The Art of Darkness

Burning Chestnuts

September 30th, 2010 by Cobwebs

Burning Chestnuts
These glowing nuts are emblems true
Of what in human life we view;
The ill-match’d couple fret and fume,
And this in strife themselves consume;
Or from each other wildly start,
And with a noise forever part.
But see the happy, happy pair,
Of genuine love and truth sincere;
With mutual fondness while they burn,
Still to each other kindly turn;
And as the vital sparks decay,
Together gently sink away;
Till life’s fierce ordeal being past,
Their mingled ashes rest at last.
— Charles Graydon, “On Nuts Burning, Hallows Eve” (1801)

From the depths of my Drafts folder* comes this fragment detailing a favorite Victorian parlor game. As is so often the case, it’s been knocking around in there so long that I forget what my original point was, so I’m just going to publish it and pass the confusion on to you.

The game itself is very straightforward, assuming you have a fireplace. (If you don’t, you can also use a charcoal grill.) Pass around a bowl of chestnuts and let each person choose two: One to represent themselves and one to represent a lover (current or potential). Each player places their chestnuts next to each other in the hot coals, and the nuts’ behavior “predicts” the fate of their relationship: If one hisses and steams, it indicates fretfulness or a bad temper in whomever the chestnut is named for. If both sputter, the relationship will be full of discord. If they pop away from each other, the lovers will separate. If they burn tranquilly side by side it means a life of happiness and harmony (I wouldn’t recommend trying to eat them once they’ve been reduced to ash).

It’s fun to play the game and then eat the results (not too many items can play a dual role as party game and snack food), or just save the roasted chestnuts for later and use them in a soup or dessert. Chestnuts are an underutilized foodstuff as far as I’m concerned, and I’m always happy to see them appear in the markets in autumn. Keep an eye out for their appearance, and you’ll have an inexpensive way to amuse your guests and get something yummy in the bargain.


*You guys. It’s really scary in there. And I think Amelia Earhart is propped up in one of the corners.

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