Jack Frost nipping at your nose…
‘Tis the season for chestnuts and most of you can find some in your local grocery store. Chestnuts grew wild in the American northeast until about 150 years ago when a fungus brought over from Asian chestnut trees spread quickly across the Appalachian Mountain range where wild chestnuts made up one quarter of all the trees in the forests.
We lost a wonderful wild food source with those chestnut trees, full of protein, calcium, vitamin C, copper and manganese. Many growers around the U.S. have worked hard to bring back a fungus-resistant American chestnut. You can order those chestnuts online, but much of what you see in the store still comes from outside the U.S.
Like most nuts, chestnuts come in their own packaging, so they travel very well. Growers have to wait until they fall from the trees so they don’t get harvested too early. When buying them, check for freshness by squeezing them. The nuts should be firm with no give between the shell and the nut.
When you get them home put them in a bowl in the sunshine to “cure.” Squeeze them every day and when you can feel a little give between the nut and the shell – get ready for a seasonal treat.
Cut a cross in each nut with a sharp knife to prevent the nuts from bursting while cooking. Put a handful or two on a pan in the toaster oven and “roast” at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let them cool just a little bit. They peel much better when warm, which makes them a perfect treat for warming up cold hands after spending time outside in cold weather.
Uncured fresh chestnuts keep well in the refrigerator for weeks. You can also freeze them. When curing, take care not to let them dry out. Usually chestnuts “cure” in 2-3 days without refrigeration.