Autumn is a busy time for those who love to do their own food gathering, foraging and harvesting. Once you have amassed your booty of chestnuts, wild mushrooms and Jerusalem artichokes there is then work to be done in the kitchen. This week I was given a big bag of chestnuts, collected up in Bright, which were a breeze to peel as they turned out to be either just the right age in the chestnut season (mid April to August) or possibly an easy peel variety, like De Coppi Marone. This is the first time that I was able to slip the chestnuts out from their outer husk and fibrous inner membrane in one go. I made a small cut on one side of each nut and then placed a handful at a time in simmering water for 2 to 3 minutes before peeling them with a small knife while just cool enough to handle. In less than an hour I had filled two containers with peeled chestnuts for the freezer so they will be ready for those tasty winter meals like chestnut soup and chicken or guineafowl with a rich chestnut stuffing.
Autumn is also the time for wild mushrooms. Pine mushrooms and slippery jacks can be gathered early in the morning in Victoria’s pine forests if you know where to look or can be bought at farmers markets and quite a few green grocers and specialty food shop now. It is turning out to be a great wild mushroom season. Again you can clean and freeze thick slices of these mushrooms for later use. Pines can be blanched in boiling water to clean them but the softer slippery jacks are best wiped with damp kitchen paper. They both go well in a ragu, stew, risotto, stuffing or simply sauteed and served on toast.
My other Autumn harvesting task this week was dealing with a large bag of Jerusalem artichokes from a friend’s garden. They were a super, big-bulbed variety, so I thought they would be easier to peel than the usual gnarly sort I see at markets. After some internet research and choosing a reliable source, I boiled them for 15 minutes, after which the skins were supposed to slip off. Sorry Mr Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall but this didn’t work at all, not in the Southern hemisphere at any rate. Seems whatever approach you adopt (potato peeler on raw bulbs or boiling first) there’s loads of wastage. Now if I was just going to roast them in the oven with garlic I would have only scrubbed these lovely looking ones but as I intended to make a velvety artichoke soup, peeling was necessary. The great tip I got from my friend and the www is that cooking Jerusalem artichokes for a long time coverts the flatulence-causing inulin to a more comfortable fructose. So, if you love the flavour of Jerusalem artichokes but not the consequences, I suggest making the soup in a slow cooker (high setting at a temperature around 95-100ºC) for about 4 or so hours. Saute a chopped onion and garlic then pop the roughly peeled and sliced bulbs (about 1 kg) in with some bay leaves and thyme, cover with chicken stock and water and walk away. To finish the soup, remove the herbs, blend with a stick blender until super smooth (suggest a final pass through a sieve so there are no lumps) and then add milk or cream and seasoning. Serve garnished with snipped chives or crushed hazelnuts and a drizzle of hazelnut oil. You can of course freeze some of your puree for a later (flatulence-free) date.