Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way


It’s Aonghas‘s birthday today. He would have been 15. So in honour of that we got creative in the kitchen since cooking was one of his favourite pursuits. And we had to do something with all those chestnuts

Walnuts and sweet chestnuts harvested from the quinta

Yesterday we shelled some chestnuts. I searched the internet for good ways to do this since most of the ways I’d come across seemed time-consuming, finicky, and hard on the fingers. I came across this video, so the plan was to attempt the same. Having parboiled them 2-3 minutes and sliced them in two across the waist, we discovered it was even easier to pop them out by squeezing the shells with fingers or teeth (by the time you’ve cut them in two, the shells have cooled down enough to do this). In this way, Ema and I managed to shell a good 3 kilos of prepared nuts ready to turn into jam today. And before I hear shrieks about hygiene, please note that if you use your teeth instead of pliers, the nuts themselves are untouched.

We found it was best to do them in small batches. A handful at a time. Any more and the unshelled ones cool down too much and get too sticky for the inner skin to come away easily. And if you keep them at boiling temperature much longer than 5 minutes, the nuts start to disintegrate.

Here’s how we made the jam.


  • 3kg shelled chestnuts, picked over to make sure none have worm damage
  • Water to cover (save 500ml from resulting cooking liquid)
  • 1.5kg light brown sugar
  • Juice and zest of one lemon
  • Two vanilla pods
  • Large pinch of salt
  • 400ml dark rum

Bring shelled chestnuts to the boil with just enough water to cover and simmer 30-40 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid, then pass drained nuts through a sieve or potato ricer.

Boiled shelled chestnuts

Ricing cooked chestnuts

Put 1.5kg sugar (we used amarelo areada – a fine light brown sugar) and 500ml of the cooking liquid into a pan and stir to dissolve the sugar while bringing to the boil.

Tie the vanilla pods and a couple of strips of lemon zest in a muslin bag and add to the sugar and water. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse the liquid.

Add juice of one lemon, salt and the riced chestnut. Stir in thoroughly, bring to boil and allow to simmer very gently until mixture is good and thick. Stir often to prevent mixture sticking and burning.

Add 400ml dark rum. Stir and simmer again, slowing reducing until required thickness is reached. We found that the flavour really started to deepen and develop at this stage.

Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.

It’s very tasty straight out of the jar, but I’m fantasising about a pastry base spread with this chestnut jam, then topped with chopped walnuts, sliced apples and quinces, drizzled with a little honey and baked. Fantasising it will have to be too until we have an oven …

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