Chestnuts… roasting!


Chestnuts are the key to my grandmother’s Thanksgiving stuffing. How happy she would be if she knew that the chestnuts she once gathered from her back yard tree as a young bride, are what I’m roasting for her special dish. Our local chestnuts are deliciously creamy and sweet, and make the simple combination of stale bread, sautéed onions, stock, sage and cream a distinguished holiday favorite.

Our local chestnuts are smaller than the Italian and Chinese varieties and far easier to work with. They’re being cultivated in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa ad they’re easy to peel, creamy with a wonderfully, delicately sweet flavor. Eaten raw, the taste and texture resemble that of water chestnuts, but the two are not related. Because of its high ration of surface area to volume, this variety of chestnut converts starch to sugar much faster than its European and Asian cousins that tend to be soft and bland.

Thanks to the work of restoration ecologists such as Phil Rutter, of Badgersett Research Farm in Canton, MN, a new variety of chestnut trees are now thriving throughout southern Minnesota and Iowa. It has taken nearly fifty-years of patient work to revive the iconic American chestnut demolished by blight. Until the mid-1900’s, American chestnut trees filled our forests from Georgia to Canada, stretching west through Ohio to southern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. One out of every four hardwood trees in America was a chestnut. These magnificent trees can grow eight to ten feet in diameter and as high as a seven story building. They flower just before the Fourth of July, making the hills seem buried in snow

Now is the season for chestnuts. They are coming in so fresh that their shells hardly need to be peeled off. I’ve been known to simply slice them in half, pop them out and eat them raw or toss them into a roast vegetable medley right before serving. And they are fabulous roasted then set out to shell and eat warm as a snack or with drinks. Here a few ideas for enjoying local chestnuts from the storied chestnut trees.

  • Roast chestnuts: With a small paring knife score the chestnuts by making an X on the flat of the nut. Then place on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree F. OR put the nuts at the edge of a fire. Roast until the shells pull back, about ten to fifteen minutes. When the nuts are cool enough to handle peel off the shells being careful to remove the dark-brown pith that covers the nuts, too.
  • Roasted chestnuts are creamier than other nuts and delicious in the following:





Batters for quick breads and coffee cakes


Roasted vegetables

Layer with Greek Yogurt and maple syrup or honey



Old Fashioned Chestnut Stuffing

Serves 8

Roasted local chestnuts are creamy, nutty, slightly sweet and they lift this stuffing up a notch. Do NOT use olive bread or herb bred in this; the flavors will overwhelm. If the bread isn’t stale, pop it in an oven at low heat for a few minutes to dry it slightly. The recipe is easier to follow if you have everything organized and set out before you begin.


1 pound chestnut, roasted and peeled

8 slices slightly stale bread (whole wheat, white or baguette), cut into one-inch pieces

2 chopped onions

2 chopped celery sticks

6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (mix of sage, thyme, parsley)

1 cup chicken stock, or more if needed

1 stick (1/2 cup) melted unsalted butter

¼ cup heavy cream, or more as needed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Butter for the baking dish an aluminum foil


Toss everything except the stock, butter and cream together in a large bowl. Add the stock, then the butter, tossing to coat all of the ingredients. Then add enough cream to make a moist, but not wet, stuffing.

Generously butter a three-quart baking dish and fill loosely with the stuffing – do not pack it in. Cover the dish with the buttered foil and bake for about twenty minutes. Remove the foil, baste with the turkey juices, and continue baking until the to is crusty brown, another ten to fifteen minutes.