PEASANT CHESTNUT SOUP
European Peasant Cookery
by Elisabeth Luard
Puchero de castañas (Spain)
When I lived in Spain and we kept a household pig and fattened him up on acorns from our cork oaks, we sent the hams to be cured in Jabugo, a little town in the hills above Seville. The pig was an Iberico, one of the old breed of foraging pigs, whose incomparable flavour comes from their diet. At the time, the 1970s - long before the EC decided to intervene in everyone else's affairs - Jabugo's pigs were fattened in the chestnut woods. The chestnuts were a local crop, harvested in the autumn by troupes of villagers who worked from the tops of the slopes to the bottom, shaking the trees so that the chestnuts roll down to where they could be gathered easily by the women and children. This rough-and-ready harvesting technique left plenty for the four-legged gleaners. The chestnuts were then peeled, dried (Jabugo's climate is very dry and cold) and stored for the winter, to be cooked either with chickpeas or beans in a stew, or on their own as a soup, fortified with a ham bone. A simple combination, but good. The chemical composition of the chestnut is very starchy, much like the potato - the foodstuff which replaced it after the Colombian exchange
Quantity: Serves 6
Time: Preparation and cooking: 90 minutes
• 2 lb fresh chestnuts
• 3 pints home-made stock or water
• Short length ham bone (could be a bacon knuckle)
• 1-2 bay leaves
• 3-4 cloves
• 6-8 peppercorns
• 1 mild Spanish onion
• 1 large carrot
• 1 tablespoon pork lard or olive oil
• 2 tablespoons diced Serrano ham (or prosciutto or lean bacon)
• 1 sprig marjoram
• 1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
• Utensils: A saucepan and a frying pan
Roast the chestnuts for half an hour in a low oven. Peel them when they are cool enough to handle. Put them in a saucepan and cover them with the stock or water. Add ham bone, the peppercorns, cloves and the bay leaves. Leave to stew gently for another half hour.
Meanwhile, skin and finely chop the onion, scrape and chop the carrot and fry gently in a little pork lard or olive oil. Add the diced ham and the marjoram and cook for 5 minutes, then add the contents of the pan to the stewing chestnuts. Simmer together for another 15 minutes. Remove any visible leafy bits and ham bone, taste and season with salt and a little sugar. Serve in deep bowls, accompanied by good bread and a bottle of dry white wine from the plains of the Guadalquivir below the mountains.
An old partridge or a pheasant, roughly jointed and stewed with the chestnuts, improves the dish greatly. The Spanish red-legged partridge is common in the area.