Saturday, September 16, 2006
Missed posting my entry last night because I didn’t have access to the Internet. Not sure whether this is a problem with AOL or with my cable service provider Comcast. It’s happened three times in September so I need to do some detective work.
September 15 is the day of the chestnut in the French Republican calendar, and I did a bit of preliminary research. The chestnut in question is the sweet chestnut which is Castanea sativa. Sometimes known as the Spanish chestnut. There is also an American chestnut, Castanea dentata, which has been decimated by the chestnut blight. The name Catasnea comes from Catanis, a town in Thessaly (Greece) which was known for its chestnut trees. The ancient Greek name for the nut was Sardis glans, from the town in Turkey (the capital of Lydia) where the tree first grew. It’s a member of the Fagaceae or Beech family.
There is a famous chestnut tree in Sicily, known as the Tree of One Hundred Horses, under which Queen Joan of Aragon and her cavaliers sheltered during a storm in 1308. There is also an ancient chestnut tree in England which is said to have been planted in the time of King Egbert (800), although believes it probably dates from around 1100. The chestnut was probably brought to England by the Romans who ate the nuts. These old trees are magnificent, with trunks of quite impressive girth.
Of course the nuts are a great part of the appeal of the chestnut. To roast chestnuts,
Take a very sharp, small knife, and slit the chestnuts around the sides or slash with an X on the flat side. The slash should extend completely through the hard shell and the inner lining surrounding the meat. Place X-side up on a well-oiled cookie sheet and set in a pre-heated 400 oven. Bake until the shell pulls away from the tender inside, about 30 minutes. Roasted chestnuts are known as marrons glace in France. Marron is also the name of the free
The Wikipedia article says that if you want to preserve chestnuts through the winter you should cover them with sand. Any maggots in the chestnuts will work their way up through the sand to get air without disturbing any other chestnuts.
Roberta Sickler in her marvelous book, Rituals of the Hearth, provides the instructions above plus this recipe for Buttered Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts:
1 lb chestnuts, roasted & peeled
1 lb small Brussels sprouts
4 T butter
1-1/2 t sugar
1/4 t paprika
Scrub the Brussels sprouts and drop them, still dripping, into a dry, heavy enamel pot. Add butter, put the pot over a low flame and roast until the sprouts turn golden-green, about 30 minutes. Add the sugar, paprika and roasted chestnuts and toss lightly to coat with butter. Sprinkle with salt and serve.
Mrs.Grieve provides this recipe for chestnut soup:
Scald, peel and scrape 50 large chestnuts; put these into a stewpan with 2 OZ. of butter, an onion, 4 lumps of sugar, and a little pepper and salt, and simmer the whole over a slow fire for three-quarters of an hour; then bruise the chestnuts in a mortar; remove the pulp into a stewpan, add a quart of good brown gravy, and having rubbed the purée through a Tammy, pour it into a stewpan; make it hot and serve with fried crusts.
For many more chestnut recipes, see this web site
Roasted chestnuts are also ground into flour and used to make bread and a coffee-like drink. They are rich in vitamins and minerals, complex carbohydrates and starch but lower in fat than other nuts. The Tsalagi (Cherokee) and Iroquois tribes used the nuts to make cakes, breads, gravies, soups and drinks.
The tree is often coppiced, that is, cut down to the stem to grow many small stems which are split to produce fencing material or fed to cattle and sheep. Although chestnut wood is of good quality, it grows in the same climates as oak, and oak is preferable as timber. In Italy, the wood is used for small items like fencing and shingles and also barrels for aging balsamic vinegar.
Sweet chestnut leaves are sometimes used as food wraps. They also regulate the ripening process of soft cheese, although I only found one cheese on a quick Google search (St. Marcellin) that was wrapped in chestnut leaves.
Sweet chestnut leaf infusions are said to relieve coughs, including coughs due to whooping cough and bronchitis. They have astringent and antibacterial properties that mean they help heal wounds when used as poultices. The Bach Flower Remedy made from Sweet Chestnut is recommended for extreme mental anguish.
In Greece, chestnuts, like walnuts, were called the acorns of Zeus. In Christian symbolism, they represent triumph over temptation, chastity and goodness. Hageneder says it is common practice in Southern France to put pictures of the saints in sweet chestnut trees. He also writes that in ancient China, these trees were the homes of the gods of the west.
Hageneder, Fred, The Meaning of Trees, Chronicle 2005
Mitchell, Alan and John Wilkinson, The Trees of Britain and Northern Europe, William Collins Sons and Company 1982
Pakenham, Thomas, Meetings with Remarkable Trees, Random House 1998