Chestnut and Leek Soup

Yes it was snowing at Tweenhills Chestnut orchard the day we visited. We being me and the 2012 young chefs, waiters and restaurateurs who were the finalists in the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence awards. And we were on the produce tour that forms part of the scholarship program. It was welcoming that it snowed; it seems just the right thing to happen on a chestnut farm. It started to snow just as our bus pulled up at the farm. Yet apparently, it is only the second time it has snowed there in around 5 years.

Where is Tweenhills Chestnut orchard? While we knew from our map we were east of the (Australian Capital Territory) ACT, the answer we were given by John and Heather Kane was “at the end of the rainbow.” One of our gang, Chef Sarah Knights piped up “We saw a rainbow as we were coming here.” Hoskinstown apparently sees all the seasons.

But this post is titled Chestnut and Leek Soup? Whilst the day wasn’t just about soup, Heather Kane did share this recipe. She makes lots of scrumptious treats from chestnuts. And her soup uses whatever she has on hand on the day. On our visit it was potatoes and leeks (and.. of course.. chestnuts!)

Chestnut and Leek Soup

Ingredients:

a couple of rashes of bacon
1 leek (the white no green)
4 litres chicken stock
a couple of potatoes peeled and diced
300 – 500g chestnuts (peeled – not roasted but can be frozen)
4 sprigs thyme

Method:

Fry together the bacon and the leek to soften but not colour. Add 4 litres chicken stock, the potatoes, chestnuts and thyme. Cook for about 3/4 hour until everything is soft. Then “blitz” to a puree. Best if made the day before.

Variation:

Roasted Soup with roasted chestnuts, roasted pumpkin or other roasted vegetables

Heather rattled this recipe right off the top of her head while we hungrily devoured her soup. Though why we would have been hungry (apart from the cold and the snow) one would never know. We’d been given a good old fashioned country welcome with a feast of other treats.

I could see the glimmer in her eye as Heather described her other favourite chestnut dishes: Chestnut Egg and Bacon Pie; Brussels Sprout with Bacon and Chestnuts; Chestnuts with Raspberries and Raspberry Vinegar; and Roasted Capsicums and Chestnuts with Greens and Goats Cheese. There were others. We tried some of her baking delights while we were there too.

But our visit wasn’t just about eating. We were there to learn. Like the other farmers and producers of our tour, Tweenhills Chestnuts are also best in class. John and Heather Kane have worked the farm full time for two years now but it wasn’t always so. John has a horticultural background while Heather worked as a plant physiologist (fixing CO2 enzymes.)

While there was lots to learn about the agricultural side of the orchard, for me the most interesting information was about the peeling qualities of the different varieties. Perhaps that’s because when I’ve bought chestnuts they’ve been hard to peel. They shouldn’t be advised John. “Unfortunately the industry is still recommending Red Spanish” he continued “because it is a big nut” and the best pollinator. They’re the pesky buggers I’ve had trouble peeling. After some trial and error the Kanes only sell the easy to peel De Coppi Marone to the public.

And of course I had to ask about storage: dry them out for 2 or 3 days – then store them in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks or freeze them.

“We’re a small operation but we try to do things well” Heather added humbly.

Electrolux Appetite for Excellence

Tweenhills Chestnuts
89 Pollock Road, Hoskinstown NSW Australia
+61 2 6238 2280

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