Discovering Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire in China – My China Daily Sept Column

Last Friday, China Daily published my column for the month of September: Discovering chestnuts roasting on an open fire in China. Here’s an excerpt:

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” is the first line of The Christmas Song, one of my favorite holiday tunes growing up in the United States. Yet as a child, I never once roasted chestnuts at Christmas, let alone any other time of the year. Before I was born, a blight had devastated the vast majority of US chestnut trees, leaving me and most of my fellow countrymen strangers to the nut, apart from its mention in that timeless song.

In fact, it wasn’t until I came to China that I truly understood the wonders of a freshly roasted chestnut, especially those gathered in the wild.

Years ago in September, I discovered that wild chestnut trees, a variety native to China, thrived in the hills of my husband’s rural Zhejiang village, and were as close to us as the backyard of the family home. “See, there’s a chestnut tree,” he said, pointing out the window from his old bedroom to its trunk and branches just a few meters away from us. I couldn’t believe this tree, a rare sight in the US, actually grew beside the family garden.

So imagine my astonishment when, while hiking some remote hills near the village, I couldn’t walk a few steps without stumbling over chestnuts that littered the ground. It was as if the heavens had decided to rain chestnuts upon the land, instead of water. My husband Jun had the foresight to suggest carrying along a few bags with us, and we began collecting these fall treasures as we meandered up and down the hills. Even though the sky was a melancholy gray, it felt like the sun had shined upon us that afternoon, thanks to the bounty of chestnuts we found and brought home with us.

Read the full piece here online. And if you like it, share it!

3 Delicious Fall Treasures in Hangzhou, China

If Hangzhou truly is one of the heavens in China, it might just be because of these three delicious treasures you can enjoy there in the fall. While visiting with this family this fall in rural Hangzhou, I rediscovered these treasures – and want to share them with you:

#1: Pomegranates

As much as I’ve loved pomegranate juice, I didn’t have the same affection for the fruit. It’s a bunch of pulpy little seeds. How could anyone love eating that?

My anti-pomegranate bias was challenged, however, when my mother-in-law gifted us with a heaping bag of the fruit, freshly harvested from the tree in her yard. Not long after that, my husband broke one open and started sharing the seeds with me. So I popped a handful in mouth – and was stunned. They were bursting with that same rich, sweet-tart flavor I’ve come to love about pomegranate juice. But better! These weren’t a bunch of pulpy seeds – these were ambrosial fruit jewels.

Just like that, I became a pomegranate fan.

Here’s the best part – the pomegranates also healed me. I’ve faced a lot of exhaustion and stress recently from moving around, which usually leaves me with an uncomfortable, nervous stomach. Well, pomegranate is actually good for your digestion and pretty soon I found I no longer needed my usual peppermint tea after dinner. Now that’s a superfood!

#2: Roast Chestnuts

As a kid, I used to sing the praises of roast chestnuts every holiday season in the form of Christmas carols. But I never once tried a roast chestnut until I came to the Hangzhou region – and especially, until I stayed with my husband’s family in the countryside.

Here the hillsides become a land of plenty as the chestnut trees shower their delicious fruit everywhere. People like my mother-in-law scour the natural areas for chestnuts, and then take them home to roast. There’s nothing quite like the aroma of roasted chestnuts, especially on a chilly fall evening. I also love the subtle flavor reminiscent of sweet potatoes, and the fact that they can be a terrific after-dinner snack. Open fire optional. 😉

#3: Osmanthus Flowers

In China, people call October the “golden month.” But I believe the real gold of the season is when the air is redolent with the intoxicating aroma of sweet osmanthus flowers.

Osmanthus trees produce some of the smallest blooms. But if heaven was a fragrance, it would probably smell something like this. Even better, these flowers are a delightful addition to a number of fall treats, including roast chestnuts and mooncakes. You can even make a tea out of the flowers.

But the best way to enjoy them is to take a fall stroll in a garden filled with blooming osmanthus trees, inhaling a scent so luscious it must have been reserved for the gods. This experience should be on everyone’s bucket list.

What are your favorite fall “treasures”?