Last year I wrote about chestnuts, and was blown away by how many of you love these tasty little nuts (actually, chestnuts are pretty large as far as nuts go). Chestnuts seem to be fairly under-appreciated in the United States.
Apart from roasted chestnuts on the streets of New York City in the winter and a cameo appearance in Thanksgiving stuffing, Americans seem a little nonplussed about chestnuts, which have at times been a major source of sustenance here at home and abroad.
There is a veritable "cult of the chestnut" outside of the U.S. In France, the holidays wouldn't be the same without Creme de Marrons (chestnut paste) which is baked into a myriad of cakes and cookies. In Italy the Mugello Sweet Chestnut has its own Protected Geographic Status (like Parmigiano Reggiano). In Japan there are even chestnut flavored Kit Kats and chestnut flavored soft serve ice cream!
There are four main species of chestnut trees: American, Chinese, European, and Japanese. The trees fruit are spiny globes and inside each sphere are several nuts. The American Chestnut tree was once one of the most prolific trees in our forests, providing much of the canopy throughout the East. But 1904 was the beginning of the end for American chestnuts.
It seems that some Asian Chestnut trees were planted in Long Island, New York. They carried a deadly fungus which Asian chestnuts had long grown immune to, but which American chestnuts had no natural protection against. Within 40 years, approximately four billion chestnut trees succumbed to the blight.
Perhaps this is why Americans lost a taste for chestnuts. They simply disappeared from the local food chain.
There is some good news though. Today through the work of the American Chestnut Foundation the American chestnut tree is making a comeback. Years of research, selective breeding, and the work of countless volunteers are slowly but surely returning the American chestnut to our forests.
Perhaps with the regrowth of our chestnut trees there will also come a re-appreciation for these nuts. It will take generations to find out.
Do you have a chestnut recipe to share? Are chestnut trees making a comeback in your neck of the woods?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.