December 17 Farm and Garden Show
Hosts Jaye Alison Moscariello and Bill Taylor spent the hour talking roots with Robert Kourik, who shared their unexpectedly large extent - several times the width of the foliage, the rarity of taproots but great depths of roots, the strategy of planting on mounds, and much more. This link brings you a recording of the show:
What we did not get to on the show were some recipes and our discoveries preserving chestnuts which we share below. We thank Corrinne Pierce who made a comment on the secret of less work with acorns; that comment led Bill to experiment with an easier way to dry them:
Chestnuts must be used or dried within a month of harvest, even if refrigerated or stored outside in cool dry place (maybe a few months if frozen, but they seem to lose taste over time).
Drying: Our favorite method of drying includes NO slitting, x-ing or slicing (before this we had been cutting them in half, which does reduce the drying time but which makes subsequent shelling more painful on the fingers and take twice as long). Simply place the raw chestnuts one or 2 levels deep in a warm dry place - over or near a woodstove, or even on top if it's a stone type that does not get above boiling temperature (so that you are drying them, not exploding them); we have moved them off our stone topped woodstove when the fire is very hot. An Excaliber or other dehydrator will also work; use a hign setting (145 or so). They will take 1-5 days depending on the method you use. To economize, use any energy-intensive drying technique to just start the process and finish it with a free, slow method like leaving in a warm dry place.
Shelling for storage: This can be done at your leisure by squeezing and twisting; the gap between outer shell and nut with paper allows the shell to split and pop off. If fully dry, nearly all will easily come free of the inner paper, which is the bugaboo of chestnut processing when roasting for direct consumption. In this case, put on a good movie or tune into a good KZYX show as it is a great multi-task project. Or if you do it in a group, it's great while hanging out and having conversation. One could store the unshelled nuts, but shelling reduces storage space and makes use convenient later. It also allows for culling moldy nuts (which have a bluish-white powder on them, often on only a part of the nut). Good nuts should be a cream color (or brown to black if they roasted).
Shelled chestnuts should be rock-hard. Test the largest ones; if still soft/chewable, dry a while longer or use right away.
Storage: we like glass jars in a dark pantry once the nuts are fully dry. Paper bags may be fine, but are not rodent-proof, and if you live in a moist environment will rehydrate and could spoil. Plastic could work but some plastics can outgas over the long storage times and are not our preference. Store in a cool dry place and use within 10 years (ok, maybe sooner, but I hear they can last over a year).
Use: Rehydrate in water; if cold allow several hours to overnight, or you can boil them for half an hour or so. If you have a flour grinder, they can be pulverized into a flour. The flour is so sweet that it can be used in cakes and the sugar cut to almost nothing (especially if you use coconut and/or a touch of honey). It's also good in a mixed seed or nut butter with your choice of seeds or nuts; the nut butter is sweeter than one is used to outside the commercial peanut butter world. Otherwise they can be used in stews, soups, and anywhere a sweet potato or winter squash would work.