Eat this, not that

Nut trees by the canal

I was going to save this blog post until later in the year, closer to Christmas, with an appropriate title, something like “Chestnuts roasting”. We were walking home along the Canal-du-Midi and noticed all of these nuts on the ground. Gravity had been our friend because the shells had broken open when they hit the sidewalk and spilled their prizes before us: chestnuts. We knew that’s what they were because they had that familiar deep glossy brown shine that we had seen roasting in huge flat pans at food festivals all over Europe in the fall. The French word for brown is marron, which is typically the same word they use for these treats.   Eagerly we picked up as many as we could see, dropped them into our ever-present backpacks and took them home for cooking. Bill dutifully scored each nut individually to keep them from exploding when heated, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and placed them in the oven until the smell alone said that they were ready. Then he tasted one….

Berk! is what we hear exclaimed on TV when someone finds a food disgusting and even though our neighbors may have heard “Yuck!” coming from our kitchen, they probably understood what Bill was saying. He didn’t get past one taste of that first roasted “chestnut” which is a good thing since we later learned that in addition to being inedible, they are also poisonous. From what I’ve read since our day of foraging, most toxic foods, like these HORSE chestnuts taste bad and sometimes smell worse. No comments, please, about some delicious cheeses that we consume daily that we must keep sealed in double plastic bags in the fridge to avoid setting off the stink alarm, if we had one.

Heating up the grill

Although that free lunch from the trees was not available, luckily right there alongside the same canal is a restaurant we enjoy, especially on cool and rainy days: La Grande Bouffe where they specialize in meats. The wood-fired grill at eye level is always hot which makes this place especially welcoming, visually and tactilely,  in the winter or even on one of those 65 days a year when it’s not sunny. Once we left there, Bill’s palate was cleansed of a very bitter memory nearby.

For another good experience, we walked over to the main square in town, Place Carnot, to the weekend’s Fête de la Gastronomie, billed as having “numerous possibilities of refreshment and tastings of locally made products.” Chefs from area restaurants, including Le Parc with its 2 Michelin stars, were on hand conducting workshops based on dishes from their own kitchens.  We had gone to this festival last year and we were happy to see the return of vendors including the butcher, baker, ice cream maker and a dozen others. Of course there was wine and even local beer. Our shelves are now stocked with potatoes, onions, jams, honey, olive everything, and a bottle (or two!) of wine, all from a stone’s throw from our front door and now we know who produced them and where to get more.

Gastronomy poster from the city’s website
Olive oil, paté, tapinade, and just tasty olives

11 thoughts on “Eat this, not that

  1. Yikes! I’m so glad that your foraging was fun and not fatal, that your gastronomic experimentation was halted at first bite. There’s a reason they call them ‘horse chestnuts’; not only do they look like horse turds, they taste like them, too.

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  2. They call those Marron d’Indes here – in England we call them conkers. You can tell them apart by the casings – the ones that look like land mines are horse chestnuts and not to be eaten, the edible ones are Marron and Châtaigne. The Marron is a single nut and the châtaigne come in clusters of two or three houses in tremendously spiked husks. Our maison secondaire is in la Châtaigneraie Cantalienne hence having a bit of insider knowledge 😉

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    1. OHHH! We know that now! After the first taste they were in the trash and I was on the Internet learning the difference. Thank goodness they taste so bitter.

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      1. I’ve never bitten into one but it is a relief to know that they are horribly off putting on the palate – unlike some fungi that masquerade as delicacies like chanterelles – that is plain unfair!!


  3. I didn’t think the ones around us were edible – glad I now know without me being the one to try them 🙂 🙂
    And I left the fete de gastronomie with a bag full of my favorite confitures 🙂 🙂

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  4. Perfected timing! My first day in Uzès and we saw tons of chestnuts on the ground. My friend wanted to bring some home – glad he didn’t. Looking forward to seeing you here!

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