The American Chestnut Tree
Holiday Tree Spotlight
The American Chestnut tree, Castanea dentata, although not from the Texas area, is highly regarded as one of the most beautiful trees in the forest that produces a nut that is often associated with the holiday season. Songs refer to chestnuts roasting on an open fire which solicit nostalgic thoughts about family and friends sitting around a fire roasting these sweet fragrant nutty treats.
History of the American Chestnut Tree
Chestnut trees were once an important hardwood tree in our forests. Reaching 100 feet in height and 10 feet wide the Chestnut tree the population was more than 3 billion trees throughout the United States.
They were prolific bearers of the nutritious nuts which provided food for wildlife as well as humans until the chestnut blight plundered the American species. This not only impacted the forest ecosystems but insects that relied on the Chestnut have now become extinct.
The American Chestnut Association and other organizations are attempting to resurrect the American Chestnut through cross breeding but, until a disease resistant variety is created, we will continue to get our chestnuts from the few trees in the United States or imported from China, Spain, South Korea, Bolivia, and Italy.
Holiday Cooking with Chestnuts
Chestnuts come from nature wrapped in a prickly pod which looks much like a sea urchin. This outer covering must be removed and then the shiny dark brown nut will be revealed. This is what we roast for approximately 20 minutes, turning occasionally, after we first prick them to let the steam escape to keep them from exploding.
The nuts can also be boiled or microwaved and used as a puree in soups, dressings, and other recipes. The “Chestnut Cook Book” by Annie Bhagwandin, is a fun book filled with recipes, folklore, and practical information. During this Holiday Season it will be exciting to explore the possibilities of cooking with chestnuts.
If cooking isn’t your forte, the novel “The Overstory” by Richard Powers is a must read and opens with a tale that revolves around the Hoel family tradition of six chestnuts that were planted on their farm after immigrating to the United States and photographed over several generations. The book weaves eight different individuals/families together whom all have some major event in their lives connected to trees and they come together through their mutual love for them.
“The Overstory” is a complex but beautiful novel about trees and people that will keep you wondering long after you’ve read the book whether or not we can, or will, have the foresight, passion, intelligence, and tenacity to save the forests and the ecosystems they provide for future generations.
During this Holiday Season, research the 40-million-year-old history of the American Chestnut tree and take a chance in the kitchen or around a fire cooking the succulent nuts that the Chestnut tree provides and ponder what you can do to advocate for the protection, planting and maintenance of trees and forests around where you live. Act locally, think globally.