Hi Mom, It’s Me Again

I called my mom to ask about chestnuts. Score and roast or boil and scoop; and either way, how long. I knew it’d be a simple conversation, but I called anyway. One of the nice things about this project is that I have even more reasons to talk to her regularly. It reminded me of the time, many moons ago, that Fred called his mom in Boston to ask about cooking fresh summer corn. She told him to boil it until it “smelled like corn.” Genius, really. We laughed at ourselves for five solid minutes.

So, I called my mom about chestnuts. Not only did we snack on them every Christmas in California, my mom’s family has chestnut orchards in South Korea. And actually, Fred’s first chestnut was during our trip to Korea, right outside Bulguksa temple. When I saw them at the Korean grocery store last weekend, I got so nostalgic I had to have them. We’ve been snacking on them all week.

Inner courtyard at Bulguksa Temple, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo: Korean Tourism Organization.

Roast ’em, Boil ’em, Stick ’em in a Stew

We used to have them roasted and sometimes boiled. Both ways are nice. Take note: Don’t forget to cut Xs into each one before roasting or they can explode. It can be a little time-consuming to do all that pre-scoring. My mom feels the same way. After years and years of eating chestnuts, she told me it’s easier just to boil them, cut them in half and scoop them out with a spoon. They’re hard to peel either way, but don’t let that deter you because the scoop and spoon way makes it easy to get at all that sweet, earthly, sort-of sweet potato-y goodness without having to peel them at all. Though it can get a teensy been crumby so I like to eat them over a plate or shallow bowl.

My mom’s tip: take one out after 15 minutes and test doneness. Like my chef instructor (and Fred’s mom) would say, the answer to how long do you cook it is, “until it’s done.” Yes, chef.

Tell Me More…

Even though I knew I could Google it, I kept peppering her with questions like, should the chestnuts start in cold water or hot; should the water be simmering or rapidly boiling? I asked if the water should be all “woggle-woggle, boggle-boggle,” which was a callback to when we were walking around Seoul and she said, “ahh, woggle-woggle” describing the bustling crowds. Fred and I laughed so hard at the amazing onomatopoeia. It led to her telling us that “woggle-woggle” is for a bunch of people and “boggle-boggle” is more for things like rapidly boiling water; in either case it’s about movement. We got it, but still walked around the rest of the day saying “woggle-woggle, boggle-boggle,” which would make her laugh because of the “boggle-boggle” part. Then we’d laugh and start all over again.

It was pretty glorious. I usually credit my silliness to my dad (for what I think are obvious reasons – he’s weird and not afraid to show it); but my mom can be silly too.

OK, back to the chestnuts. Who knew this was going to be such a long post! She told me to simply put them in the pot, fill with water until they are barely covered, bring them to a medium boil and boil for about 20 minutes, but check on one at 15 minutes. She made sure to tell me to rinse the tester chestnut in cold water so I didn’t burn myself. A funny detail to add. I thought she was over-explaining. Like I feel now. Except, I forgot, didn’t do that, and did burn myself with a little steam burn on one of my fingers. So, the moral of the story is, I guess, listen to your mother. 


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Simply Chestnuts
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One of my favorite simple winter snacks, chestnuts are beloved around the world, including in Korea.
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Korean
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 lb chestnuts, raw, in-shell
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  1. Rinse and drain chestnuts, gently agitating to remove any dust
  2. Add chestnuts to a medium pot and add cold water until just covered
  3. If using, add a pinch of salt to the water
  4. Boil for 15-20 minutes, or to desired doneness
A pound of chestnuts is 35 to 40 chestnuts.

The simplest way to snack on them is to cut them in half (or bite, I won't judge as long as your teeth are up for it), and scoop out the good stuff with a small but sturdy dessert spoon; one with a thin, tapered edge works best.