Saturday, December 13, 2014
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
That's a line from the famous song, “The Christmas Song.” It's only subtitled “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” but that's what most people call it.”
It did get me thinking about Chestnuts. Chestnuts once made up to a quarter of the Appalachian forests, before blight greatly reduced their number. America now imports the vast majority of chestnuts consumed in the country.
Can you imagine what a huge food source those nuts must have been to the Native Americans? They were abundant, energy and nutrient dense, plus easy to collect. Combined with other abundant nuts like oak and beech, it wasn't all that hard to keep from starving. If the hunters came back empty handed, there was always something to eat.
In my local area the only really abundant forest nut is the beech. When I was a kid deer hunting with my dad I used to eat a mess of those. Might have missed a few chances at deer because I was looking more at the ground by my feet than I should. Any nuts missed in the fall are often still edible after the snow melt in the spring.
Our local oaks tend to be mostly the red oak trees. They were were a last resort nut in times of starvation as they contain a high amount of tannin. I read that letting them rinse in stream in a mesh bag overnight was how the tannin was removed. Maybe I didn't do it right because after soaking overnight they were still pretty bitter.
Chestnuts, on the other hand, are pretty tasty. It's funny that the American Chestnuts are gone, but the song remains.