So I am just finished harvesting my eight buckets of water chestnuts, and they were a big success considering that I didn't figure out what they were and get them submerged until late June, thus missing almost two months of growing season. Still, I have a lot of them, even after putting some aside for next year's crop. I will be growing these again.
They don't store fresh all that well. I could eat all that I have, but I'd have to work at it.
And then I see a 2008 permaculture news article that suggests they can be "crystallized in sugar or honey as a sweet." Yummy! A bit more digging shows me that they are often included, in a dry shelf-stable form akin to nuts and dried fruit or crystallized ginger, in holiday snack trays in certain Asian traditions.
So, how do I make them? Google does not deliver me a recipe. And looking at a few recipes for other crystallized fruits and vegetables, there doesn't seem to be a lot of commonality. I don't know whether to cook them, roast them, pack them in sugar, boil them in sugar, dehydrate them, or some combination of the above.
Comments? Ideas? Suggestions? Recipes? Relevant experience? All help gratefully accepted.
I've never seen a fresh water chestnut, but I imagine the process is similar to other crystalised things.
If I remember my food chemistry stuff correctly, sugar draws water out of things pretty much like salt does,
and it's all about displacing the water in cells with sugar, then drying off any remaining water.
Make a heavy 1:1 simple syrup of sugar/honey dissolved in water.
Add a bunch of chestnuts to the syrup and simmer for half an hour or so.
Strain the chestnuts out and drain over the container of syrup.
You want as little syrup left coating the chestnuts as you can, so shake them around etc (over the syrup or it'll be messy!)
I've always used a cake rack like this for drying crystalised stuff on, but if you have a piece of food safe-ish mesh lying around...
The main thing is you want to be able to tip the drained chestnuts onto it and spread them around without them falling through the holes.
Place your...nut rack...on a tray to catch drips (or it'll be messy!)
and put somewhere out of the way to dry for at least a week.
Then roll in fine sugar or they'll stick together.
Sugar syrup can be strained, reboiled, cool and stored at room temp multiple times.
Whew. That may well be more than you ever wanted to know about crystalisation
This site talked about chestnuts lasting a year in a clamp
Leila, that's exactly what I wanted! It's similar to a recipe for candied tree-chestnuts that I stumbled over, and I had a vague notion that simmering in simple syrup was the way to go, but I couldn't get Google to zero in.
Of course I'm supposed to be avoiding excess sugar in my diet, so I probably will do this on a rather small scale, but it really sounds like a nice treat and I'm looking forward to giving it a try. I'll definitely post pictures if it comes together.
I said "dry for at least a week"- I should have said dry until only just sticky to touch;
humidity makes a massive difference in drying times.
Oh, and another thing...
my experience of water chestnuts is...somewhat limited...
and I'd describe their flavour as 'can, with a hint of chemical'
I suspect even fresh they won't have a lot going on flavour-wise,
and they could be texturally interesting, but bland, sugar bombs.
If you can access fresh ginger root and/or citrus zest, that'd deal to the bland thing.
preserved-ginger-in-syrup It's important not to skip the water-changing steps, otherwise the preserved ginger is really 'hot'.
Do the water thing with the ginger, then add it to the syrup along with the chestnuts.
That's when I'd add citrus zest (with the white pith removed)
I'd store them in the syrup; none of that drying malarky!
Leila, as it happens, there's a universe of difference between a fresh water chestnut and those canned yucky ones. The fresh ones are like a sweeter and more tender jicama root, with a sort of creamy richness. I really like them. I don't know how much of that yum factor will survive candying, but I'm interested in finding out.