The Sweet Chestnut is not a native tree to Britain. It is thought that the tree originated in Greece but and was planted in the Britain by the Roman, who planted the tree all across their conquered empire. This is presumably for the use of the nuts that grow on the tree. The nuts have formed an important food source for centuries where crops couldn’t be grown, and just like wheat the nuts can be ground into flour.
Chestnuts are pretty unique compared to other nuts. Whilst nuts like the Hazel nut are rich in protein, the Sweet Chestnut is on the whole carbohydrate and have a floury texture. Chestnut flour is still used in rural cooking to day, and can be purchased from specialist supplies.
However in October, or thereabouts, you can with a bit of searching find plenty of Sweet Chestnuts to make their own flour. The process is pretty straight forward but does take a bit of effort.
Score the tops of the chestnuts as if you are going to just have them as roasted nuts
Roast the chestnuts for approximately 30 mins
Peel the skins off the chestnuts
Let the nuts cool down and dry off. I find it best to let them dry overnight
Put the nuts in a food processor, coffee grinder or flour mill. A grind to as fine a flour possible (Although it will be a lot coarser than wheat flour)
Let the resultant flour dry out if it still feels moist. The flour can be frozen for a few months, or use it in cooking. It is worth pointing out that chestnut flour has no gluten in it and thus is suitable for a gluten-free diet.
Sweet Chestnut Biscuits (Recipe from celtnet.org.uk)
50g sweet chestnut flour 245g plain flour
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp light brown sugar
4 tbsp butter or shortening
Sweet Chestnut Flour Biscuits Preparation: Method:
Sift together the sweet chestnut flour, flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Dice the butter and rub into the flour mixture with your fingers until thoroughly combined then mix in the sugar. Form a well in the centre and add the milk until the mixture comes together as a dough.
Turn onto a lightly-floured work surface and knead lightly before rolling out to about 6mm thick. Cut into rounds with a pastry cutter and place on a lightly-greased baking tray. Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200°C and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked through.
Allow to cool on a wire rack before storing in an air-tight tin or eating.