The Local Food Report: chestnuts

I missed the earthquake. I could blame it on lack of sleep, but I think it was the chestnuts.

I bought two pints last Thursday from Carrie Richter at the Falmouth Farmers' Market. They were smooth and glossy and reminded me of walking around Rome on our honeymoon. There are vendors on practically every corner there, roasting and selling and snacking as they go.

I imagine if things had gone differently for the American chestnut, you might see this same sort of thing going on during the fall in Boston or New York. But most of the roughly four billion American chestnut trees that covered the country prior to the arrival of the blight in the early 1900s are gone. 

Luckily, there are four main species of chestnut in the world, and some of them have a little more immunity. One of these is the Chinese Chestnut, which Irmine and Hollis Lovell planted on Carrie's land, Peach Tree Circle Farm, some thirty-odd years ago. Carrie had no idea the trees were in the spot she now calls Chestnut Bottom, but one day about seven years ago she noticed some round brown pods lying in the weeds on the ground. She hauled them out, brought them back to the kitchen, and realized she had a chestnut grove. She's been selling them at the farmers' market every fall since.

Which brings me to the earthquake. I roasted mine. I carefully followed the instructions in a very old Joy of Cooking, which said to prick the shells with a fork, throw them on a baking sheet, and turn the oven up to 425 degrees F. From here I should wait 15-20 minutes, shaking the sheet every once in a while. 

Well. I got to the sixteen minute mark, and one by one they started to explode. Big, bomb-like noises came out of the oven. I was terrified to open the door, but I was also terrified they might break the broiler, so I reached out an arm and pulled the sheet out. Most the nuts were still in tact, perfectly roasted. A few were shattered all over the oven. I never heard an earthquake; I had my own.

At any rate, if you are able to get your hands on some chestnuts (Carrie says they're all over at Bourne Farm in West Falmouth, and she'll have them again at the Thanksgiving market in Falmouth), by all means cut them open before you roast. Carrie recommends scoring them, and that seems like a good way to go. Next you have to shell them, and then it's time to eat. We had ours plain, and cooked up in a skillet with onions, duck fat, and kale. If we'd had more, I would have liked to have made this chestnut soup, and I think this chestnut stuffing looks excellent. Last but not least, who doesn't like the sounds of Butter Cookie Sandwiches with Chestnut Cream?


P.S. The American Chestnut Society is trying to restore blight-resistant species to the former American chestnut range. Check out their website for more info.


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The first time I ever experimented with cooking chestnuts it was with the encouragement of the Peachtree CIrcle Farms ladies. I had them roasted alongside butternut squash with sage and garlic....if only it felt like fall right now...it's still been in the 90's over here

diary of a tomato said...

I'll how have to be on the look-out for a source nearer by! I don't know if it helps but there's a knife specially designed to score the chestnuts with, to let the steam out and prevent mishaps of the exploding kind during cooking...

Elspeth said...

that knife would help enormously! nice to know :)

and project reroot...yum.

Kathy Doyle said...

Are there any species of chestnut trees on the cape that produce nuts that are not edible? I come across chestnuts every so often, but I thought they were not edible...

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