(Long) Mysterious Chestnut
Daniel B. Wheeler
dwheeler at ipns.com
Thu Nov 29 00:27:46 EST 2001
>From FOODday, Nov. 27, 2001, p FD1
Cracking the Case of the Mysterious Chestnut
Everyone has heard the Christmas tune, but many Americans aren't
familiar with this nut, which is a common treat in Europe
By AMY MARTINEZ STARKE, The Oregonian
It conjured up image of a roaring log fire on a cold frosty day and
is immortalized in a holiday song.
But admit it, most of you: You've never eaten a freshly roasted
Don't be bashful. Many Americans haven't eaten chestnuts while
growing up, lik they do in Europe and Asia, where they're a perfect
and ancient winter staple and gathering them is a chilly fall ritual.
In some East Coast cities, they sell them as a street food. But in
Oregon, "They've heard the song, but most people have never seen
chestnuts, they've never tasted them," says Junction City grower Judy
Croce, who plans to have a chestnut-roasting cart at the Light Parade
in her town in early December.
In the 19th century, American writers waxed lyrical about the
cathedral-like stands of chestnut trees. But a blight from Asian
chestnut trees introduced in the 1880s decimated a huge number of
native American chestnut trees back East about 100 years ago.
Chestnut trees are back on the scene again. Oregonians are now
growing them - mostly a hybrid variety called Colossal, developed for
size, sweetness and ease of peeling. The new crop of shiny brown nuts
is sweet and tastes of autumn.
(Don't eat poisonous horse chestnuts; see related story on this
"Most people say chestnuts taste like a potato only sweet, but not
like a sweet potato," Croce says.
Oregon growers say demand is inreasing, and they're hoping to
displace the imports from Europe and Asia in the stores.
"It's really catching on, it's a real novelty. There are roaster
stands and carts going up everywhere," says grower/distributor Eric
Schwartz of Tomas Paine Farms in Kings Valley. "It's an old thing in
the East, but it's new for the West. It smells good, it's warm. You
can't help but buy them." (He sells at www.chestnuts.org.)
"Martha Stewart Living" apparently thinks they're trendy, too: In
October, a crew was filming at several Oregon orchards for a TV
segment on chestnuts; the November issue of the magazine has a feature
Fresh chestnuts from Oregon-grown trees appear in October at markets,
farm stands and farmers maerkts. Sometimes in their spiky husks.
At the Portland Farmers Market this year, for example, grower Lex
Loeb has a booth selling chestnuts from his 70 trees in the Columbia
Gorge (squirrels planted some of them). This year he had more than
1,000 pounds. He sold on the streets of Northwest Portland in November
and is already sold out.
In addition, stores like New Seasons Market are starting to do
in-store chestnut roasting to entice shoppers to try the new crop.
"I think that the culture of chestnuts is growing in the Northwest,"
Chestnut prices are all over the place but you can expect to pay $2
to $8 a pound, depending on size, availability and whether they're
imports or local. (There are 89 small chestnuts in a pound, 50 large
and 18 Colossals.)
Chestnut is the lowest-fat, lowest-calorie nut, with only about 5
percent oil, 50 percent water and 54 calories per ounce. They're very
perishable. Because of their high water content, unless they're kept
refrigerated, chestnuts at stores may be dried out, spoiled or moldy -
especially the imports, which can be as much as a year old, growers
say. A grower survey last year of Portland-area markets found that 90
percent did not keep the chestnuts refrigerated at all times, so "as a
result nuts were soft from dehydration and lacked the luster one
expects from fresh nuts."
Grower Irene Coleman, who has written a chestnut cookbook, says,
"Stores don't know how to keep them. They don't understand. I tell
them, 'Do not leave them out with the nuts! They are not a regular
nut! Put them in cool storage!' But they don't listen."
The cookbook is available at the orchard she runs with her husband,
Randy, on Oregon 99W south of McMinnville.
Many ways to eat them
Chestnuts are a natural for poultry stuffing. They also can be made
into cream of chestnut soup, chestnut bread or chestnut pasta;
roasted, boiled, braised or pureed with meat stock; or stir-fried.
Gourmets enjoy sweet confections such as marrons glaces (chestnuts
that have been preserved in a sweet syrup), chestnut puree, chestnut
cream, quiches, chestnut torte and chestnut ice cream. Of course, they
can be roasted in a fireplace popcorn basket or special chestnut
Chefs prefer to team them with Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mushrooms,
onions, carrots or sweet potatoes.
One way to try chestnuts it to be introduced to them properly
prepared at a restaurant. Castagna (which means chestnut in Italian)
on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland is working on a special
chestnut menu for December using local chestnuts - including a
Chocolate-Chestnut Torte (see accompanying recipes), chestnuts and
sautted cabbage and a chestnut soup.
Everybody agrees that peeling or shelling them is a time-consuming
"Opening it, that's the downfall. But some people think it's worth
the effort for the taste. You've got a reward in the middle," grower
How they got started here
Horticulturist and OSU Extension agent Bob Rackham, now retired,
helped take the lead in introducing commercial chestnut growing in the
late 1980s and early 1990s, and that's when many Oregon growers
started planting their trees.
Mostly they have planted the Colossal - not the same variety that was
wiped out in the famous blight. Rackham studied in California,
Italian, Chinese and Australian varieties, techniques and ideas.
"I thought it had potential. So I got growers interested," he says.
Rackham says chestnuts are the world's third-most-eaten nut, after
the peanut and the coconut, and the United States is the only country
in the world with the soi and climate to grow chestnuts that does not
have a commercial chestnut industry.
Asians and Europeans have been eating them for centuries. Some
Europeans survived on them during World War II when there was nothing
else to eat.
"In Europe the chestnut was the 'people's friend' if the livestock or
crops failed them. They nearly always produced a crop."
"There is a revival of chestnut culture going on in Europe, too,"
grower Chris Foster says. "there are government programs to restore
old trees, plant new orchards."
Ben Bole, a Sherwood grower, is president of the Western Chestnut
Growers Association, which has members mostly west of the Rockies
representing a fledgling industry estimated at about 300 acres. He
sells his chestnuts online at www.chestnutsonline.com and says there
are about a dozen chestnut growers in Oregon.
Foster, vice president of the growers association, grows 400 organic
chestnut trees on six acres above Sauvie Island in the Cornelius Pass
He prefers varieties other than the Colossal and grows mostly French
and Italian varieties.
"I'm hoping it will be like apples or ptoates - you buy a certain
variety, texture, color, taste for a certain use (Chestnuts) are
suited for different uses, different types. Europeans know all about
this stuff, and we don't."
Foster, as are most of the chesnut growers interviewed, is selling
everything he can grow, but says long-term profitability for local
chesnut growers is still unknown.
Mark and Kim Beam of Nut Quacker Farms in Hood River have 500
Colossal trees on 10 acres. He sells all his fresh chestnuts out of
his home by word of mouth, manay to people from Europe, Japan and
China. Like many of his fellow groers, he expects he may be sold out
by December. "To people who are familiar with these (from Asia or
Europe), to get them fresh from a local farm is really a plus," he
Nut Quacker Farms and Hood River Vineyards will hold an Italian-style
chestnut roast, which paris them with red wine, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 1 at the farm, 3435 Neal Creek Road. The farm is No. 21
on the Fruit Loop map: www.gorge.net/fruitloop. The roast is free;
wine is $4 a glass. Call the farm at 541-354-3531.
According to Italian custom, the first chestnuts are roasted, peeled
and dropped into a glass of wine. As the chestnuts soak, the earthy
and fruity flavors mingle.
Then you eat the chestnuts while dirnking the wine the chesnuts were
A bite of a chestnut cals for a sip of wine, and the wine in turn
naturally calls for more chestnuts.
Hmmm. Chestnuts and pinot noir - sounds like a beginning of a
beautiful Oregon relationship.
Basic Chestnut Stuffing
Makes enough for a 12- to 15-pound turkey
American cookbooks from the 17th and 18th centuries featured rich
chestnut stuffings, which are still popular in many homes. The basic
ingtredients haven't changed much over the years, but stuffing allows
for plenty of creativity, such as special touches like Ground sausage,
veal or pork.
1 to 1-1/2 cups butter or margarine (2 to 3 sticks)
2 cups finely chopped onions
2 cups thinly sliced celery
9 cups fine dry bread crumbs, white or whole wheat (about 18 slices)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried savory
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 pounds boiled chestnuts, peeled anc oarsely chopped
1/2 cup cognac (optional)
Melt butter in a large saucepan; add onions and celery and saute
until limp. Place bread crumbs in a large bowl; add onion mixture and
mix thoroughly. Add salt, thyme, margoram, savory and parsley; mix
again. Add chestnuts and cognac; mix well. Stuff into cavity of turkey
and proceed as usual.
Lightly stuff into caveity of turkey. Roast in 325-degree oven until
stuffing reaches 165 degrees F on an instant thermometer.
-From Countryside Magazine, December 1991
Calories per 1-cup serving: 524 (9% from protein, 63% from
carbohydrate, 28% from fat)
Protein: 11.4 grams
Cholesterol: 33 mg
Dietary fiber: 2.6 grams
Total Fat: 16.6 grams
Sodium: 1,017 mg
Saturdated fat: 8.6 grams
Carbohydrate: 81.8 grams
Exchanges: 5 1/2 vegetable, 3 starch, 3 fat
Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
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