In April last year year we took a long and scenic drive to Mount Wilson, in the Blue Mountains in search of autumn colours. Mount Wilson is known for it’s beautiful open gardens, but it is in Autumn that this little village puts on a spectacular display of amazing vibrant autumn colours.
It was also this trip that led us to our first chestnut and walnut picking experience. Not far from Mount Wilson is Mount Irvine, which is home to several chestnut and walnut farms. It was so interesting to learn that chestnuts had a protective spiky burrs. Since we came at the end of the season we only saw the spiky brown burrs all dried up. End of season also meant the quality of our chestnuts was not very good either but we couldn’t tell until we prepared them at home.
This year we were determined to get in early for the chestnut season. I checked the website of Kookootong Nut Farm religiously since the start of March and as soon as the farm gates were open, we made the trip to Mount Irvine. Coming at the beginning of the season we were treated to the wonder sight of the green spiky shells of the chestnut which were still on the trees. From far the trees looked like they were filled with green pom-poms and it was just amazing to see. But don’t be fooled because these green pom-poms look-a-like were very prickly and needle sharp. We got pricked several times and it really really hurts.
When chestnuts are ripe the spiky burrs open up and the nuts fall to the ground. Then it’s just a matter of picking them up from the ground. Chestnuts are unlike most nuts and are highly perishable. So freshness is key in having great tasting chestnuts. Look for chestnuts with shells that have a healthy brown shine. Avoid chestnuts with mottled or dim shells. The chestnuts should feel firm, with no air between shell and underlying flesh.
Coming at the start of the season we get first dips at the freshest and biggest nuts. Not taking any chances as we really want only the best chestnuts, we only collected those nuts that were on the ground but still inside the spiky green shell. They took more work because you have to take the chestnuts out of the spiky shells. To do this you really need thick garden gloves or break away the spiky shells with your shoes. The farm sells canvas gloves but they are really thin and I found them not to be very effective last year, so we brought our own gloves this year. Also their gloves are too big for children. Also wear thick sole shoes preferably gumboots. The spiky shells are so sharp that they even went through the sides of my sports shoes.
Kookootonga also have lots walnuts for picking too but we were too early and most of the trees were not ready. But we really came for the chestnuts and were very happy with our two half-full buckets of chestnuts weighing in at 8kgs. The farm was selling the chestnuts and walnuts at $8kg. After giving away half we ended up eating chestnuts every single day for a whole week. The most common way to cook them is to roast or boil. I prefer to boil the chestnuts and remove the shell and eat it as it is. All our chestnuts were 100% good so it was really good to get in early.
Our family really enjoyed the chestnut picking and have made it as an annual event. Also that drive through Mount Wilson is just spectacular. Going early for the chestnut season this year means we missed out on the amazing display of autumn colours as the colours on the trees only just beginning to turn. Good excuse to make another trip just for the Autumn colours and check out the beautiful gardens. To get to Mount Irvine we passed through Bilpin and since it was still apple season we stopped by for some fruit picking. It really was a fun day for the family and highly recommend it.
With Mount Irvine being 135km from Sydney (2 hours drive) a bit of planning is required before you make the trip. Something to take into consideration are:
- There is no food or drinks available at Mount Wilson/Mount Irvine. Bring your own food and have a picnic at the several picnic grounds in Mount Wilson.
- Closest food is available at Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens (30km away), Bilpin (40kms away), Mount Victoria (40kms away).
- There is no petrol station in Mount Wilson/Mount Irvine. The nearest petrol station is in Bilpin or Mount Victoria (40kms away!).
Kookootonga Nut Farm
247 Mount Irvine Road
Mount Irvine NSW 2786
Ph: 02 4756 2136
Free to enter and only pay for what you pick
Chestnuts and walnuts are usually available mid March to mid Autumn. Always best to check on their website for updates so that you won’t be disappointed.