Time to roast ’em, open fire or not
From Portugal all the way to Japan, the aroma of hot, street-roasted chestnuts is now drifting through cobbled village streets and busy urban marketplaces. The glossy brown nuts, of several species in the genus Castanea, grow wild across the Old World and have been a staple part of the fall and winter diet for ages. In eastern America early in the 20th century, an infamous blight destroyed nearly all the native chestnuts, wiping out the source of that annoying holiday song people still sing.
But on isolated farms in California, the chestnut tradition is creeping back, with several hundred acres of scattered groves now producing fruit. Farms with family names like Correia, Cappelli, Garibaldi and Lagorio reflect the tremendous Italian heritage in chestnut culture—but perhaps no culture eats more chestnuts than Koreans. A 2000 paper by Paul Vossen, a UC Davis farm adviser, reported that Koreans eat 4 pounds each of chestnuts per year. Americans eat less than 2 ounces.
But why be shy? The chestnut is actually much less nut than grain and, when roasted, contains 50 percent carbohydrates, a trace of protein and just 1 percent fat. This means that, whereas cupboard jars stocked with almonds and walnuts are wicked, fattening temptations for dieters, chestnuts are healthy, low-calorie snacks. So, as the nuts amass in piles this month and the next, light the grill and eat all you want.