Now I often see chestnuts on the streets and sidewalks around here and have always taken them for granted. And one wintery evening several years ago, I tasted some roasted chestnuts at Van Dusen Gardens while admiring their annual Christmas light show. They were delicious, but very very rich. So seeing all these chestnut husks hanging heavily on this tree got me wondering about chestnut trees, so I did a bit of digging. I found the following information about chestnuts here.
Probably one of the first foods eaten by man, the chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The chestnut tree, Castanea sativa, was first introduced to Europe via Greece.
The majority of the chestnut trees currently found in America are of native European stock, but Native Americans feasted on America's own variety, Castanea dentata, long before European immigrants introduced their stock to America.
In 1904, diseased Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York carried a fungus hitchiker that nearly devasted the American chestnut population, leaving only a few groves in California and the Pacific Northwest to escape the blight.
Today, most of the chestnut food crop is imported from Japan, China, Spain, and Italy. Chestnuts are known as marrons in France and some parts of Europe. These starchy nuts are given to the poor as a symbol of sustenance on the Feast of Saint Martin and are also traditionally eaten on Saint Simon's Day in Tuscany.
Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C.
Chestnuts contain twice as much starch as potatoes. It is no wonder they are still an important food crop in China, Japan, and southern Europe where they are often ground into a meal for breadmaking, thus giving rise to the nickname of "bread tree."
Chestnut timber resembles its cousin, the oak, in both color and texture and is highly-valued. Also known for its tanning properties, the trees can live up to five hundred years and usually do not begin to produce fruit until they are forty years old.
It's hard to believe that this tree in my neighbourhood is over forty years old, but according to my research it has to be. As I got closer to the tree to try to get a macro shot, the wind kept blowing the branches around. The husks looked very soft and fluffy, so I tried to grab the branch to keep it still. Ouch! They're very very sharp and spiky! Apparently, these husks (or burrs) can hold up to three chestnuts so I think I'm going to keep a closer eye on this tree so that I can gather them when they fall. The tree is on public property so there should be no problem taking them. Then I'm going to find out how to roast them.
It's hardly even fall, but I'm already looking ahead to Christmas and roasting chestnuts over an open fire. Hmmm, I just had my chimney cleaned, too. All I need is a cast iron pan.