Flavors of Thanksgiving: Chestnut Edition

Beautiful Chestnuts

Julie Weatherbee  bought the beautiful Michigan-grown chestnuts in this feature at Zingerman’s. Check them out background bigalicious and see more in her Food slideshow.  

Wikipedia’s entry for the American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) explains that this large, deciduous tree of the beech family was once one of the eastern United States dominant hardwoods before it was nearly wiped out by chestnut blight. Curiously enough, one of the few pockets to survive were some 600 to 800 large trees in northern lower Michigan.

 

Peeling a Chestnut by Julie Weatherbee

Peeling a Chestnut by Julie Weatherbee

Chestnut Growers, Inc. (CGI) is a 37 member cooperative based in Michigan with members in Michigan and Washington state. Their page on sweet chestnuts says:

In Europe, chestnuts are consumed in a wide variety of dishes, from soups, stews, and stuffing to fancy deserts. Matter of fact, chestnut flour is the secret to many of the fancy French pastries. In other parts of the world, such as China, the chestnut is a staple food in the peoples’ diet. Chestnuts have about half the calories of other nuts and have the lowest fat content of all the main edible nuts. Chestnuts have only four to five percent fat as compared to sixty-two percent for the hazelnut and seventy-one percent for the pecan. In composition and food value, the chestnut, with its high carbohydrate content of about seventy-eight percent, is more akin to cereal grains, such as wheat, than to nuts with a low carbohydrate content. Since chestnuts are starchy rather than oily, they are readily digestible when roasted or boiled.

 

Peeled Chestnut by Julie Weatherbee

Peeled Chestnut by Julie Weatherbee

Read on for more. CGI takes orders for fresh chestnuts and ship beginning in October. They are at farm markets through the fall. You can also buy chestnuts online at the CGI website and through Northern-Michigan-based Earthy Delights.

Through UpNorth Foodies we learned Corey Allen of Petoskey. Corey owns a chestnut orchard overlooking Lake Leelanau and sells to CGI. He says “We planted these trees in 1997 and are putting in another orchard near Ludington. Chestnuts do really well along Michigan’s west coast. They’re a good crop that’s getting more popular every year.”

CGI has a ton of chestnut recipes  – here’s one of our favorites!

Rose’s Chestnut Ravioli

Filling:

3 pounds chestnuts peeled
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup chopped roasted chestnuts

Pasta:

1 pound flour (all purpose)
4 whole eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Filling: Add the peeled chestnuts, cream, sugar, and vanilla bean to a pot. Simmer until tender. Purée in a food processor until smooth. Add the chopped chestnuts and salt and pepper.

Pasta: Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until dough is formed. Let stand covered for 20 minutes. Form ravioli by rolling out the pasta dough and filling with chestnut stuffing. Serve with roasted venison and a red wine juniper berry sauce.

Here’s Chef John Mitzewich with a nice video about how to prepare chestnuts.