"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Chestnut Spread: It’s From France

by Julie on July 15, 2011

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

Les hommes des chestnut

Les homme des...chestnuts....

I was in West L.A.  I had an hour to kill before having to be at an event. I was on Third Street. Where better to kill time than in Joan’s on Third?

After spending some time ogling the pastries (the macarons were winking at me, I know it.) I wandered over to the shelves of gourmet fare.

Sea salt, five kinds! Olive oils both imported and domestic, fantastically-priced and not on the downside. Artisanal Jalepeno and rose petal jams,  Cocoa from France and Holland.

This is the closest I can get to a European vacation most years. I will closely inspect most every product, testing my high school French on the labels and wondering about the lives of the people who buy these little jars tied with twine and colorful tins in their own countries. Are these considered fancy products there?  Or are they the equivalent of a $3 jar of Bubba’s BBQ sauce at any Ralph’s market here?

Invariably, I will start to wonder why my life isn’t filled with regular trips to friends’ villas in Tuscany or the South of France. And why I never just left one of the many long-forgotten boyfriends and spent a year or two in France or Spain or Italy or, hell, anywhere I could have learned a second language and eaten a lot of good food fed to me in bed by an alluring European man.  When did my life become so routine? So domestic? So…sans colour.…?

In truth I love my domesticity, because I know it’s temporary, and half over already. I’ll pick up the ex-pat life where I left it off once the nits launch. In the meantime, I peruse the back aisles of upscale food markets and paw the imported fantasies. Just to hold me over.

I squatted to the lower shelf to inspect the Nutella, hoping to find the better kind imported from Italy. Alas, it was the American-made version (still worthy, but not as good as the imported stuff) and then I saw it.

“Chestnut spread.” in a little can, brightly colored. From France.

I grabbed it right away, undaunted by the $8 price. In my mind I saw a taupe-colored, paste, ground of chestnuts and maybe sweetened just slightly, for use on my morning toast. Ever since going through my last batch of cashew nut butter I’ve been missing something to spread on my Nutella. This might be just the thing.

My first mistake was opening it in the presence of company.

“You paid $8 for this little can of whatever,” Marisa gawped.

“It’s imported!” I said.

“So what?”

“It’s a gourmet thing. Chestnut spread from France,” I said, feeling superior for having been to France all of twice in my life, even though one of those times constituted four hours sitting in a cold plastic chair watching our luggage in the Gare du Nord. I was six months pregnant and starving and we couldn’t even check the bags to go get a meal. I had to make due with a candy bar from a vending machine. So much for my fond Parisian memories.

“It’s in an adorable little can. Look!”

I pulled the tab and opened it up, expecting to impress her with the sight of creamy delights within.

Alas. Even I recoiled in horror.

Brown gelatin.

At least Marisa kept a straight face. “What do you use it for?”

“I dunno. Lots of things, I suppose,” I muttered, unable to come up with any ideas save one: “Like, you can spread it on toast. Probably.”

Marisa read the label. “Says here you spread it on ‘toats.”


“No, ‘TOATS.’ That’s what it says on the label.”

Copy Editors are not valued in any country, apparently. And in any case, I was plumb out of toats. Maybe Trader Joe’s sells them.

Look, it was an impulse buy.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Oohlalaland July 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

Les Toats! Que c’est marrant, ca! Et bien, a quoi sert la creme de marrons, enfin?


Jamie July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm

Did you taste it?


Bad Home Cook July 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I did! And it was too sweet for me….it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I’ve had other French chestnut stuff that was divine…


Bonnie July 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm

It sounds like the little can would look very cute with a small summer bouquet -wildflowers? Summer roses? Toss the spread and keep the can! Tres’ chic!


Genevieve Ortegon July 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm

It reminds me of a story from down under…a dark brown Australian food paste made of yeast extract, “Vegemite.” Ever try it? It truly is road kill. I still have the jar in my garage–I use is to grease my bike wheels. LOL.


Julie July 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Yes, I know Vegemite, and it’s English cousin, Marmite…which is indeed gross. But the Brits love it..


paula hennig July 19, 2011 at 10:55 am

Had to laugh along with you as I’m easily sucked into buying food that look unusual/foreign/cute. There’s a jar of “pate” in my pantry that seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’ve been too chicken to actually open…


Julie July 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Paula – I know, right? I’ve got a couple of other things deep in the fridge that I’m afraid to look at…foreign and domestic…:-)


Lauren May 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

Eat it in plain yogurt. It is delicious!!!


Kris February 28, 2017 at 10:57 am

Really it was gross.???
I just brought the same thing home with me from France. Lol. Right down to the little can with the chestnut man on it ☺️


Anne B August 16, 2018 at 12:47 pm

From a genuine French person – this IS a delicacy and my US born- French at heart kids love it. Only not on toast. It’s a sweetener that we typically use with plain greek yogurt – ¾ unsweetened yogurt + ¼ chestnut paste, mix it and enjoy. It’s divine!


Julie August 16, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Thanks, Anne! It was delicious. I hadn’t thought about putting it into yogurt…gonna try that! Thanks for reading!


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