That old chestnut: American Chestnuts in Michigan
November 24, 2011
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Wikipedia’s entry for the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) explains that this large, deciduous tree of the beech family was once one of the eastern United States dominant hardwoods before it was nearly wiped out by chestnut blight. Curiously enough, one of the few pockets to survive were some 600 to 800 large trees in northern lower Michigan. I couldn’t find much about these trees other than that reference, so if anyone knows something about that, post it in the comments!
In Europe, chestnuts are consumed in a wide variety of dishes, from soups, stews, and stuffing to fancy deserts. Matter of fact, chestnut flour is the secret to many of the fancy French pastries. In other parts of the world, such as China, the chestnut is a staple food in the peoples’ diet. Chestnuts have about half the calories of other nuts and have the lowest fat content of all the main edible nuts. Chestnuts have only four to five percent fat as compared to sixty-two percent for the hazelnut and seventy-one percent for the pecan. In composition and food value, the chestnut, with its high carbohydrate content of about seventy-eight percent, is more akin to cereal grains, such as wheat, than to nuts with a low carbohydrate content. Since chestnuts are starchy rather than oily, they are readily digestible when roasted or boiled.
Read on for more and suggestions on cooking. They take orders for fresh chestnuts and ship beginning in October, and are at farm markets through the fall. You can also but them online through Michigan-based Earthy Delights. I found a recipe for Michigan chestnut pie that looks tasty too.