You’ve all heard the song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” But have you tasted a chestnut? Better yet, have you tasted a roasted chestnut? It’s time to investigate chestnuts on New Food Friday.
Whereas most nuts are hard, chestnuts are relatively soft and moist. They’re firm and they’re also a bit sweet! Does that sound like a nut to you? Well, it might interest you to know that the botanical definition of a nut is a dry fruit!
Roasted chestnuts are a common street food. You can find them in many countries. I remember them fondly on the streets of New York City many years ago. You could smell them roasting for blocks. They’re great to eat in the wintertime because they are hot and if you wear your mittens, you can hold a few in your hands, warming your cold fingers while you wait for the chestnuts to cool off.
Chestnuts are low in fat and calories compared to a walnut which has 3 times the amount of calories. I bought a container of chestnuts at Meijer and they were originally $4.49 reduced to $1.49. The package stated “Italian Chestnuts” so I’m assuming they were imported from Italy. I’m lucky I found them reduced. They were the best chestnuts I’ve ever eaten! At least to my memory.
Almost all fresh chestnuts sold in your local markets are imported. These imported chestnuts come from all over the world–Italy, Spain, Korea, China, and sometimes even Portugal, according to http://www.buychestnuts.com/
When you roast them, you want to be sure to puncture them with the point of a sharp knife. In fact, make an “x” because just one puncture might not do. I had one explode in my toaster oven when I only gave it one puncture. They are like baking potatoes in that sense. If you don’t puncture a potato well and bake it in the oven, it will explode! I have experience with both unfortunately! They are a mess to clean up.
Speaking of messes, when I work with flour, which is often because I like to bake, I manage to get flour everywhere. Although I’ve never used Chestnut flour, I imagine it wouldn’t be any different. Chestnut flour is favored in many Tuscany recipes. Chestnuts are found in some recipes in America on Thanksgiving. Some folks like to make their turkey stuffing with chestnuts. I would love to try that. It sounds delicious!
I used to see many of these chestnut burrs
on the ground on my way home from school when I was growing up. Whether they were the true American Chestnuts, I don’t know but I’m inclined to think so. The trees on this one particular block were very old and not just Chestnut trees. I remember Oak leaves in the mix. Their roots caused a major upheaval on the sidewalks over the years, causing permanent “ocean waves” that were a challenge to navigate, especially when Fall came and colorful slippery leaves covered the ground. When I went back, six years ago, all the old trees were gone, cut down, and in place of the shady canopy, sunshine and new sidewalks. To me it looked bare and ugly. I preferred the undulating sidewalks!
When I was in school, I learned the poem, “Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands.” Some of you might recognize that poem.
The story of the American Chestnut Tree is a sad one. You may have heard it from your parents or grandparents. It’s been said that the East Coast American Chestnut Tree was the equivalent of the West Coast Redwood Tree. Imagine how devastating it would be if we lost our Redwoods.
“The story is that the chestnut supported from cradle to grave,” says Bill Alexander, landscape curator of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. “You were rocked to sleep as a baby in a chestnut cradle and you were buried in a chestnut casket.” (Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Nature-Community/1998-08-01/Chestnut-Revival.aspx#ixzz2HEhNgEbe)
Here are excerpts from The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) website.
“The American chestnut tree reigned over 200 million acres of eastern woodlands from Maine to Florida, and from the Piedmont west to the Ohio Valley, until succumbing to a lethal fungus infestation, known as the chestnut blight, during the first half of the 20th century. An estimated 4 billion American chestnuts, 1/4 of the hardwood tree population, grew within this range.
The American chestnut tree was an essential component of the entire eastern US ecosystem. A late-flowering, reliable, and productive tree, unaffected by seasonal frosts, it was the single most important food source for a wide variety of wildlife from bears to birds. Rural communities depended upon the annual nut harvest as a cash crop to feed livestock. The chestnut lumber industry was a major sector of rural economies. Chestnut wood is straight-grained and easily worked, lightweight and highly rot-resistant, making it ideal for fence posts, railroad ties, barn beams and home construction, as well as for fine furniture and musical instruments.
The blight, imported to the US on Asian chestnut trees, is a fungus dispersed via spores in the air, raindrops or animals. It eventually kills the tree.
In 1989 TACF established the Wagner Research Farm, a breeding station in Meadowview, Virginia, to execute the backcross breeding program developed by Philip Rutter, Dr. David French and the late Dr. Charles Burnham, three of TACF’s founding scientists. Two independent reviews of TACF’s scientific mission, methods, and results, were conducted in 1999 and in 2006 by prominent scientists from around the world. They concluded that the vision of The American Chestnut Foundation to restore the American chestnut to its native habitat in the United States is being accomplished through the breeding program & other TACF activities, and that regional adaptability is key to a successful reintroduction of the American chestnut tree.
Today, TACF’s Meadowview Research Farms have over 30,000 trees at various stages of breeding, planted on more than 160 acres of land.”
The comeback of the American Chestnut tree sounds promising.
For more information, to learn how you can participate, and to hear Dolly Parton’s new song about the American Chestnut, click here.
In the meantime, while you are waiting for the American Chestnut to make its comeback, try the European chestnut sold in your supermarket. Although it is the end of the season for chestnuts, you might get lucky and still be able to find some at your supermarket. They were out of them at Meijer when I went back for more, but they were still selling them at my local K-Mart. Otherwise, you may find chestnuts sold in Michigan and a few other states where chestnut hybrids are planted. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~