Chestnut Revival

Published Winter, 2010
Edible Portland

One of my fondest memories of winter in New York City is the first time I warmed my hands with a small paper cone of chestnuts fresh from a sidewalk roaster around the corner from my apartment. With the heat slowing spreading through my wool mittens, I walked to meet friends and savored the nutty wood-smoke fragrance of a food I had never full appreciated.

Up to that point, I had been indifferent, at best, to chestnuts. For me, they were immortalized in the song about a roaring fire on a cold, frosty day and in a story about a college roommate of my mom's, who had a hot one suddenly pop when she put it in her mouth.

Once a plentiful and inexpensive food that nourished many, chestnuts have gone the way of the lobster, becoming a delicacy for the few. They date back to prehistoric times--probably one of the first foods eaten by man. The Ancient Greeks and Romans living in the mountainous areas of the Mediterranean, where the cereal crops failed to thrive, depended on chestnuts. Records substantiate that a preponderance of people lived on little else during the 16th century, and an agronomist describing Tuscany in the 19th century observed, "the fruit of the chestnut tree is practically the sole subsistence of our Highlanders."
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