Preserve the Tradition of Roasted Chestnuts

Although the American chestnut population has been devastated by chestnut blight, you can work to keep the holiday tradition of "roasting chestnuts on an open fire” alive.

by Dawn Combs

Preserve the Tradition of Roasted Chestnuts - Photo by Lucy Bofin/Flickr (

Are nuts a part of your holiday traditions? They have always been a part of mine even though I never really appreciated it until I got older. My grandparents always had a basket of nuts ready for an industrious person with a nutcracker. I always found nuts at the bottom of my stocking, as if Santa were some kind of large squirrel. While some nut varieties are common and local, some of them are an exotic treat. They keep well, so they logically fit into winter-holiday celebrations.

Now that I appreciate the flavor of these versatile gems, we keep a stock of them throughout the year. Christmas is a time to make them a little special, and also a time to splurge on some of the more expensive varieties. We make seasoned nuts to hand out in goodie bags to friends and family throughout the month.

When I think about nuts around the holidays, my mind wanders to Nat King Cole, a warm fire and the first bars of “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….” lilting through the air. My mom and I always waited until my dad was out of the house in the middle of December to decorate. We put on the old records and turned up the volume. This song was one of our favorites.

Save the Tradition
Can you duplicate the holiday tradition from this song? Yes, though it might not be with American chestnuts (Castanea dentatepasting). Chestnut blight wiped out almost all of the American chestnut starting in the early 1900s. Since that time, other chestnut varieties have continued to grow in the U.S., the most common of which is the blight-resistant Chinese chestnut.

Throughout the years of chestnut decline, there have been a couple organizations fighting to preserve and renew the American chestnut: the American Chestnut Cooperators Foundation and the American Chestnut Foundation. They have successfully crossed the American chestnut with the resistant Chinese chestnut to produce a few trees that are growing and remaining blight-free.

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There is hope for the American chestnut. Members of the foundations working hard to preserve these trees often get to take part in research by planting and studying some of the resistant seeds. You may also choose to plant a pure American chestnut to help preserve the species, even if it does eventually get sick.

Start Roasting
Today, if you’re roasting chestnuts, you’re most likely doing so with the fruit of the European sweet chestnut. Because these nuts are high in zinc, they’re an important supplement for the health of the reproductive system, especially the prostate.

To roast chestnuts, first score the seed coat all the way around the nut. Place them in a pan in a 350-degree-F oven for about 35 minutes. Peel the nuts while hot and eat immediately, or save them for any number of yummy holiday desserts.

The work of preserving the chestnut is important and needs to be supported if our children are to continue to live in a world where chestnuts roasting on an open fire is still a reality.

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