Fresh chestnuts

October is peak season in the West
ELAINE JOHNSON

Perfectly roasted chestnuts bring to mind a familiar holiday tune, but October is actually the peak season for the Western chestnut harvest. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are perishable and can mold or dry out if not handled properly ― good reasons to choose local over imported.

They're now available online (www.wcga.net/directory.htm) as well as at farmers' markets and specialty stores. At home, refrigerate chestnuts until ready to use (up to a month) in a plastic bag cut with a few slits, then roast in the oven for a quick, peel-your-own appetizer.

Roasted chestnuts. To know if your chestnuts are ready to roast, give them the squeeze test: If there's a slight give between the outer shell and inside nut, it's ready. If you don't feel this, let the chestnuts stand in a bowl at room temperature for two to seven days.

To roast, preheat oven to 350°. With a small, sharp knife, cut an X through the shell on the flat side of each nut. Place nuts in a shallow pan and roast until skins open at Xs and nuts are tender inside (open one to check), 25 to 30 minutes. When they're just cool enough to handle, squeeze them in a towel to loosen shells, then peel away shells and tough inner linings.