Practicing Creativity

What Do Chestnuts and Chestnut Trees Look Like?

Growing up in the southwestern part of the USA, the closest I ever got to a chestnut was the opening line in The Christmas Song about roasting them over an open fire. I never questioned what a chestnut really was and since I'd never seen a chestnut tree, just assumed they'd gone the way of door to door Christmas caroling. If I'd bothered to dig out the World Book Encyclopedia and look up 'chestnuts' (you know, how we googled before Google), I'd have discovered that American Chestnut trees were struck by a blight in the early 1900's that saw them almost completely wiped out by the 40's.  

Fast forward thirty some odd years to my arrival in France, where I finally met chestnuts in person and promptly fell in love. Châtaignes or marrons, as they're called over here, are one of my favorite things. They are prepared in a myriad of ways and I like them every way you make them – roasted (that open fire thing), as a soup, ground like flour for baking, creamed like an apple butter (I have crème de marrons every morning for breakfast), pureed like mashed potatoes and served as a side, decoratively accompanying autumn plats, in desserts as ice cream, tartes, or a Mont-Blanc (my favorite!), and candied for the holidays as marrons glacés (so expensive, but sooooo good!) and the list could go on, but I'll leave it at that. I can justify my adoration by adding that not only are they tasty, chestnuts are good for you. Unlike other nuts, they're not very high in fat and are a great source of vitamin C, antioxidants and other healthy goodies.

I did a post on chestnuts back in 2018 with some photos of the 'roasting' process taken during a trip to Vienna, Austria (you can find roasted chestnuts everywhere in Europe, just follow your nose in the wintertime!), but thought you might like to see the real deal. I walked by a châtaignier (chestnut tree) on the way to the market this afternoon and stopped to take these photos. 

This châtaignier is starting to get a bit of autumn color and it's dropping its bogues (the spiny hulls) on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure what type of châtaignier this is, but since the nuts are not very big it is a wild variety. 

Chestnuts are kinda like mushrooms – if you come across a wild tree you have to know what you're harvesting. How can you tell a good wild chestnut from a bad one? Look at the hull, if it's porcupine spikey with two or three small nuts in the hull it's a true chestnut, if it has a prickly green cactus looking skin with only one big nut, it's not, it's a horse chestnut (marrons d’Inde) and is very poisonous! Click HERE for more info on how to tell the difference.

When I see chestnuts and pumpkins in the market, I know autumn has truly arrived! These were on offer today. I didn't buy any though. I'm a lazy marron eater and like to buy them already prepared. These bigger chestnuts are from cultivated trees and have one big nut to the hull.

I did however pick up one of my favorite cheeses, a slice of  Occelli In Foglie Di Castagno, an Italian cheese made with sheep and cow's milk and left to age for about 18 months wrapped in chestnut leaves. It isn't cheap, but it is truly delizioso!

1 comment

  1. I love your informative posts! Honestly, they are awesome. Perfectly put together, and you take the time to include photos....I hope you never quit sharing these!


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