It's true. In fact, I'm willing to go on record and state that I'd choose those glossy, burnished orbs over a colorless gemstone any day. (Note that last adjective. Rubies, emeralds and sapphires are exempt from this declaration.)
(Illustration by John Mille, 1779)
My ardor for chestnuts was stoked in England in the 1970's when my classmates and I would hunt for them in the dense copse behind our school. I remember them blanketing the ground in such abundance that we could hardly walk without stepping on one of their hard spiky shells. Greedily gathering up as many as we could hold, we would take them home, poke holes and thread a string through them and bring them back to to the playground the next day for fiercely competitive "conker" tournaments.
(Me with my siblings during the height of my chestnut obsession.
I'm second from right.)
Years later, I discovered the pleasures of eating them, either roasted on the streets of Manhattan or wrapped in gold foil from Clement Faugier, undisputed king of marron glacés (chestnuts candied in a vat of vanilla syrup and then glazed). My passion quietly intensified.
(Clement Faugier marrons glacés, the caviar of candy.)
I always dreamed that one day I'd have a chestnut tree to call my very own, but sadly, importing them is apparently against the law in California due to agricultural restrictions. (Every time I put one in my online shopping cart, a stern warning pops up).
So imagine my surprise when this past Saturday, I received a box in the mail from my former art director during my days as an NYC advertising copywriter. Despite distance and busy lives, Alex S. has remained a treasured friend, a 21st century aesthete (think David Niven meets Cecil Beaton) who lives and breathes a kind of classic style one rarely encounters these days.
The package was heavy and rattled alarmingly. Luca was convinced it was full of Legos.
Oh, it was a thousand times better than that.
* * * * *
Lisa and Family,
I remember you said you liked chestnuts -- Enjoy -- A bounty harvest from our beautiful 100-plus year old tree -- part of the original Auchincloss estate....
* * * * *
Can I even begin to tell you how touched I was? (Plus, how often does one receive chestnuts with a bloodline?) Inside the box were hundreds of them, painstakingly de-shelled by his children. I upended them into a glass bowl and thrust my hand deep into the container, rolling them between my fingers in such unhampered bliss that my son looked on open-mouthed.
Of course I immediately incorporated them into a "memory-scape" (what I'm calling a tablescape filled with meaning) for my dining room. Every time I look at them, I am transported to somewhere long ago and far away.
Seriously, instead of a cold, hard stone, wouldn't you rather have a bowlful of shiny, glossy conkering heroes?