Cornish and Kentish foraging

29/10

I was beginning to fear that this year the chestnuts for the Christmas goose would have to be bought, as the opportunity to gather them in Kent never quite presented itself. I have not cycled home through the woods this autumn as work has taken me elsewhere. This meant that I missed my favourite crab tree as well.

Last year our god-daughters helped with the harvest on the side of Abbot’s Hill, and they roasted a few by our fire before taking their share home to London. But this year our chestnuts will be Cornish ones. As Patrick, an old school friend, lives in the Duchy with his wife Rosemarie, we took ourselves over to see them, and there along their footpath into town we soon gathered sufficient stuffing to satisfy the discerning Turnstone crew.

There’s just the small matter of peeling them to look forward to. Not good for the fingernails, but it’s a congenial task for a dark autumn evening with the music playing.

The real reason for visiting Truro, of course, was their company. We had not seen them since the time our daughters brought us together again: theirs graduated as a teacher, after teaching ours during her final practice at college; those dozen years – and a great many more – to catch up on; that gave us another blessed day.

Here is last year’s story:

Two lively god-daughters gave us a good excuse for a muddy Autumn walk up Abbott’s Hill. Like moths to a flame, welly boots were drawn to the squidgy puddles, but the girls’ mother had packed a change of clothes; she knows her children. Amy tumbled backwards with all the grace of a ballet-dancing eight-year-old. And did it again.

We had no time to float sticks down the stream; we were out hunting, not for rabbits or squirrels, but for another wild food – chestnuts.

On the way up to the spinney, Juliet was able to identify some of the trees, like the silver birch and oak. We saw the magpies and squirrels busily gathering acorns, but would they have left us any chestnuts? A green woodpecker was so intent on the acorn feast that it merely hopped a few yards from the path as we walked by. A magpie scolded us from the topmost branches; the squirrels just scrambled round the far side of the tree.

And chestnuts there were in plenty. Great fun was had in gathering them, rolling the spiky husks under the soles of our boots till the shiny fruit lay open to view in its soft bed. There was much critical appraisal of our harvest, and before the girls were bored, a respectable bagful was gathered.

Not living in London where such luxuries are regulated, we were able to light the fire and invite Juliet and Amy to take turns cooking the nuts on the roasting shovel brought back from a holiday in Wales. There were still plenty for them to take back home, while I cooked and froze the rest: our Christmas stuffing was guaranteed local produce!

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