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Sunday 4 November 2018

Chestnut Picking at Skyline Chestnuts

Autumn is the time of year for farm visits and harvests. 

Apple picking and pumpkin picking are definitely the two most common farm activities for visitors at this time of year, and something we thoroughly enjoy. Last weekend we decided to mix things up a little and spent an afternoon harvesting chestnuts. It was such a fun experience and so very different from picking apples. 

Years ago when Kim and I lived in Zurich, I tried roasted chestnuts for the first time and I was instantly hooked. I knew them as "maroni" and at the time had no idea what they were called in English. I'd buy them in little brown paper bags from street vendors in the cooler months and not only did they taste delicious, they instantly warmed me up whether I was eating them or just holding the bag in my cold hands. When we moved back to Australia chestnuts became a thing of the past, but every now and then I'd see them in a greengrocer and they'd bring back sweet memories of our time in Switzerland. 

It's been almost eighteen years since we lived in Zurich (eek!) and since then I've only eaten roasted chestnuts a handful of times at Christmas fairs in the Sierras and when visiting Canada in Autumn. I've missed their sweet, nutty flavor so when I discovered the U-Pick farm Skyline Chestnuts right here in the Bay Area I added it straight to my ever growing "must do" list.

The chestnut picking season is relatively short at just three to five weeks a year, and it falls right at that time of year when we're busy pretty much every weekend with birthday parties, harvest festivals and Halloween celebrations. Because of this, we've missed the season for the past few years, but this year I was determined that we'd make it. I'm so glad we did!

If you've never been chestnut picking before you may be surprised to learn just how different it is from say, apple picking. Chestnuts grow in groups of two or three inside of incredibly spiky pods. Once the chestnuts have ripened the pods split open and either fall to the ground or drop the chestnuts from within. Picking chestnuts involves scavenging under the trees for open pods with chestnuts inside or loose chestnuts. Because the pods are so spiky wearing thick gloves is a must - unless you're Lola and want to show off how tough you are!

We spent a few hours at Skyline Chestnuts collecting chestnuts from under a large tree. It was incredibly busy when we visited (in fact, it was their busiest day ever) but you wouldn't know it from these photos! Most visitors to the farm stay along the main path collecting chestnuts from under the same trees. We ventured a little further up a steep hill where we pretty much had a giant tree to ourselves - and this lovely view over the hills.

Once we were happy with the amount of chestnuts that we'd picked it was time for some photos under the large tree - which of course soon became silly photos!

What a photogenic bunch we are!

I then tried to take some pictures of the girls sitting on a log but it ended up with me throwing chestnuts while they tried to catch them in their buckets - which ended up with chestnuts being dropped all over the ground! Of course, by now the girls were pros at scavenging for chestnuts so they were able to collect them all and get them back in the bucket again pretty quickly.

A little further down the hill from where we had been chestnut picking lies an old rusted out car body. The girls were keen to go check it out so we headed down the hill for a bit before taking our chestnut harvest to be weighed.

Back at the entrance of the farm we lined up to weigh and pay for our chestnuts. Unlike apple picking where you are required to pay for everything you take off the tree, with chestnut picking you can sort through your harvest and just buy the best chestnuts. We gave this step a miss as the sorting tables were pretty busy. Instead we just bought all of the chestnuts that we had collected. All five pounds of them! We also bought some delicious local honey from the farm and a trusty chestnut knife which makes cutting them chestnuts for cooking so much easier.

Tips for visiting Skyline Chestnuts:

  • Chestnuts tend to be ripe October through November but this varies dependent on the weather.
  • As the chestnut season is rather short, make sure to check opening hours and availability before heading to the farm. Updates can be found on the Skyline Chestnuts Facebook page here.
  • Plan on arriving at the farm before 10:30am to avoid the crowds. Parking can be tricky if you arrive later in the day.
  • Chestnut pods are incredibly spiky, as you can see in the photos above. You'll definitely need to wear the thick gloves provided by the farm.
  • Make sure to wear sturdy shoes when you go chestnut picking. The terrain is rather hilly and the spiky chestnut pods on the ground easily poke through shoes like Natives - which I mistakenly dressed my girls in. My rain boots were a much better option.
  • Don't take any pods from the trees. They are not ripe.
  • Head off the main path for a better chance at finding lots of chestnuts.
  • Porta-potties are available on site but there is no running water. Make sure to bring hand sanitizer! 

And don't forget to stop and take in the stunning views over the Bay from the many scenic look out points along Skyline Boulevard! It's definitely called Skyline for a reason!

Skyline Chestnuts is located at 22322 Skyline Blvd, La Honda.
For more information visit www.skylinechestnuts.com

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