That old chestnut: American Chestnuts in Michigan

Beautiful Chestnuts

Beautiful Chestnuts, photo by jpwbee.

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!

I do know that Chestnut Growers, Inc. is a 37 member cooperative based in Michigan with members in Lower Michigan and Washington state. Their page on sweet chestnuts says that:

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.

Julie bought these Michigan-grown beauties at Zingermans. Check them out background bigalicious and see more in Julie’s Food slideshow.

6 thoughts on “That old chestnut: American Chestnuts in Michigan

  1. We have an old table made of Chestnut wood. A man who worked on it told us that it was Chestnut wood that had been effected by the blight, It has ‘worm like’ holes in it. The table was given to me from an elderly lady many years ago. I used to use it to draw on when I was little_Iam now 64 years old. Are these Chestnut trees available for planting?


  2. I never knew that the American Chestnut Tree was not a Michigan native, but was brought to northern Michigan by newcomers -at least by the 1870s. The blight also attacked the trees much earlier than I thought. My house was built between 1905 and 1910 and has all chestnut floors and woodwork. The man who built the house was born in Pennsylvania and lived in southern Michigan before coming to the Pamona area. (Manistee County) One side of my family is Pennsylvania German, and carried fruit trees with them when they migrated to the Toronto area of Canada. Now I am wondering if they also carried chestnut trees with them. It’s a good possibility, being it was used for so many things. I think it’s wonderful that new trees are being planted and so much effort is being made to find a way to make them free of disease.
    I wish more people were made aware of what treasure might exist in their own homes. If a house was built just after the turn of the century, there’s a good chance that chestnut was used in building it. I’m sure it was very affordable because there would have been a big dump on the chestnut market- making what ordinarily would have been a premium wood- a bargain. The saw mills must have been flooded with trees that people knew they were going to lose. I read once that, “if you own anything made of American Chestnut, you own a piece of history”. I suspect that lots of people own some, but have no idea. I really appreciate my very large hunk of history.


  3. We have a very large american chestnut tree on our land. We are in Mason county Sheridan township. It has nuts on it every year that I can remember. Are these nut able to produce new trees if planted .


    1. If you haven’t already, please contact the American Chestnut Foundation and tell them about your tree. They would be able to answer your question about planting.


  4. There were two American Chestnut trees located at 1521 N. 29 Road, Cadillac, Michigan. A gentleman from Michigan State University asked permission to gather and take the nuts every year. That was in the late 70’s, early 80’s. The trees were less than 300’ off the road and were visible from the road (no obstructions). I have no idea if the tress are still surviving – but I do know they were some of the very few that did not die from the chestnut blight.


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