Updated: May 6, 2021
American Chestnut trees are one thing we have in abundance here on the farm and don't get utilized nearly as often as they should be these days. They contain a nut that the general population as a whole knows very little about. Many have only heard them in a song 'Chestnuts roasting on an open fire' but how many actually have roasted them?
A century ago 20-25% of trees that graced the Appalachian forests were chestnut trees providing food for our wildlife such as deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, and more. By 1950 about four billion chestnut trees were wiped out by an Asian fungus. Chestnut trees, to me, are a symbol of strength and perseverance, they are neither extinct nor endangered. They endure and each season provide us with tasty nuts and a handy weapon if you need one.
"Watch your back and your step"
Chestnuts arrive in late August, early September and generally ripen in a 10-30 day timespan. We have five chestnut trees near the house and I am sure there are many more in the woods. We spent many days as kids climbing our chestnut trees and building forts underneath them. It was the perfect choice because you are readily provided with a steady stream of weapons to toss at intruders that pass by. In August the trees are full of spiky green balls containing the nuts inside. As the chestnuts ripen, the burrs turn to a brown color and split showing the nuts inside ready to drop. Sometimes the chestnuts fall out and sometimes the whole burr drops to the ground or you can pick them right off the tree. Watch out for the burrs, they hurt like the dickens and they are unforgiving. Handle them gently. My brother, cousins and I, for whatever reason, liked to throw them at each other and let me tell you, that is a special kind of hurt. The kind of activity that builds tough farm kids.
I don't advise walking around barefooted after the burrs fall to the ground. Even after the chestnuts are long gone, the burrs tend to linger around just waiting on an unsuspecting foot to wander by. They can pierce through the fabric of your shoe too, so tread lightly. Mowing under chestnut trees add an additional challenge as well. Low hanging burrs are always there waiting to clock you in the head.
Look at those beauties
Good Eating & Healthy
If you don't have chestnut trees, ask a local farmer or head to your local Farmer's Market in the fall. ****Please note, these are not the same as Horse Chestnuts which are poisonous**** Chestnuts are rich in antioxidants, minerals and potassium reducing your risk of cardiovascular issues like disease and stroke. They can be eaten fresh or cooked, the antioxidants actually increase when cooked. Due to their high moisture content, they spoil quickly but you can keep them up to a week (still in their shell) in a cool dry place. You can also keep them up to a month by placing them in a plastic bag (to allow for circulation) in the refrigerator.
They aren't the easiest nuts to peel from the shell. First you have to deal with the burr. I have found the best way is to capture the burr between my feet and split it apart with my shoes, then you can fetch the nuts inside. Inside, the burrs are lined with a soft fuzzy fur and contains two good sized nuts and a skinny unformed one. The chestnuts have a small stem at the top with a couple of stickies easily plucked off. Inspect the nuts for any holes, you don't want worms. There are two kinds of chestnut weevils. I hear they can be eaten, though I prefer mine worm free.
You have to create an opening to peel the outer shell. Mind your teeth, easier to use a knife (be careful either way). Once you have an opening, the shell can be peeled off, sometimes cleanly, and sometimes with a fuzzy layer of the shell lining. I try to get as much of the lining off as I can but it won't hurt you if some is left on, it's not difficult to peel off most times. You can keep them in a bowl on the table still in the shell, also leave them in the shell if you refrigerate them. If you plan on roasting them, leave the skin on.
How do we cook these things?
More often than not, I eat them fresh out of the shell but they are very good roasted too. There are many good recipes out there, here are a list of the 15 best recipes for chestnuts https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-chestnut-recipes-4768304 If you roast them, serve them straight after, they will only keep (after roasting) for 2-3 days.
Here are the steps:
Pre-heat oven to 425
Lay chestnuts (with skin still on) flat side down and use a serrated knife to cut an "x" about 1/3 of the way through on all chestnuts.
Place them flat side down on a baking sheet and set them on the top shelf of the oven.
Place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom shelf underneath the chestnuts with 2 cups of cold water.
Bake until the skin peels away about 20-25 minutes. Remove them from the oven and place them in a kitchen towel. Let them cool about 5 minutes before peeling.
Serve and enjoy!
Seeing how we are on the tail-end of December, I'm a little late in talking about chestnuts. Better late than never though, right? I'm actually still picking burrs out of the floor of my car and it inspired me to blog about this little nut that we know so little about. We'll be ready for next year. I hope you will seek some out next fall and try roasting them, maybe clock your sibling in a burr fight, who knows what kind of fun lays in store. If you don't want to roast them, keep some in a bowl on your table (still in the shell) for friends that stop by. Chestnuts make a great addition with a cup of coffee and great conversation.
Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.