More chestnuts are grown in the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Florida and California than in any other states in the country. Of those states, Michigan is the leader. For many years, however, cooks had to rely on imported chestnuts from countries such as Italy and China, or pricey jarred “marrons” from France, for their cooking needs – and for good reason. By the first half of the 20th century, mature American chestnut tree that once thrived in our eastern forests from Maine to Georgia (and beyond), were wiped out, by the billions, by a devastating fungus, known as chestnut “blight,” which was accidentally imported to this country from Asia. (To learn more about efforts to restore the American chestnut tree to our eastern woodlands, visit The American Chestnut Foundation, at www.acf.org. Last weekend, from October 18 through 20, the organization celebrated “30 Years of Chestnut Restoration” at its 30th annual meeting.) Chestnuts may be boiled or steamed (good for puréeing or mashing), roasted, or ground for use in a variety of diverse recipes from appetizers and soups (see recipes here from Michigan’s Chestnut Growers, Inc.), to side dishes and desserts. In addition, chestnut flour, made from ground chestnuts, is a good option for folks looking for a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour. When you next purchase chestnuts, be sure they are from this country. Despite the U.S. chestnut crop being miniscule – less than one percent of total world production according to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center – chances are good that domestic chestnuts will be far fresher and of greater quality than what you’d get otherwise.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.