Okay, seriously, the holiday classic tune “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” has gained more popularity than actually ROASTING chestnuts on an open fire. Honestly, when was the last time you saw anyone roasting chestnuts on an open fire? When was the last time you ATE a roasted chestnut? Do you even KNOW what a chestnut looks like? Certainly someone, somewhere, at some time has roasted these nuts. Otherwise, Nat would have had little to sing about.
As the beloved “Christmas Song” reminds us, chestnuts are (or at least were) a beloved holiday treat, though they’re not seen or enjoyed nearly as frequently today as in days gone by. Yet in Europe, Asia, Africa, and developing countries, chestnuts are often used as an everyday potato substitute, as they contain twice as much starch as potatoes do.
Known as marrons in France, they are a wonderful treat straight from the oven or from the fireplace, and they can be used in many ways, both sweet as a confection and savory as a starch or in a stuffing. The French love their chestnuts. The Greeks, Romans and folks on the Asian continent were also enjoying cultivated chestnuts as far back as 2000 BC, and the Native Americans were snacking on the American chestnut variety when Columbus interrupted the party back in 1492.
Unfortunately, a little over 400 years later, the American chestnuts were nearly wiped out by chestnut blight because of some Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York. Within 40 years, the near 4-billion-strong American chestnut population in North America was devastated and only a few clumps of trees remained in Michigan, Wisconsin, California and the Pacific Northwest. If you have a tree in your backyard, it may well have been one of those few survivors.
So, the burning question remains: Do people still roast chestnuts on an open fire? And if so, where? Look no further than the BIG Apple because believe it or not, during the holidays and winter months, New York City is STILL home to street cart vendors who sell roasted chestnuts to their appreciative customers. And you can watch it right here.
If you’d like to discover this holiday tradition yourself, Nino’s sells fresh chestnuts just perfect for roasting all throughout the fall and winter. Better yet, enjoying this treat is quite easy, using these simple directions. Nino’s Chestnut Roasting Guide. Let me know how your roasted chestnuts turned out. How did it go? Did you enjoy them? Drop me a note. We’d love to hear about your experiences!