Many Connecticut members are enjoying the onset of cold weather knowing that while not much can be done in the field, these days present the opportunity for planning next years plantings and pollination, and dreaming of where our efforts will be in five and ten years. The cold weather also reminds us that this is a time of year to really appreciate how much the Chestnut gives us back at the end of each year. We either purchase (or in some cases gather) the largest fruit we can find, and look for excuses to start a fire just so we can roast a platter of Chestnuts to peel and eat. I learned an approach from my father who liked to carefully cut a cross about three-quarters of an inch long into the rounded top of each Chestnut. We then placed them on a metal tray (or the fireplace ash shovel) and judiciously placed them underneath the burning logs. Yes there were always a few burned beyond edibility, and yes there were always a few fingers burned from failing to wait long enough before peeling the Chestnut shells. But oh my, when the stars aligned and the Chestnuts were cooked just right, it seemed as though nothing could taste better.
This past autumn I had several occasions to visit trees in both farm and natural surroundings. Several locations that stick in my mind are Litchfield (Morris), at the old Chestnut Orchard near the intersection of Routes 61 and 63, Roxbury, at the corner of Painter and Gold Mine, and of course CAES in Hamden. I all cases, the productivity of the trees will truly amaze. Unlike Oaks, Chestnut produce prodigidous mast crops annually. A conversation with Fred Paillet indicated death of the Chestnuts was a terrible ecological blow to the forest. Virtually every forest creature; bear, deer, squirrel, turkey, grouse, racoon – relied on them for food. Man was clever enough to drive his cattle into the forest to fatten up before the long cold winter.
Chestnuts are a wonderfully healthy food source. Unlike most nuts, they are virtually fat free – and contain a complex carbohydrate composed of varying blends of protien, and sugars. The varying blend is what provides the taste distinctiveness of nuts from different sources. If you really like eating Chestnuts, or know someone who does, you might consider purchasing a newly patented device for scoring the X into the tops of chestnuts. The “Chestnutter” was designed and is produced by Sharon Siegel, and sold directly from her web site. An article in the NY Times described the device as a was to reduce the risks associated with using a knife to slash the X in the Chestnut top. So if you have an extra $12.98, and room in your kitchen drawer reserved for gadgets, the Chestnutter might be for you!