Does anyone else have a seasonal tradition that involves the risk of cutting off a digit? No? Just me? It’s true. Throughout the fall and winter, my family and I partake in the extreme bloodsport of roasting chestnuts.
Growing up in an Italian American household, the first appearance of castagne in the grocery store was as celebrated an occasion as Starbucks’s first pump of pumpkin spice latte syrup or the annual release of Beaujolais nouveau. And lately, there’s even more reason to celebrate, as American chestnuts are being cultivated again by farmers after a deadly fungus largely wiped out chestnut trees across the country.
But while chestnut lovers consider the soft, warm, rich, and almost creamy roasted nuts to be a precious seasonal treat, their preparation can be treacherous. You see, before roasting, it is imperative to score each nut with an X to release pressure from the nut when it’s in the oven. (Allrecipes.com literally writes “Do not skip this step” in its chestnut guide.) If you don’t score your chestnuts and simply throw a whole one in the oven, it will explode, scaring the daylights out of you and anyone else in a five mile radius, and also quite literally obliterating your plans for a lovely snack. However, cutting into a hard, rounded shell with a sharp knife can be a recipe for disaster.
So last winter, after almost losing a finger tip for the thousandth time, I started Googling. I figured that surely someone in the history of chestnut-roasting had thought of a better way. And that’s when I discovered this small and simple nutcracker-like apparatus that has a steel serrated X built into it. All you do is place the chestnut on its base, press down, and boom, your chestnut is scored and ready to be roasted. No knives or flailing fingers necessary.
For $14.99, you, too, can save your precious phalanges. The tool, which Amazon calls a chestnut clip, but is also sometimes referred to as a chestnut scorer, would also make for an affordable gift for any chestnut connoisseurs (or aspiring chestnut connoisseurs) in your life. I have purchased many fancier gifts for my family members over the years and this inexpensive unitasker is the one that delighted them the most.
And if roasting chestnuts isn’t already one of your holiday traditions, there’s no better time than cozy season to turn on your oven and snuggle under a blanket while your home fills with the nutty scent. After all, there’s a reason the line “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” opens Nat King Cole’s comforting classic.
If you’re at all intimidated, know that the Great Chestnut Experiment, which recently I stumbled on during a walk in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, sells a gift box that includes a bag of hybrid chestnuts — grown from American trees bred to be resistant to the aforementioned fungus — along with the option to add a chestnut scorer similar to the one I bought from Amazon. While this set is less of a deal at $40 per box, the gift offers lovely wrapping and nuts that have endured far less time in a shipping container (a few hundred miles within the U.S. versus thousands when compared to the more commonly found Italian or Asian varieties). It’s also worth noting that this hybrid nut variety is advertised as having less of the otherwise hard-to-peel pulpy skin inside (called the pellicle), making for an immaculate nut each time. Whether you buy the full kit or just purchase the chestnut clip, you’ll be able to easily enjoy chestnuts this year — and close out the holiday season with your fingers intact.