Dotty DeCoster is perplexed.
“We are quite surprised to find that roasted chestnuts are not appearing this season,” she wrote this week. “We checked with the Sorrento Hotel, for instance, and their chef has chosen not to include them in holiday menus. We used to find them in front of the Olympic Hotel (oh, yummy) for charity; but no sign this year. The Public Market doesn’t show them in a search — or anywhere you’d expect them. And the guy who sold them at Westlake isn’t there this year. Any idea why?”
Hmmm. Let me venture a guess. Perhaps because those marron-loving French people have eaten them all? Despite the famous Christmas song we know and love so well, we, here in the Northwest, don’t have the kind of chestnut-eating culture as the Europeans, or even the New Yorkers (I’ll take roasted chestnuts there over a boiled Sabrett any day). But thankfully, there’s still hope for us yet!
I found these roasted chestnuts (left) at an open-air Christmas market in Chartres less than two weeks ago. And every where I looked in Paris — including the snow-covered streets of the Monmartre — I found them for sale by the pound.
It’s true: the chestnut cart at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, a longstanding holiday tradition, has taken a hiatus. Why? Due to lack of interest, says the hotel’s spokesperson Heather Fernandez. “We’d have local celebrities selling chestnuts in the rain, snow, sleet,” but over the last several years, too few people were buying: despite the fact that 100 percent of the proceeds went to the YWCA right up the street. “Back in the day, we’d raise a lot of money,” says Fernandez, but last year, “We sent them a check for $100. I’m hoping it’s a tradition we can bring back next year — if we can get people back supporting it.”
That said, if you hurry Dotty, you may still get your chestnuts at the Fairmont. Rather than ditch the tradition altogether, the nuts are sold roasted to order ($5) at The Terrace lounge in the hotel’s lobby. They’ve been available (for eating in, or taking out) since Thanksgiving, and will be sold through Christmas. The chestnuts are not listed on the menu, so be sure to ask!
Of course, those of us who regularly shop at Uwajimaya in Seattle’s International District, can attest to the fact that the rich nuts are available from a year-round cart just outside the flagship store’s main entrance. In fact, I stopped by yesterday and treated myself to the holiday-wrapped version.
“Nature’s Harvest”: chestnuts, sold outside Uwajimaya in Seattle year-round, daily from 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
I spent $7 for the chestnuts and fifty-cents for the box, but there was no extra charge for the warm smile courtesy of the lady running the roaster — and the cart — which is decked out with Christmas lights this time of year. By the way, do-it-yourselfers can hit the produce aisle inside, where chubbier chestnuts are available by the pound.
So, has anyone else spotted chestnuts roasting on an open fire (or reasonable facsimile) anywhere else? If so, help me out here. Where did you see them? As for chestnuts on restaurants’ holiday menus, I’ll bet we can find plenty of those if we search hard enough. Chefs? Restaurateurs? Dine-outers? Feel free to prove me right, right here in the comments box.