Would it peak your curiosity to learn that there is a tree that has been acclaimed as God’s Acorn, The Bread Tree, The Money Tree, The Survival Tree, Cradle to Casket Tree, The Redwoods of the East Coast and even the King of the Forest? These nicknames are in honor of the American Chestnut, Castanea dentata. Obviously, this tree had inestimable value to be referred to by such intriguing titles!
Chestnuts are hands down my favorite wild edible nut! I have enjoyed them roasted, pureed, dried and powdered into gluten free flour, candied and tossed into soups and salads. One fourth of all the hardwoods in the Appalachian mountains were Chestnut trees. In the olden days the forests of Appalachia appeared to be white with snow by July 4th. I begin looking for them in late June when their white witchy fingered odoriferous catkins adorn the trees advertising the bounty to come in the Fall. And then I am back in October to carefully gather their barbed and bristled balls which shelter the shiny smooth nuts within. Sometimes treasures are hidden within formidable exteriors.
Another way to locate Chestnut trees is to step on a dried spiny husk any time of year, even in the Winter. Doing that barefoot is not on my bucket list but would be memorable.
Their spiny sharp globes look like a curled up hedgehog or a porcupine protecting the nuts within.
Entire communities would go ‘chestnutting’ to gather these precious fruits. Some claimed that the nuts were so deep they were knee high!
The Demise of the American Chestnut
Castanea dentata, our beloved American Chestnut met a tragic end as a fallen and deeply mourned hero by 1940. Vanquished by an invisible foe, a blight carried by the Chinese Chestnut that had been brought to our continent from Japan for the purposes of interbreeding the two species. As is often the case in foreign botanical shenanigans there is an immunity to this fungus in it’s native lands but the American Chestnut had no natural defenses to the blight. Within 40 years, 4 – 5 billion of these giants died claiming not only the magnificence of these legendary trees but the livelihoods of those who depended on the faithful annual nut drop for their own subsistence and as a major ‘cash’ crop used to pay taxes and buy necessities. Old timers in the Appalachian mountains who lived before the American Chestnut demise still reflect on how devastating this loss was to their communities, to their families to their livestock, to the economy…doubly devastating since this tragedy occurred during the Great Depression.
The mountain folk relied on 4 important cash crops to sustain their way of life – Apples, Moonshine, Hogs and Chestnuts. With the loss of the Chestnuts farmers could afford to fatten their pigs for market on the panage of Chestnuts on the forest floor so with the Chestnuts gone they lost two significant revenue sources in one. Many say that the loss of the American Chestnut was the end of sustainable living in the mountains and hollers.
So what am I chestnuting for? If the Chestnut is history then why am I urging you to go ‘chestnuting’….?
While the American Chestnut is functionally extinct, the Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima still offers tasty nuts and many green blessings and is resistant to the blight that claimed it’s American cousin and this species of Chestnuts are thriving, they are not near as enormous but quite as tasty!
This week’s Teaching Tuesday video class is all about Chestnuts. Although, I am drinking Acorn Coffee for tea time during this class, you can roast Chestnuts for coffee as well.
Join Me to Discover:
• Learn about the role the historic American Chestnut played in the Appalachian mountains before the blight claimed the lives of billions of these generous giants.
• Why are Chestnut’s referred to as God’s Acorn, Divine Gift, Redwoods of the East Coast…
• How to identify, gather, and properly prepare these delicious nuts to eat
• What are the nutritional and medicinal benefits of Chestnuts
• My slide show on Steps to Processing Chestnuts begins at 42:49
• I have compiled my favorite Chestnut recipes to share with you all. Click on button below.
Chestnuts are a high quality food source. They are low in fat, high in carbs, offer a pure protein source (twice as much as brown rice) and are loaded with phytonutrients and minerals that provide optimal nutrition. Chestnuts are referred as the Bread Tree because it has the nutritional makeup of a grain, yet grows on a tree. They can bear crops for hundreds of years.
Chestnuts can be eaten fresh, canned, pureed, preserved in sugar and syrups, frozen, roasted, boiled, buttered, creamed, dried and floured (for cakes, cookies, pasta, breads, cookies…), roasted as a coffee substitute, used in savory or sweet recipes as any nut and even ground in water to make a lactose free milk.
Before the potato and corn were introduced to the New World, Chestnuts were a primary food source. Some say that Chestnuts are more like a fruit than a nut in it’s antioxidant makeup and the fact that they are sweet to eat.
I love cooking with Chestnuts, they have a sweet chestnut flavor that is hard to describe. Tastes like Chestnuts! My favorite way to enjoy it lately is as a gluten free flour, because it has a chew factor which is not common for most gluten free flours.
Print out the Chestnut recipe handout by clicking the button below to get you started enjoy this Wild Blessing.
The following slides show the steps to processing Chestnuts from identifying to eating. I included pictures of gigantic American Chestnut forests taken at the turn of the 20th century. Mouse over the slides to read the text on screen.
Click on the image or button to download a printable handout. I enjoy printing out the Bible verses on white cardstock and decorating them with in this case ‘Chestnut’ leaves and fall flowers. Simply use shipping tape to arrange the leaves and flowers around the verse. The Chestnut Cloud Think is fun to add to your Wild Blessings notebook along with the 5 pages of Chestnut recipes.
“And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.“
Share with me
Do you have Chestnut trees growing near you, or have access to one near by? Share with me how you best enjoy eating this nut?
There are many hopeful studies being done by the American Chestnut Association to bring back our fallen hero but in the mean time the Chinese Chestnut is worth celebrating! And now is the time to gather these wild blessings! Happy foraging!
October 2022, I taught a Befriending Chestnuts class. We gathered, processed, baked, pureed, cooked and then ate what we cooked up together:
Chestnut Autumn Olive Berry chocolate chip cookies, Chestnut brittle popcorn, Raw Chestnuts in a wild salad, Chestnut butter and Autumn Olive Berry sandwiches on Chestnut bread, and our usual assortment of wild teas.
Another Wild Blessing.