Of the Earth: Cream of chestnut soup, made easy

  • Purchasing peeled, roasted chestnuts can simplify the process of making cream of chestnut soup. Courtesy photo/Pixabay

For the Recorder
Published: 1/22/2019 4:04:05 PM

Here I sit so patiently, dreaming of roasted chestnuts.

The storm is raging outside (to the extent that storms ever rage these days), and I’ve just done an inventory of my larder. Butter, check. Half and half? We’re good. Carrots? Yup. Looks like we even had the foresight to put in some shallots and leeks. Wouldn’t be without them.

But chestnuts? Not one.

My good friend David Fersh of Charlemont had forwarded me the perfect winter-storm recipe: cream of chestnut soup. It is indulgent, comforting and nourishing, incorporating winter ingredients that are (or would be) readily and seasonably available at local markets, with the exception, perhaps, of chestnuts.

“I really wanted to provide something truly exquisite for my family one Christmas,” Fersh explained. “I found a recipe in a paperback called ‘Soup,’ and faithfully followed it. The result was ooh’s and ahh’s from the folks.

“However, for this chef, it was a lot of work, since the chestnuts had to be removed from their hard shells,” he continued. “This entailed carving an X in each shell, a dangerously difficult job, and either parboiling or slow roasting them, then removing the nuts before they cool and adhere to the shells.”

Fersh said he made the soup just one other time before giving up. But then, fast-forward 20 years.

“Hallelujah, one day not long ago, I saw a note in the paper suggesting this could be avoided by purchasing peeled, roasted chestnuts online,” he said. “Sure enough, I found them at Oh! Nuts in Brooklyn. They are organic and come in inexpensive five-ounce packages, which stay fresh in the fridge for months, and I discovered are great for baking, stuffings, salads, stir fry and snacking. This has allowed me to enjoy these delicious treats and make my favorite soup with ease.”

Fersh noted he has modified the recipe over the years, and now includes several optional ingredients. It serves four to six, but can be scaled back.

Cream of Chestnut Soup


1 lb. chestnuts

2 quarts water

3 T butter

1 onion, minced, or equivalent shallots

2 leeks, cleaned and diced

2 carrots, peeled and sliced (parsnips or celery may be added or substituted)

½ cup organic half and half or cream

Minced parsley for topping

Salt and pepper to taste

In a kettle, sauté the onion, leeks and carrots (as well as parsnips or celery if you’re using them) in butter. Add the chestnuts (saving several for decoration) and water.

Purée the mixture in processor until it’s smooth. Return it to the kettle and heat. Add garnishes and serve.

A final old chestnut from Fersh: A disgruntled diner waves the server over to his table. “Waiter, there are only three letters in my soup. What kind of alphabet soup do you call this?” Without missing a beat, the waiter replies “Condensed!”

The Cutting Board

Thanks to a $5,435.15 donation from Whole Foods Market in Hadley, some 20 low-income households in Franklin County will become part of the 2019 Community Supported Agriculture program run by the Greenfield non-profit Just Roots.

The gift comes as part of the Whole Foods day of giving in which 5 percent of net sales was earmarked for Just Roots, which works to provide access to healthy, local food by connecting people, land, resources and know-how.

“We are so grateful to Whole Foods and the Pioneer Valley community who showed up to support Just Roots on Whole Foods 5 Percent Day,” said Just Roots Associate Director Rochelle Bellin.

In case you could use a little farmers’ market soundtrack, you might want to check out Fersh’s double CD “Welcome to Western Massachusetts.” He isn’t about to plug it, so I will. Fersh can also be seen playing locally with the The Artful Codgers, and now and again at the farmers’ market in Shelburne Falls.

What kind of local produce can you still get this time of year? Lots, according to Deb Taricano at Green Fields Market.

“All sorts of roots are local,” she said. “Radishes, daikon radishes, watermelon radish, purple daikon radish, beets. Different kinds of carrots ... We get mushrooms from Mycoterra (Farm). I’m getting greens, arugula, spinach. I still have vendors calling.”

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at wesleyblixt@me.com.

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