Saturday, April 03, 2010

That old chestnut




When you're on a limited budget, free food is not to be sniffed at. Sis Pants, Niece Pants and her new best friend Kathryn and I gathered about a kilo on a trip to the nearby limestone caves. Later we saw chestnuts in the supermarket for $10 a kilo. I bestowed upon myself the Pants Parsimony Medal. We tried roasting some wrapped in thin foil in the fire and burned two batches. The girls decided that chocolate biscuits from the fridge were a better treat bet. I roasted these (pictured) in the oven tonight. They're too bitter to eat straight from the shell so I'll puree them tomorrow.

Entertaining young people is easy enough if they come as a group. You simply give them permission for anything within reason and a budget of $20 a day. There is only one Niece Pants which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Fortunately, Niece Pants's need for peer engagement is easily satisfied. When she visited me in London aged ten, I simply rounded up some of the neighbourhood kids and we never saw her until teatime. At age thirteen and in rural Victoria, I thought that her tastes in holiday pals might be more refined. I hoped that she and my neighbour's daughter Kathryn would get along. The bonding process took less than five minutes.

I can confirm that thirteen year-olds do just wanna have fun. The pair of them sat in the back of the Pantybago singing along to Lady Ga-Ga et al with twin earpieces on our many short trips to shopping and sightseeing opportunities. They didn't want to waste a minute. I wish we'd had iPods for those interminable 1960s car journeys where the entertainment consisted of counting windmills and playing I spy with my little eye something beginning with...

Sis Pants and I are fun but only to people who like lentils and Lene Lovich. Niece Pants was only too pleased to decamp to Casa Kathryn where a visit to KFC was a real world possibility and not just the subject of a joke. Sleepovers did occur here at Seat of Pants a couple of times and were punctuated by incredulity that anyone could have a larder devoid of sandwich spreads and snacks, dah! And then there was the failure to produce edible chestnuts from a log fire. Not cool.

Now that Sis and Niece have gone home, I'm contemplating chestnuts. I've never gathered and cooked them before. It was a great winter treat to buy roasted chestnuts from street vendors in London after a night on the ale and that's a fond memory. I guess I've just never seen them lying on the ground in significant enough numbers to bother gathering before. In London the kids have got them for conkers before you have even had your first espresso.

When I think of chestnuts in literature I immediately enter the Chestnut Tree Cafe in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and recall these lines from the poem that haunts Winston Smith,

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me

You will obviously know that these lines are an evocation of Longfellow's poem The Village Blacksmith. But I'll bet you didn't know this. That's right, Pants has royal blood. An Australian chestnut tree is thriving in India and this is its origin,

Homeopath Vishnu Sadashiv Gowande built a house at the Pant Got' area off Tilak road in 1945. One of his friends was the garden superintendent at Empress Garden. He offered from his collection an Australian Chestnut tree to Gowande. The tree was planted in front of his house in the open land that belonged to Pants of Aundh Sansthan (princely state).

Pants of Aundh Sansthan! I just knew when I was in India that there was a kinship.