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.