How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chestnuts

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How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chestnuts

Post: #282554 JT101
Tue Oct 21, 2014 10:54 am

So apart from smoking (I don't particularly want to be burning wood just to dry chestnuts) how did the Romans or other past dynasties, or your typical country french homestead dry chestnuts.

I came across a book that said in France, they used to soak in water with a touch of vinegar to kill the weevils, and then air dry on racks.

Then they were stored in layers of sand. Some say completely dry, some say damp

There is no more detail than that, and I've read there are several problems with this. They also do it in China, and when stored in the sand, they lost 30-40% of the crop.

I'm looking for an old school technique that doesn't require modern materials, and is "fairly" reliable for drying completely, and then storing. And ones that are proven & tested and in more detail.

I've heard about the biscuit tin in the ground method, but I don't plan on making any tin boxes soon, but clay, wood or wicker is more what I'm thinking. Obviously in a building or in the ground is fine.


Many thanks

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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282555 MKG
Tue Oct 21, 2014 11:20 am

I wouldn't take too much notice of age-old storage methods, as the loss rate was often up to 50%. I looked into this a couple of years ago but never followed it up. However, as luck would have it, I took a few notes (but no guarantees).

Firstly, forget the sand. All that will do is retain any atmospheric moisture and rot your nuts (if you'll pardon the expression) unless you keep the sand dry artificially. Now you need to get rid of the ones which will encourage others to rot and you do that by dumping them into water and chucking out the ones which float. Then you leave them in the water for 4 or 5 days which (apparently) cures them. Remove them from the water and spread them out somewhere, turning occasionally, until the shells dry - maybe another day or two.

Now the magic bit - hessian sacks. Put your chestnuts in those and hang them (DON'T leave them on the floor) in a cool place with a reasonable airflow. Give them a gentle turnover now and again (more often if they're freshly stored, decreasing later) and inspect them at intervals to remove any which show signs of rot.

Theoretically, you end up with a good rate of preservation for up to a year - but your chestnuts will be bullet-hard and will need to be well-soaked before use.

So say my notes, strongly suggesting that free airflow is a necessity at all times. In the end, it never got any further than notes so I haven't the foggiest if it all works. However, it looks like a good method theoretically.
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282577 Brewtrog
Tue Oct 21, 2014 5:53 pm

Sounds similar to drying hops (minus the whole soaking bit), works great for hops (well in pillow cases). You could always preserve them in booze ( http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle ... ut-liqueur for a recipe, with a few other ideas (chestnut beer sounds interesting to look into)), but then again I always say that things should be turned into/put into booze (and some people think I'm an alcoholic for some reason :scratch: :lol: ).

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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282580 Green Aura
Wed Oct 22, 2014 9:29 am

I had a little look around because I found this quite intriguing. I think long term storage would have been in some sort of syrup - but then the Romans weren't averse to mixing sweet and savoury in the same dish, so that wouldn't have been a problem for them.

Drying them out until hard looks like it could be problematic for future use - both taste and texture seem to deteriorate - but they could be ground into flour. I think this would have to be at the point of use though as chestnut flour doesn't keep well.

This was quite interesting
http://www.washingtonchestnut.com/prepa ... tnuts.html
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282597 diggernotdreamer
Thu Oct 23, 2014 1:19 pm

Out of interest, why do you want to store them?. How about pickling, this from the Chestnut Forum, yes there really is a forum dedicated to chestnuts http://www.chestnutsonline.com/forum/ub ... 66&gonew=1

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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282600 Zech
Thu Oct 23, 2014 10:21 pm

Green Aura wrote:they could be ground into flour. I think this would have to be at the point of use though as chestnut flour doesn't keep well.

It doesn't? Oh fiddlesticks. I gathered about seven pounds of chestnuts recently and turned most of them into flour, which now fills a couple of jars.
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282601 diggernotdreamer
Thu Oct 23, 2014 10:30 pm

what if you put the flour into the dehydrator? or did you already do that or just stored it in the freezer in a plastic container, I do this when I bought bulk flour and didn't want it to go off

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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282602 JT101
Thu Oct 23, 2014 10:36 pm

MKG wrote:
Firstly, forget the sand. All that will do is retain any atmospheric moisture and rot your nuts (if you'll pardon the expression) unless you keep the sand dry artificially. Now you need to get rid of the ones which will encourage others to rot and you do that by dumping them into water and chucking out the ones which float. Then you leave them in the water for 4 or 5 days which (apparently) cures them. Remove them from the water and spread them out somewhere, turning occasionally, until the shells dry - maybe another day or two.

Now the magic bit - hessian sacks. Put your chestnuts in those and hang them (DON'T leave them on the floor) in a cool place with a reasonable airflow. Give them a gentle turnover now and again (more often if they're freshly stored, decreasing later) and inspect them at intervals to remove any which show signs of rot.

Theoretically, you end up with a good rate of preservation for up to a year - but your chestnuts will be bullet-hard and will need to be well-soaked before use.


That's great MKG. I'll try that one. What is your source out of interest?

As far as the sand idea, I came across the book "preserving food without freezing or canning", which notes this technique from someone in France. They claim they've had great success with it using very very dry sand. Another source I found said to use wet sand. Anyway, only one way to find out. I'll give all methods a try and report back

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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282605 Green Aura
Fri Oct 24, 2014 9:23 am

You can freeze it, zech. That will keep it much longer. I can't remember why it doesn't keep - fat content maybe? :dontknow: But that's why you get commercially produced bags in really small quantities at huge expense.

Either freeze it or make huge quantities of Castagnaccio and get stuck in. :lol:
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282606 ina
Fri Oct 24, 2014 8:10 pm

Green Aura wrote:
Either freeze it or make huge quantities of Castagnaccio and get stuck in. :lol:


Had to look that up - sounds like my kind of cake: wheat free, and no added sugar!

Shame there's no chestnuts around here...
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282609 Zech
Sat Oct 25, 2014 11:49 am

I did a bit of googling to find out why it doesn't keep, and while everyone seems to agree that it doesn't, no-one said why. It's not the fat content - apparently that's similar to wheat. I did find one piece on buying it that advised smelling it - if it smells chestnutty then it's fresh, if it doesn't then it's last year's and won't taste of much. That sounds like it doesn't completely spoil, just loses its flavour.

I think lots of chestnut biscuits and cakes are the answer :iconbiggrin:
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282614 Green Aura
Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:19 pm

That's what I said. :lol:
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282616 Zech
Sat Oct 25, 2014 9:57 pm

Yes, you give excellent advice!
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282634 Green Aura
Sun Oct 26, 2014 1:58 pm

Do you have a recipe for the biscuits, or just replace other flours?
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Re: How did the Romans or old French farms dry & store chest

Post: #282651 Zech
Sun Oct 26, 2014 9:07 pm

It varies a bit (following a recipe is not my strong point), but a simple biscuit recipe with half the wheat flour replaced with chestnut flour, and sugar reduced a little, works well.
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