Chestnuts ... But Not Roasting On An Open Fire

Piedmont Chestnut Soup

The Christmas Song starts with the lyric "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire."  The first time I ever heard that song was at a studio recording of The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show in London many years ago (Mike Yarwood - where is he now?). When planning the Christmas menus with the spouse, I thought, "Mmmm, chestnuts." There are two recipes for chestnut soup in the The Soup Book, the first of which was my choice for Christmas day. I started preparing it on Christmas eve, the spouse having had to go out to get another bag of chestnuts.

The recipe for Piedmont chestnut soup is by Sophie Grigson, who warns that you need to allow time for peeling. I'd like to follow that up with a nail health warning: the nailbeds of my thumbs are very sore from peeling the chestnuts! I even put nail varnish on to hide the tear marks. Enough moaning - it's Christmas. The ingredients for the soup include chicken stock (home-made), thyme, bay leaves, risotto rice, milk and butter. The most tedious part was preparing the chestnuts - next time I'll use pre-prepared ones. When ready, they are simmered in the stock for about an hour and a half. I expected them to crumble to dust, but they kept their shape.

This soup was our starter on the Christmas Day menu. It was delicious: slightly sweet and nutty. All our guest enjoyed it very much. "Intense flavour" was one phrase used. I have to admit that I was surprised by how strong the flavour of chestnuts was.

100th Soup - Chestnut Soup with Ham

On St Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) I made my second chestnut soup of the festive season and my 100th soup from The Soup Book!  It's taken me about two years to get this far and I'm half way through. Will I stick with it and get to the end of the book?

Chestnut and ham soup
The ingredients for this soup by Marie-Pierre Moine include chestnuts, onion, garlic, bay leaves, fennel seeds, vegetable stock and diced cooked ham. I used a combination of fresh and vacuum-packed chestnuts. My sister Jay-Zo and her partner did the hard labour of preparing the fresh ones for me, for which I am very grateful.  The first step was to fry the onion and garlic, then the herbs went in, followed by the chestnuts and stock. I had a little taste and there was a strong flavour of fennel. I warned Jay-Zo, who is not a fan. The final stage (once you have liquidised the soup mix) is to fry the diced ham with more fennel seeds, so this soup would be a no-go area for the sister. The choices for her were the remains of salmon chowder made three days earlier (see also my blog entry for 18th September 2011) and of the Piedmont chestnut soup - she chose the chowder, as did the older offspring (home for the holidays).

Four of us ate the chestnut soup with ham. It was full of different flavours and the velvety texture of the liquidised chestnuts was a treat on the tongue too!

Bee is for Books

I got a pile of books for Christmas, one of which is I, Partridge: We Need to Talk about Alan, the autobiography of the legendary radio and television presenter.  Here comes the bee bit:

Learning was my friend; knowledge, my bosom buddy. Indeed, in my quest for self-education, I once put a bumblebee in the freezer. It was to see if I could freeze it and then bring it back to life. I couldn't. Of course I couldn't, it was dead. 
I've also just finished re-reading Daphne du Maurier's The Scapegoat. I read several of her novels when I was in my twenties and enjoyed them very much. Although not as well known as Rebecca or The Birds, The Scapegoat certainly gripped my imagination and is worth tracking down. Anyway, here's the bee:

The spirit of Francoise, lying in the hospital room, did not wish to be reminded of what had happened to her in the world she had deserted, and the mind of the mother here, who echoed the prayers, must not waken suddenly with a question. The cadence, smooth and toneless, the humming of a bee inside the petals of a flower, dulled interrogation, and my senses and my nerves, which had been strained, ready to snap, became gradually numbed, tuning themselves to the atmosphere and tempo of this room without life. 
More contrasting books I couldn't have found!

100 Soups


Above is a graph showing the proportion of the different types of soups from The Soup Book that I have made so far.  I will have to make a few more of the fish and meat soups to bring them over the halfway mark. As the year 2011 comes to an end, I am thinking of the changes - personal and professional - that have taken place in my life this year. Some have been beyond my control, others I have taken responsibility for. I will face new choices in the new year, including the choice of which soups to make! These choices will diminish as I progress through The Soup Book. Ninety-nine more choices to make.
If I don't manage to squeeze in another soup within the next four days, I wish you all the best in 2012.



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