Chestnuts are a versatile cold-weather treat, perfect for roasting during the late fall and early winter. Out at our HomeFarm, we grow the Colossal variety, pollinated by the Nevada variety.
Beyond roasting, they can be boiled, steamed, and puréed for use in stuffings, stews, or desserts. They are also wonderful ground into flour, which can be used to make gluten-free bread.
Right now, we’re loving chestnuts atop our breakfast porridge in the Café accompanied by Medjool dates, apple cider syrup, and plenty of butter. We’re also enjoying them in our roasted sunchoke salad with Delicata squash.
- Chestnuts are in the Fagaceae family, closely related to beech and oak trees. Recent DNA evidence shows that they probably arose in eastern Asia and split into four different varietals over time: American, Japanese, European, and Chinese.
- The ancient Romans are said to have planted chestnut trees wherever they conquered and indeed, Roman soldiers are said to have feasted on porridge made from the nuts before going into battle.
- Chestnut trees were plentiful in the forests of eastern North America until cryphonectria parasitica, a fungus that causes chestnut blight, was accidentally introduced to the U.S. in 1904, probably from imported Japanese trees. By 1940, the American chestnut was gone from the landscape, with an estimated 4 billion trees having succumbed to the blight.
Tidbits and Terminology
- Netsuke are are tiny little Japanese carvings made out of various materials, including chestnuts.
- Although they look similar, water chestnuts are not related to chestnuts from trees.
- China, Korea, Turkey, and Bolivia lead the way in global cultivation. Italy, France, and Japan are also major growers.
Cultivation and Harvest
- U.S. production is low, accounting for less than 1 percent of total world production, according to the USDA.
- Both cultivated and wild chestnuts are used as food, although cultivated varieties are much preferred in terms of flavor and size.
Chestnuts are lower in fat and calories than other tree nuts. They are packed with vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, potassium, copper, and manganese.
- Look for large, glossy nuts that feel heavy for their size and that are free from cracks or chips.
- Ensure that the nuts haven’t dried out by shaking them – pass on any that you hear rattling.
Fresh chestnuts are more perishable than other nuts. Unpeeled nuts can be stored in a cool place or in the refrigerator crisper drawer for no longer than a week. Once peeled, check for any mold, which is commonplace.
At a Glance: Cooking Tips
- On the savory side, they are perfect paired with cruciferous veggies, pork, poultry, and game meats.
- Chopped and roasted, they make a delightful addition to grain salads and rice dishes.
- They are also sensational in desserts, pairing well with chocolate, vanilla, and even citrus.
- In Italy, they boiled in red wine are traditional Christmas fare. Chestnut flour pancakes called necciare are a Tuscan delicacy, and chestnut blossom honey is also common throughout the country.