Bring back the American chestnut!

Here’s a recipe for castagnaccio, or Italian chestnut cake!

I made some on Saturday, and it was delicious! It’s basically made of chestnut flour and water. The recipe calls for a little bit of olive oil, but you might be able to omit that.

Chestnuts are called “the grain that grows on trees” because they have the nutritional profile of a grain: lots of carbohydrate, very little fat. So they’re a healthy addition to the diet, besides being tasty!

Up until the early 20th century, one out of every four trees in the Appalachians, stretching from Maine to Georgia, was an American chestnut (Castanea dentata). This magnificent “redwood of the east” was a keystone species of the ecosystem, because it predictably provided a bounteous harvest of delicious nuts every year. These nuts supported human and wildlife populations. The chestnut wood is beautiful and highly resistant to rot. Unfortunately, the chestnut tree’s bark is highly susceptible to a fungal disease called chestnut blight. When this disease was introduced on imported Chinese chestnut trees, it wiped out virtually the entire population of American chestnut within a few years.

Fortunately, the American Chestnut Foundation is working to develop blight-resistant hybrid trees that are almost entirely American chestnut. Contact them if you know of a surviving tree or would like to grow your own chestnut trees.

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