I enjoyed a rare child-free day's shopping recently. My dad agreed to pick up the 4 kids from school/nursery. I arrived home to find my brood all very happy and eager to show me them playing conkers. Grandpa, most impressively, had taken them all to collect conkers, brought them home and attached strings for them to play the game. I say impressively, as he'd come equipped with his electric drill, making the whole process very easy. Conkers, in case you do not know, are horse-chestnuts. The aim of the game is to break the other player's chestnut/conker by hitting it.
I loved seeing them all so happy (my dad included), playing a game from my own childhood and getting in touch with nature. My husband was not so impressed when he arrived home from work. Florin grew up in Romania and it was his first experience of seeing the game. "Isn't that dangerous?" he asked in a nervous tone. Coming from the man who often quotes the latest stats like, "more kids fall out of their beds than trees nowadays", I have to say I was surprised by his reaction. Usually he's very keen to get the kids out in the great outdoors. Anyway, there were no injuries and the kids finally agreed to abandon their game and come in for a snack, bringing their four plastic bags worth of chestnuts with them.
My dad suggested roasting the chestnuts for after dinner. I'd never done that before, and it sounded like a good idea...I had enough to keep us going for a month! I even joked about cutting the food bill. The readers I mentioned who will think I'm an idiot will be rolling their eyes by now, if you've still not spotted a potential problem to my story, good, that makes me feel better :)
So, parents went home, hubby went back out to fix a computer, and I put a generous amount of chestnuts in a roasting tin in the oven. I guesstimated they would take about 20 minutes to cook, enough time to get some homework done. After 20 minutes, they were still rock hard, so I left them a while longer. The homework was soon interrupted by a chestnut (or 2) exploding in the oven. Pretty sure that meant they must be ready, I eagerly took them out the oven. I struggled to peel the skin off a chestnut, and ate some of the crumbly inside. The taste was absolutely disgusting. I tried another bite, and decided I must have picked a bad chestnut. I examined the remaining chestnuts, but they all looked the same, so I tried another one, sure the next one would be fine. Chestnut number two was equally revolting. My niece asked to try one, I warned her they were horrible, but she wanted to try for herself. Lia agreed that they tasted horrible, and I wouldn't let anyone else try them.
I decided I must have overcooked the chestnuts, and something from the shell had made them taste so awful. I Googled "how to roast chestnuts", and discovered I should have cut a cross in them before putting them in the oven. However, it didn't seem possible to me that this oversight would cause them to taste so terrible. Next I Googled "why do my chestnuts taste horrible", got straight to the point. I read the following article with increasing alarm:
You see, for those of you who don't know, horse chestnuts (conkers), are poisonous! I tried to stay calm, reassuring myself that I'd only eaten one and a half, surely I wouldn't keel over from that? What a ridiculous way to go! I was more worried about my niece, she'd only eaten a tiny bit, but I couldn't help but panic. The kids picked up on my anxiety, and I told them what I'd read, reassuring them as best as I could that we'd both be fine. Lia quickly became very upset, and complained of feeling sick and stomach ache. I later had stomach ache too, but I'm sure both of our symptoms were psychological. Two of the other kids also started crying, I assumed it was due to being worried about myself and Lia. The real reason, however, was that they'd had so much fun with grandpa, and they didn't want him to be sad about nearly poisoning us! Then my other niece worried me by saying maybe grandpa had taken some home to roast for himself. I decided I'd better phone to make sure. I chose my words carefully, telling him the chestnuts tasted really bad and they weren't the kind for eating. I did not use the word poisonous, I didn't want him feeling guilty for an innocent mistake.
NHS 24 put my mind at ease that Lia and I would live to see another day. The phone operator informed me it would be virtually impossible to be poisoned by chestnuts, as they tasted so bad. I have to agree with that, the taste lasted for ages after one and a half chestnuts, there's no way I could have consumed enough to be fatal.
I went to bed having learned a valuable lesson, and tired out from all the upset and worry my ignorance had caused. I now know it is not only berries and mushrooms you have to be careful about, chestnuts can be evil too!
My mum phoned me the next day, they'd looked up chestnuts on the net, discovered they were poisonous. We had a laugh about it, and how silly we all felt. The exploding poisonous chestnuts were an incentive to make me scrub out my oven the next day, a task I hate. The next time I saw my dad he apologised for his suggestion to roast conkers and handed me a present. Wrapped delicately in pink tissue paper...chestnuts from Tesco, the real deal, complete with cooking instructions :)