Yes, it is time consuming to shell fresh chestnuts. There, I said it. But if it’s not difficult – provided you blanch the chestnuts and peel them while still warm.
Besides chestnuts are a treat, made all the rarer because the trees take a long time to grow and bear fruit; the nuts must be harvested almost daily to avoid chestnut-eating worms. In fact, best if you can put a cloth on the ground, shake branches with a long pole and move away fast to avoid the rain of thorny shells. Thick gloves and stout boots are helpful too.
As well, true American chestnuts are a rarity. Once a mighty tree that provided rot-resistant timber & fence wood; fire wood through coppicing; tannins to tan leather; abundant flowering for honey bees; fresh nuts for humans, pigs, and wild life; and dry nuts and flour for winter food, chestnut trees may have constituted as much as 25% of the Eastern North American forest. Alas an imported blight practically wiped out them in the 20th century. Some remain west of the Rockies and a few specimens in rare pockets in the East. They generally don’t live long, and the most promising trees (in terms of disease resistance) have been crossed and back-crossed with the immune Chinese chestnuts through the efforts of organizations such as The American Chestnut Foundation and the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation.
So local chestnuts, whether cultivated or foraged are likely to be the Chinese or even Japanese chestnuts, or hybrids. Chikapin chestnuts (another native that grows on a small tree) are really tiny – so ignored by people. The large chestnuts sold in the store are imported from Europe.
By the way, when buying or collecting chestnuts, carefully inspect them for tiny holes. They are the sign that the nuts are inhabited. Discard them. I collect fresh chestnut, and as I soon as I get home, I dump them in water and discard the ones that float, on the theory that the flesh has been eaten or has started to rot.
Chestnuts are versatile, used with equal success in desserts and in savory dishes, as the lovely recipe below.
Chestnut and Onion Braisée Read more
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, with still over 7 pounds of Meyer lemons left from my citrus order orgy, I made Réunion Island Lemon and Onion Salad.
Lemon and Onion Salad (Reunion Island Style)
In winter, I often hunger for bright spicy flavors to liven up the stews and braised dishes that are characteristics of this time of the year. Which is often when I return to my roots of Reunion Island, when I particularly reach into the spice cabinet for pungent curcuma, floral vanilla beans, fresh ginger and other flavors reminiscent of Reunion Island. Truth be told, I use those flavors all year long, but I crave them in winter. Read more
It’s time to start hardening off the babies. At least, for those of us in the Northern Piedmont (and in the mid-Atlantic area). Yep, time to start hardening off the hardy annual vegetables that were lovingly started indoors. That include you people who took one of my “Starting The Veggy Garden from Seeds” workshops a few weeks ago.
Everything but parsley – maybe lavender and pepper (they all can take several looong weeks to germinate) – should be up now.
Continue to give basil, tomatoes, pepper, marigolds and any other warm lovers like eggplants plenty of light and warmth. Take them outside on sunny days only when the temperature is above 50F/10C (mmm… maybe even 60F/16C for eggplants). Place them in a sheltered spot, just an hour or two the first time, then more and more progressively over the course of a few days until they can be left out the entire day when it’s mild. It’s not time to plant them out yet – by a long shot – but fresh air and sunshine will do them good. Read more
Transplants: 350! (more or less); about 200 planted on Monday and 150 planted ten days ago. I have never been successful with the sets (mini-bulbs) planted in the spring: they hardly grew bigger than they start at! So, this year, I bought (more expensive) transplants: 2 bunches from our local farm store (1 red, 1 white – unnamed) and 3 more expensive kinds via mail order at Johnny’s Seeds: Walla-Walla, Mars, and Copra. It’ll be interesting to compare how they perform. The CFC transplants were available earlier, so I could plant them earlier (always a good thing in my book), but the ones from Johnny’s had better roots, and the bundles were bigger. We’ll see (I hope!)
They are all outside, in a bed that had been “sweetened” in the winter with ashes from the wood stove, planted fairly closely as I want to use young onions for salad in late spring and throughout the summer. Whatever remains (if anything) will be used as storage onions. That’s the idea. In practice, we eat a lot of onions, so I am not even sure 350 will do!
I also have seedlings in the greenhouse planted in cell packs: a pack of bunching White Spears impulsively bought at a rack display (yes, my impulse purchases tend to be seeds!) & mini-white Bianca di Maggio. They were started later than they should have (in early March instead of Janauary) and will need to be up-potted soon. Most of the three-weeks old seedlings still have their seeds up in the air, at the tip of their first leaf. Makes them look like little people whispering oniony gossips…
At the rate they are growing, I am guessing that I’ll set them out in late April.
Meanwhile, I’ve got lettuce, leaf broccoli & cutting celery to transplant out. Best to do it before the rain which we are suppose to get this afternoon & tomorrow.