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  • Sara Thompson

Oh, that old Chestnut

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Chestnuts held in hands with open palms
Photo by Sébastien Bourguet on Unsplash

Chestnuts often evoke a feeling of nostalgia and family, getting people into holiday moods. Eaten raw, roasted, or boiled, chestnuts have been used for centuries in a variety of cultures. The chestnut tree is common in temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere. It is in the same family as beech trees and encompasses up to nine species of deciduous, or leaf shedding, trees.

There are four main varieties of chestnut trees: American, European, Chinese, and Japanese. Compared to other nuts, chestnuts are low in fat, with no cholesterol, but they do have a high level of Vitamin C. The American chestnut almost went extinct in the early 1900s when a fungal blight killed the majority of the trees. More recently, the American chestnut has been cross-bred with the Chinese variety which has a natural resistance to the blight. Even though the American chestnut tree is still critically endangered, the hybrid has been showing promise in growing and disease resistance.

Ripening in early fall, chestnuts are common during fall festivals and winter holidays. They are only available during a short harvest season, 6-8 weeks in some places. There is evidence of chestnuts being cultivated by humans as early as 2000 BC. Chestnuts have been a staple starch in some cultures as they have a large variety of uses. They can be boiled and mashed like potatoes or vegetables. They are also used in stuffing, stews, and soups. They were even ground into a powder and used to make breads before wheat was widely available. Currently, many people around the world roast them in the oven or in fireplaces and eat them by peeling the outer layer off. Chestnuts are described as a rich, silky, nutty flavor that is brought out best when roasted.

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