not fresh but stored for at least 3 months already. I realized my notion of the chestnuts’ season has not corresponded with real lives of chestnuts in Yokohama. My brain was dominated by Sinatra and Paris … Gosh. Then, my Niiharu seniors told me, “Those chestnuts in orchards are cultivated variety. Certainly they are big, but their taste is blander than the nuts we can collect from the trees naturally grow in the forest.” “Yes, yes. The mountain chestnuts are far more delicious than the things in orchards. When we were kids, we played in the forest, and collected wild chestnuts for snacks.” ??? So, you ate the chestnuts raw? Is it possible to eat them without cooking? “Huh? Of course. Oh, here is a wild chestnut, let me see (; he skillfully peeled a tiny nut with a Swiss-army knife, and then), here, take it.” Wooooo … is it really OK without cooking? Won’t I have a stomach pain? “Of course not, try it.”

This is my another giant step for … raw chestnut.

Indeed, it was tastier than the supermarket variety. Cultivated chestnuts are … I would say, starchier. Wild chestnuts have nuttier flavor, and surely organic. This September, they took my fancy as nouveau cuisine. When I joined volunteer activities in September, I looked around and collected wild chestnuts. It was not that difficult to have another crème de marrons. It seems to me many people, who are in the end urbanites like I, do not know that tiny nuts taste better than the good-looking things in stores. To my another astonishment, the season of wild chestnuts has concluded quite quickly; at most one month only. By the end of September, they are gone. … They are precious.

This photo contains 2 giant wild chestnut trees
… I won’t tell you which. (Ha ha)
When you collect chestnuts, you don’t need scissors,
but had better wear thick-soled shoes.
They are ready when they fall off from a tree in burrs.
Often the pods open their mouth by themselves,
but sometimes they don’t.
You prise-open a husk with your shoes,
and voil
à, chestnuts!
Although their covers are equally spiky,
the mountain chestnuts are far smaller
than the artificially “inflated” chestnuts.
Wild chestnuts ^.^

These days acorn cookies are baked professionally and sold as “Jomon 縄文, aka ancient, cookies” in specialty stores. Some of my forest-volunteering buddies are trying to bake, and improve, them by themselves. In high school, we Japanese kids are taught that our ancestors of 5000 BC ate lots of nuts, including chestnuts. Now it’s a sort of trendy in Tokyo area to try such almost forgotten things of daily life. Actually, the sweets made of marronnier nuts トチの実 quietly gain popularity, as many people realize it takes professional skill to create delicate treats from marronnier. (“Oh, do you know that “patisserie” where the master can create beautiful rice cake out of marronnier?” etc.)  Unfortunately, I don’t know the place with marronnier in my neighborhood, but I know another fall bounty from forests; nuts of torreya nucifera (Japanese nutmeg yew カヤ). We can find this tree often near ancient temples and shrines as they are regulars for religious rituals in Japan. A large Japanese nutmeg yew bears lots of fruits in September, falling off to the ground. We can simply collect them to bake flavorful cookies. After roasting, I freeze them for Christmas cookies. They have dense flavor of nutty oils that can match well with strongly bitter chocolate. If you find a yew tree in Yokohama’s forests, try them!

Japanese nutmeg yew
at the entrance of Asahina Kiridoshi 
It has “shimenawa
注連縄” like sumo wrestlers,which
means people has found something sacred with this tree.
Fruits of Japanese nutmeg yew.
Their size is about 2cm long.
Inside of green meat, there is a nut.
They look like almonds.
Washed nuts.
The raw nuts of torreya nucifera taste bitter.
Some say if we harvest in late autumn
by digging them out from the soil,
the harshness can be gone.
I’m not sure about the sanitary aspects of this methodology
so that I always pick yew nuts of September
and soak them overnight with bicarbonate solution before roasting them.
The amount of baking soda is, er, “as you like it.”
I think too much of soda could overkill the nutty taste.
Here, I put, … 1 tbsp? for approx. 1.5L of water.
After soaking, roast them with 160°C for 12 minutes or so.
It’s like roasting walnuts,
but the husk of yew’s nuts are thinner
so that we have to adjust the time accordingly.
Roasted yew nuts.
We can know they’re done when some of them had cracks.
As you could see, the husks of yew nuts
(on the right of the photo) are thin, but hard.
After roasting, I always crack the nuts before they become cold,
and freeze them for winter.
Yew nuts contain lots of fat,
which means leaving them after roasting in room temperature
could ruin their flavor.
It would be wiser to prepare them promptly.

If you find a problem in the Niiharu Forest, please make a contact with

Office for the Park Greeneries in the North 北部公園緑地事務所
Yokohama Municipal Government Creative Environment Policy Bureau 横浜市環境創造局
Phone: 045-311-2016 (I guess in Japanese only)
FAX: 045-316-8420 (I hope there is somebody who can read English …)

Niiharu Administrative Office / Satoyama Exchange Center 新治管理事務所・里山交流センター
Phone: 045-931-4947
Fax: 045-937-0898

Oh, yes, Lovers of Niiharu has changed the homepage address. The administrator told me they are welcome for comments etc.

No comments:

Post a Comment