Posted by: lialeendertz | December 20, 2010

Not just for Christmas

Spiced chestnut and walnut loaf

I have flu, and I have been baking. I’m not sure what the link is. I think there was an edge of delirium to me dragging my aching, snot-ridden carcass out of bed, turning the oven on, and getting jiggy with the yeast and the kneading, and I know there is a hint of displacement about it. Christmas is seriously looming. I havent done anything about this. But still, there is now a fresh, slightly Christmassy loaf in the house.

What inspired the baking, apart from the fever, was that – it being Christmas time – we have chestnuts in the house. Just vacuum-packed ones, so far, although the real thing will follow shortly, if I manage to get to the shops before Christmas Day. And I have a bit of a thing about chestnuts. And the thing is this: a couple of years ago I went to a talk at out local gardening group entitled: Feeding ourselves in post-peak-oil-Britain. The essence of the talk was that our food systems are ludicrously dependent on oil, from the churning up of soil with tractors to the fertilising of it to the packaging and transportation of it. Oil isn’t going to last forever, and there are some that think that ‘peak oil’ – the point at which production goes into decline – is not far off or has already been reached. The talk was by someone from Transition Bristol, and the idea all these transition groups have is to start to prepare now for this eventuality.

Some of the most energy-hungry crops are the ones we depend on the most, said the speaker – the grains from which we get our breads. Fields must be ploughed every year, soils fertilised etc…This is because we fight against nature to create the conditions in which these grains will grow. Our natural vegetation in the UK is woodland, not prairie. If there were a crop we could grow in a woodland environment that would fill the same gap as grains do, we’d be mad not to grow it, wouldn’t we? Step forward sweet chestnuts. The nuts have a similar nutritional make-up to many grains and can be made into flour (or just baked and eaten – yum) and they just need planting, growing and harvesting. No annual tractor action, no vast input of fossil fuels.

And so the woman from Transition Bristol suggested we grow them. And we – all city gardeners with small or medium plots – all guffawed. But it planted the seed in my mind and in fact this year I did try to give it a go. Mark Diacono very kindly gave me one of his trees, and I planted it in a root control bag, to see if it’s possible to grow this saviour tree in a city garden. Unfortunately I killed it. I’m pretty sure this was all about neglect, and nothing at all to do with the root control bag. I am going to have another go next year.

So instead I have bought some chestnuts and made a loaf out of them, which through my flu-haze seemed like some kind of a symbolic act, and also a nod towards some sort of festiveness, in which this house is so sadly lacking. I didn’t grind the chestnuts into flour. I just opened the packet, mashed them up and chucked them in, but it made a really moist, textured loaf, kind of the consistency of a rye bread. It’s really very lovely actually. I adapted the recipe from Anne Sheasby’s spiced walnut bread in The Big Book of Bread. If you fancy a piece of germ-ridden chestnut bread and a hot ribena, you know where to come. Merry Christmas!

Spiced chestnut and walnut bread

575g strong plain wholemeal flour

1 and a half teaspoons salt

1 sachet easy-blend dried yeast

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

a pinch of dried cloves

75g walnut halves, roughly chopped

250 g cooked chestnuts

about 300ml warm water

a little milk, for glazing

The recipe says to add the walnuts after the first proving, but I just chucked it all in together, mixed, kneaded, left it to rise, then kneaded it again, shaped it into a loaf and left it to rise for a further 45 minutes. It baked at gas mark 7 (220C/425F) for ten minutes and then I turned it down to gas mark 5 (190C/375F) for a further 25 minutes.




  1. Hi Lia,

    Sorry to hear you’re unwell. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

    I had no idea that sweet chestnuts could be milled and converted in to flour! It seems like such a logical step to take given the eventual depletion of oil etc. Do you have details on how the two crops compare in terms of output in a given area or what their water needs are?

    You have inspired me to keep an eye out for this product and I may have to have a go at baking with it.

    Enjoy the loaf and hope you have a great Christmas. I fear I may be snowed in!


  2. i’ve been baking this week, (not much gardening to be done in this snow) but I hadn’t thought of my flour throughput as being unsustainable. – Will try this Chestnut bread, it looks good.

  3. In Corsica they use chestnut flour like polenta (usually to go with Asterix style roast boar). It’s the most delicious mush I’ve ever eaten.

    Any plans to try the bread without any wheat at all? Not sure what the texture would be like, but a bit of xanthan gum would make up for the lack of gluten. I’m guessing it might be like a sweeter cornbread…

  4. Sorry to hear you’re not well, especially now your children are off school for the holidays.

    You’ve got me wondering where I can shoe-horn a sweet chestnut somewhere guerrilla gardening style 🙂

    Coincidentally I’m baking bread as I read this post – an emergency loaf for lunch to go with homemade soup as we’re here instead of being up north with my BIL and family as planned. It’s snowing so it’s a bit dodgy getting to the shops at the moment!

    A Happy Christmas to you all.

  5. I have planted lots of sweet chestnuts but they do not like the soil round here one little teensy bit. Also the few that have got to nut (is that a correct expression “to nut” ?: it sounds a bit filthy) are then squirrel food.

    You would know, being award winning and all, is it possible to make a nutritious flour out of squirrels?

    I hope you are recovering and the snot tsunami is receding.

  6. Chestnut killer. That loaf looks lovely…although I cant see paste chestnut nut and chestnut and chocolate cake for chestnuts at the moment. That said, I am literally off to roast my chestnuts over an open fire right now #notaeuphemism

  7. Interesting read as usual Lia. I love chestnuts – might have to give this recipe a go.

    Hope you feel better soon.

  8. I absolutely have to try making that bread, it looks and sounds wonderful. I also rather love the idea of turning hundreds of acres of arable farmland into Chestnut groves, but don’t suppose it will work, as we are a nation of white plastic bread lovers. Sigh. Hope the ‘flu beats a hasty retreat soon and leaves you a festive and relaxing Christmas.

  9. In Tuscany they harvest sweet chestnuts for flour too. Went on a walking holiday there through miles of chestnut woodland in the higher hills – tripping over the husks. We called them ‘land urchins’ for their resemblance to the sea creatures!

  10. Mmmmmmmm ~ now that’s tickled my taste buds 🙂 I have been wondering what to do with the vacuum – packed chestnuts lurking in my cupboard and stuffing was the main contender until now. I hope that you make a speedy recovery Lia and are fit enough to enjoy Christmas with your family. Belated congratulations too on your well deserved Garden Media Guild award and all the best for 2011.

  11. Bother, bother, bother. As well as feeling very sympathetic about you not being well and hoping you will feel better soon and being uncertain whether or not I’d like to eat a slice of this particularly germ infested loaf – I was thinking ‘bread I can eat’! I have a cluster of food intolerances and can’t eat nuts, however I can eat chestnuts. There I was, all set to bore my family with the discovery and (me a non-cook nowadays) began to read the recipe. Wheat! Can’t eat wheat. That’s why I liked the idea of making a loaf with chestnuts. That’s why I’m still saying ‘bother, bother, bother’!


    P.S. Hope the flu passes in a flash.

  12. This is the kind of mad thing I do when I have been unwell. The loaf looks fab. I normally buy chestnuts this time of year particularly to make chestnut stuffing but as we were going away didnt bother. But I have put them on the list for the shopping trip after Christmas as no doubt they will be selling them off!

    Hope you feel better

  13. Hi Lia – it’s rotten to be ill around Christmas, but I can understand the comfort of baking: the kneading, the shaping, the creating and the first slice of freshly baked loaf with lashings of butter just melting. Your recipe looks wonderful and I will give it a try over the break. Hope you feel better. Love VP’s thinking of Chestnuts and guerrilla gardening… some scope there I reckon. Happy Christmas.

  14. Hi Lia, Hhmm! Sweet chestnuts, baking, guerilla gardening, Bristol transition advice, forest gardening – this post rattles all my cages. Just love the inevitable ‘soil to plate’ activity that most gardeners, caged in by bad weather turn to…..Will definitely try the recipe and remember to add Sweet Chestnuts to my list for edible plants.

    Just a further thought – used whole could they stem that runny nose? ( children, do not try this at home…..)

  15. That loaf looks scrumptious! There was a recipe for chestnut risotto in the Grauniad that looked particularly mouthwatering and chestnut honey is the absolute best so it looks like chestnuts are the way to go.

    Have a great Christmas

  16. Planted a sweet chestnut myself this year – Castanea “Marigoule”, a Marron type giving one large nut per cluster rather than lots of small ones. Hopefully it’ll make it through this horrendous winter. Hope you’re feeling less poorly.

    Luv Simon (just back from working on a permacuture smallholding in Tenerife)

  17. Hello Lia, Think we’ll need something other than chestnuts in northern climes – they don’t ‘nut’ here in Cheshire. Hazel nuts might do, though they are a lot harder. If only acorns were useful…

  18. Hi, just found your blog, really like it. Congrats on your award. Will be back.

  19. Hi, love your blog, and hope the flu has retreated. On the chestnut growing comments, I just wondered if you had come across Martin Crawford of the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon? He is THE authority on growing trees (and other plants) for food crops and has a lovely forest garden and nursery near Dartington. He advocates using grafted trees, they fruit in 4-5 years.
    Cheers 🙂

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