Spreading the Chestnut Love

Spreading the Chestnut Love

Autumn’s bounty: a bowlful of chestnuts, a tabletop of squash

I have a thing for chestnut trees; let me count the ways.

  1. I love the tasty nut and the porcupine casing that protects it.
  2. I love the tree’s reaching habit and stately form.
  3. I love the way the sawtooth leaves dry to the color of tobacco
  4. I love the nut’s sweet and savory culinary applications

I’m so smitten with the tree that I’ve planted several different varieties on my property, most of which should begin bearing about the time I start gumming my food and asking for a walker. As an optimist, I’m willing to wait for my nutritious reward or at least leave a tasty legacy. While European, Chinese, and Japanese Chestnuts are more common, American Chestnut trees are relatively rare in North America, the result of a blight at the turn of the century that decimate stands in their East Coast range. Surprisingly, in Washington state, some trees from pioneer plantings still survive.

Chestnut leaves are some of nature’s handsomest

Recently, at the Vashon Island Growers Association’s (VIGA) annual meeting (and awesome potluck), I enjoyed chestnut butter and pumpkin dinner rolls courtesy of Jennifer from Pacific Crest Farm. The yeasty crescents were no less than divine golden chariots delivering gooey chest-nutty goodness to my awaiting piehole.  When I asked Jen for the recipe, she said, “I just pureed our chestnuts and blended some honey.”

Just? Just! And maple syrup is just tree sap. What Jennier made was spreadable ambrosia.

Now on to the recipe, as made by Tom

RECIPE: Chestnut Honey Spread

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Chestnuts
  • 1/2 cup of honey (or more if preferred sweeter)
  • 2 T brandy or 1 T vanilla or 2 T Glayva (all optional)

fresh chestnuts to roastGood to know: use a serrated knife to cut a line in the chestnut before heating it. This makes the nut easier to peel, and keeps it from exploding when roasting (much like a wee firecracker).

Preparation

  1. Cut each chestnut in half at equator, halfway down
  2. Use serrated knife to avoid slippage
  3. Heat water, boil nuts for 15 minutes
  4. Remove from heat, drain
  5. When cool enough to handle (keep nuts warm in moist towels) remove outer peels and soft paper skins
  6. Toss nut meats into a food processor
  7. Pulse, puree
  8. Add honey, pulse until smooth
  9. Add brandy, vanilla, or Glayva
  10. Pulse mixture to fully blend
  11. Spread on lightly buttered artisan bread/toast (or worthy vehicle).

Don’t Make This Bitter and Brittle Mistake

chestnut spread ingredientsMy first attempt was an abysmal failure based on two big errors: I roasted the nuts too long and left the outer soft skin on (see photo above). I suspect granite gravel would have been softer and a glass of quinine less bitter. The brown skin pellicle (as it’s called) is unabashedly bitter and must be removed. Batch two and three were worthy of human consumption, but batch one was inedible, not only to me, but to local crows.

On the bright side, when prepared right, chestnuts offer a wide variety of applications in the kitchen, from gluten-free flour, to soup, cakes and stuffing.  Did I mention they are rich in vitamin C, cholesterol free and half the calories of other nuts. And should you wish to plant one, it’s majestic presence will rule over your garden and grounds for generations to come (just leave peeling and cooking instructions as a courtesy).

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20 thoughts on “Spreading the Chestnut Love”

  • Ah, if only my dad had read this years ago! We brought a sack of nuts home from my Southern great-aunt’s tree… He wanted to be kind and roast them one day…. Fire crackers is a good way to describe what happened! Poor chestnuts 🙂

  • Susan, just as a tip, if you buy some chestnuts make sure they are fresh. Chestnuts are mainly starch and water so they dry out quickly if not stored properly by the grocer.

    And Myrnie, too bad you didn’t have that on video, I’m sure it would be a YouTube sensation nowadays. 😉

  • May I ask what variety that handsome green squash in the back of the photo is? I’m planning my garden right now, you see, and I know I’ve never grown that one….

  • Hi Anne, the green squash in the background is an unnamed variety that a friend gave me the seeds for last year; he said it was from Turkey.

  • If you have a few nuts still, and they aren’t too dessicated, I would really like to get some and plant them on my property that I just purchased this past summer (10ac). I have quite a few plants to trade, or else I would certainly pay for the shipping, please let me know.

  • Now…my dear Tom. As you may recall, or not, I did a post last year on roasting chestnuts. Ummmhummm. All I can say is they were down right, dang nasty! Now, I will take your word for it…being as I am an amicable kind of gal…I have to say your Chestnut Honey Spread does sound supremely divine! Want to send me some Chestnuts, so I can prove you right?

  • Ina, Ina, Ina, I do remember and I have to say roasting them is a real hit or miss prospect. I’ve had good roasted chestnuts and I’ve had bad roasted chestnuts (thought I was eating wood buttons). So I say skip the roasting, and boil them to puree the little nuggets into a tasty spread or buy them canned and glaceed. 😉

  • I love chestnuts and used to eat them with butter and honey but to make a spread like this is such a clever idea! Thanks Tom and I will grab a bag from the street vendor who spends his days roasting them and could use an extra nickel!

  • I love chestnuts and really wish you were my neighbor! The things we could share!!! My father one pre-Christmas day when my mother was out shopping and he had made eggnog again….Well, he decided to roast them without cutting to “just see what would happen.” Well I can tell you that I had to clean up the “firecrackers” out of my mothers oven, did I mention my mother is very anal about her never used oven. Memories I tell you. My kiddos love roasting them over our fireplace.

    You blog is the best!

  • I have to admit I’ve never met a chestnut I liked; however, it’s obvious I just didn’t know how to get the best outa’ them. I’ll be trying again given the next opportunity. Thanks Tom!

  • Many thanks, anyway, Tom. (It’s typical that I’d fall in love with some creature foreign, nameless, & unavailable to me….)

  • Anne, let me know if you want some seeds, I can send them for you.

    Renae, chestnuts are really subtle, mildy flavored and starchy, almost like a garbanzo bean in texture.

  • My dad is from Yorkshire, England and has fond memories of chestnuts… which I bought locally and roasted loyally…. ack, ack ack!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Your photo of the ‘failure’ looks just lovely… mine … aaarrrggghhhackackack!!!
    Perhaps they are an acquired taste??

  • Wow, Tom. You are *killin’ it* these days with the gorgeous photos and seductive writing about good Vashon living. After reading your blog posts I am grasped with a feverish need to bake, eat, sew, build, coordinate, grow and jam. Keep it up. I’ll just have to store all my inspiration up until we are “stationary” again someday…Abrazos de Isla!

  • I’ve had chestnuts before. The roasted ones are lovely at Xmas time though I donit much care for the flavor. They’re great in creamy soups or in baked goods. The honey spread sounds pretty tasty.

  • Don’t you know I love chestnuts too?
    when faced with a bounty of fresh ones 2 falls ago, I found out they freeze very well – and so that’s what I do know so I can use them without the fear of them having dried out. Although chestnut flour is made from dried chestnut, I have not ventured there…
    I also make spread (or “cream”) and I prefer to put them through the food mill, and then through the blender with a little hot water – it gives a very smooth texture – but it is very labor intensive, getting read of both skins totally. And of course, using honey!!!! what a good idea.

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