Monday, September 27, 2010

Picking chestnuts in the fall at Solomons Island, Maryland

When we bought our boat, we chose Newport, Rhode Island as our hailing port, thinking we will spend our summers in the sailing capital. Little did we know. Twice we cruised north from Florida, and both times got only as far as the Chesapeake Bay. There was so much to explore along the Eastern Seaboard that by the time we got to the Chesapeake Bay, summer would be almost over. Fall brings cooler temperatures and beautiful fall colors, and then it was time to head south to warmer climes.

 The Chesapeake Bay is about 200 miles (300 km) long, stretching from Havre de Grace, Maryland on the Susquehanna River to Norfolk, Virginia on the Atlantic Ocean. It is the largest estuary in the United States. Its shores are dotted with quaint towns, rustic farms and beautiful sceneries. Limitless miles of serpentine tributaries provide countless coves for gunkholing, making the Chesapeake Bay a wonderful cruising ground. With gentle waters, and creeks teeming with wildlife, oysters and blue crabs, it is no wonder the early settlers came and never left.
Steamed blue crabs. Yum!
Our mission was to explore new anchorages and look for the quintessential Chesapeake Bay crabshack. We found the latter at Sandgates Inn in Mechanicsville on the Patuxent River. It serves the best steamed blue crabs and soft-shelled crabs. The side dishes - cole slaw and French Fries were excellent too. As for anchorages, there were so many in the Chesapeake Bay! Our favorite is the picturesque Gibson Island.
Sunrise at Gibson Island
Crab traps and work boats on Tilghman Island
One September found Mai Thai docked at Solomons Island, Maryland. Located on the Patuxent River, this neat little place is a cruiser’s haven, abound with restaurants, marinas, boatyards, and marine stores.

We were walking the marina neighborhood one morning when my visiting sister-in-law spied something spiky lying around two mighty tall trees. She picked it up, inspected it, and surmised it to be a chestnut. She was right! After this initial discovery, my sister-in-law would walk over to those chestnut trees every morning, and return with a large paper bag full of chestnuts. We dubbed her the bag lady, and joked that she was taking food away from the squirrels.

And what were we going to do with all these chestnuts?
Chestnuts, in and out of their burs
We had an idea. Every time the captain's cousins visit from Paris, they always bring us gifts of dark chocolate and marrons glacé (candied chestnut confection, usually available around the Christmas holidays). Those delicious glazed chestnuts came to mind. We got a production line going in Mai Thai's tiny little galley. We donned gloves to remove the chestnuts from their prickly husks or burs. Then we washed them, and peeled off their skin. 
Washed, ready to be peeled
Glazing the chestnuts
Next, we boiled and glazed them with sugar, and spiked some with a hint of Cognac. Voilà, we got marrons glacé! Not bad for our first try at making a candied confection. We were quite pleased with the results.

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