If foraging is up your alley, October is usually the time to head out into the woods and find sweet chestnuts, particularly after a wild and windy night. Whereas non-edible horse chestnuts (conkers) ripen in August and September and have a few fat spikes, sweet chestnuts are easily recognisable owing to their spiky cases, bristling all over with sharp spines like tiny hedgehogs. You will also typically find that chestnuts have fluffy white points at one end, unlike conkers. The glossy brown fellows are beloved of squirrels, so make sure you beat them to it!
Take a pair of thick gardening gloves as well as a foraging bag when you go out to search for them as the outer casings can be a prickly nightmare to remove; in fact it is far better to take a couple of hardy children in wellies with you, then they can stamp on the pods to open them. Gather them from the ground rather than picking them from the tree, as the latter won’t yet be ripe. Discard any that have tiny holes or signs of damage.
To roast them, place the flat side of the chestnut down on a chopping board, and cut a cross through the skin with a sharp knife; this should stop them exploding dramatically when baked. They can either be roasted on the embers of an open fire (an old garden shovel works well as an impromptu cooking pan), or spread them out in a single layer on a roasting tin and bake at 200 for 20 to 30 mins until the cross starts to open. Allow to cool slightly before peeling away the tough outer skin and any white pith to get to the sweet tender flesh.
If you are saving them for a bonfire party, the chestnuts can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks in a paper bag, or popped in the freezer where they will last until Christmas. If you’re saving them to roast on the fire, they can be frozen in their skins; defrost before cutting the cross in the top as usual.