Last year RWCFoodie posted about U-pick chestnuts -
Any information on whether this continues this year?
Here's what was published in ChowNews 11/11/05 -
Skyline Chestnuts Orchard [Peninsula
]22322 Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35)
Hidden in the hills above Palo Alto, Skyline Chestnut Orchard is a delicious secret if you like to roast your own chestnuts. Nearly all chestnuts we see in the US are imported, as most American chestnut groves were wiped out by blight early in the twentieth century. This century-old old orchard survived, and during the harvest season (mid October through late November) you can pick your own. Navigate a dirt road, collect your five-gallon bucket and heavy gloves, and go to town. These are smaller than Italian chestnuts, and hardly cheap at $5/lb (with discounts for 30 lbs or more), but they're very tasty, and the freshest you'll ever find, says *RWCFoodie*. (For roasting instructions and other tips, see CHESTNUTS, in General Topics, below).
The place is a little tough to locate; here are driving directions:
From the north: Take Woodside Road (Hwy 84) west, Turn left (south) on Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35), pass Page Mill and continue for 3 miles; the farm is on the right side of the road.
From the south: Take Hwy 9 west, turn right on Skyline Blvd (Hwy 35), and continue north about 5 miles; the farm is on the left side of the road.
Some background -
First time to Skyline Chestnut. It's at 22322 Skyline Blvd, La Honda and there is a huge sign for Skyline Chestnut seen from both directions.
Parking is in a dirt lot. One pit toilet available.
The guy has an RV & another shack. You can pick your own chestnut or there are some already picked. It's the same price for both, $5/lb.
If you want to pick your own: Grab a bucket, some gloves. I recommend you bring your own. You can only pick chestnuts on the ground, the ones in the trees aren't ripe. You can see tons of the husks everywhere. If it's empty you have to find another. There are usually about 3-4 chestnuts in each husk.
I don't recommend you eat them raw. They don't taste good.
Directions on how to roast them at home on the business card. I'll type it for you all:
Preheat over to 350. Cut a deep "X" in the flat side of ea. nut. Arrange in a single layer on cooking sheet w/ the "X" facing up & place in preheated oven. Start checking after 8 min, once the "X" starts peeling open, they are Done! (8-12 min total cooking time). Allow to cool. Peel & Enjoy!
Guy said the smaller ones are sweeter, the larger ones more meaty.
He sells local Los Gatos Creek wild honey, not chestnut honey.
It was fun. Obviously, when the chestnuts are the same price pre-picked and u-pick, the reason to do it is for the experience. On a nippy November afternoon, it felt like the quintessential fall experience, and traditional seasonal experiences are hard to come by in the Bay Area. I was thinking it would be a great activity for my very active not-quite-three-year-old niece, although getting her to wear gloves might be hard.
These are hands down the tastiest chestnuts I've roasted! Definitely better than the usual Colossals. I can't say I find the little ones to be sweeter than the bigger ones, but the small ones roast really fast, 10 min or less, the bigger ones in about 15 min. Very delicious. I'm a fan, whatever varieties they are.
I would like to answer some of the questions I think are being asked here, first of all, the trees I suspect are American Chestnut have nuts that are smaller and lighter in color, they also have the fuzzy hair covering at least 1/3 of the shell. I have had a few certified arborists visit the orchard and all have said that I do indeed have American Chestnuts. I have sent off samples to the American Chestnut Association to no avail, they have not replied to date. I have received conflicting information on all of it, I am only trying to do my best for the trees and all of my customers and not deceive anyone.
I am not tooo certain that everyone I have spoken to is correct, but my gut feeling is that they are indeed American because of their size, color and the fuzz.
The bottom line is we have some fairly large chestnuts (not those that I suspect are American) during the middle of the season and they are smaller in the beginning and the end. The ones that are larger and darker and have less fuzz get to a golf-ball size and have great flavors.
I will go off on a tangent now, but you all will understand when you read what I have to say.
When you have purchased a tomato in the grocery store in the past 20 years, has it gotten better in flavor or continuously declined in flavor? Now how about a peach, or an apple? Let's face it, the flavor had been bred out of our produce in favor of size and appearance. The same is true of the beef and pork, turkey and chicken. I remember fondly when you could throw a steak on the grill and just give it a little salt and it had a teriffic amount of flavor all by itself. Today's beef needs to be marinated and infused with marinades and rubs. The best tomatoes, corn, beans, pigs, chickens, turkeys &etc.. I have ever eaten are those I have raised myself.
The same is true of the chestnut. The Colossal cultivar is just that, a colossal nut that looks great, but lacks in flavor. Our chestnuts come from trees that are 125 years old and older. They have been totally ignored for 30 years, other than the harvest.
We went to Skyline Chestnuts yesterday and had a great time. Had an interesting talk with Hans too. There had been problems in years past with people abusing the trees (hence the signs about no knocking the branches, no climbing, no peeing). So while they're happy to let you pick your own, they sell the already picked chestnuts for the same price as the u-pick, on the theory that the people inclined to abuse the orchard might opt for the easy route of already picked ones. Plus they're selling at three south bay farmers markest: Vallco on Fridays, Sunnyvale on Saturdays, and Santana Row on Sundays, also at the same price, $5/lb. But it was a lovely day for a walk in the woods yesterday, and we were excited about the idea of finding the chestnuts in situ, so we picked our own and had a great time.
I am dubious, though, that there are any true American chestnuts there. The smaller ones he's selling as American may indeed be a sweeter variety (I'm letting them 'cure' a few days before roasting, so can't speak yet from experience), but they don't match the description of American chestnuts that you can see on this page from the American Chestnut Foundation. The lack of fuzziness/hairiness is the biggest issue.
Stands of American chestnuts do exist in the west where the blight didn't reach, but these trees seems to be more recent (well, 100+ years) imports, not natives. They're fine varieties too, but it leaves my curiousity about true American chestnuts unsated.
Here's a useful page from Oregon State University about post harvest handling:
What I meant is that even though the trees are old, 100+ years, they seem to be European or Asian, not American. It's certainly *possible* for there to be American chestnuts in the Santa Cruz mountains, but none of the nuts he sells (including the ones he calls American chestnuts) resemble those of American chestnuts, which are much hairier/fuzzier than the usual smooth chestnuts we're all familiar with.
I don't think he means to deceive, I think he's just been told that American chestnuts are smaller than Italians, and since some of the trees produce smaller nuts, he's drawn an erroneous conclusion. He did mention that they haven't sent any of the samples off to try to identify the various trees (and there are definitely different varieties), and that would include, of course, his putative American chestnuts.
Thanks everyone for all the information! We also went picking this afternoon. We had a great time at Green Valley Chestnut Ranch. They have organic Colossal variety chestnuts and we picked 19 pounds. They will be open for picking tomorrow, and said they may open next weekend also. Just to be safe, we wore long pants, long sleeves, closed shoes and used the gloves they had there and didn’t have any problem with the bugs or spikes. I’ve included some photos.
Nice pictures! Skyline's orchard isn't quite as organized. The trees are scattered around the side of a fairly steep hill, so it's a bit of a hike getting up to some of them. Hans talked a bit about the Colossal variety, which I don't believe grows at Skyline. Rather, the trees are mostly Italian and, to a lesser extent, American ones, which are smaller and blonder in color. They're reputedly sweeter. Haven't tried them yet. Giving them another day to mature, for lack of a better word...
What an experience! Arrived at Skyline Chestnuts about 3pm today and came home with 3 pounds of quality chestnuts.
The drive over there was a little bit of a struggle, as that Page Mill Road gets pretty windey (dramamine a must for those who get carsick). There wasn't a street sign for Skyline boulevard, so we initially blew past it, venturing almost a mile into the Russian Open Preserve, before realizing that that last major intersection was probably where we should've turned.
After going back and heading south for about two miles on Skyline we finally saw a sign that read "chestnuts 100 yards". You have to remember the address (22322 Skyline) once you do get 100 yards closer because I don't remember seeing anything to actually tell you you've arrived. Just the address and a sign saying to park at the top of the hill.
So park we did and there it was, pretty much an small cabin, an outhouse, Hans Johsens (proprietor), his young sons on their dirtbikes, and 119 chestnut trees (or was it 190?)! We were the only ones there at the time so we had the whole place to ourselves.
There are certain rules you have to go by, which basically really came down to common sense. Don't climb the trees, don't knock the chestnuts off the trees, don't pee on the trees, that sort of thing. But other than that, just fill your bucket (which Hans provides) with up to 20 lbs. of chestnuts. But at five bucks a pound and no credit cards accepted, we were limited to a three pound harvest.
At first I was wondering how we were going to get any chestnuts if we can't pull them off the trees, but it all became clear after delving deeper into the orchard. They were literally falling off the trees as we picked them up off the ground. The farther from the trail you venture, the more time you’ll spend on your knees gathering them up as opposed to looking up at these spiny pods, if that’s what you even call them.
After about a half hour to forty five minutes we figured we probably met our self-imposed 3 pound quota and headed back. Turns out we actually picked up six and a half pounds of chestnuts, so while Hans was educating us on how best to prepare and enjoy the chestnuts, we picked and chose the best from our ‘harvest’.
Hans advised us to let the chestnuts breathe for a couple of days before roasting them. Let me tell you, those couple of days can’t come soon enough. I thoroughly enjoyed myself out there today. I highly recommend a trip down there. Well worth the dizzying drive over. Oh, and bring those heavy duty gloves. Trust me.
I just called Skyline Chesnuts to see if they were open yet. They said they'd probably start this Saturday (10/14). I'm going to be out of town this weekend, so will probably aim for next weekend. The hours are 8:30 AM-4 PM.
You can call them and check to see if they're open. If they're not available they said they'd be changing their answering machine to tell their hours and when they are open.
20514 Gist Rd.
Los Gatos, CA 95033
I just spoke with someone there. I was told that chestnut picking will start this Saturday at around 8am till about 4:30 or 5pm. It will be daily from Saturday until right before Thanksgiving (earlier if they run out of chestnuts....).
Also, the location for Skyline Chestnuts is 22322 Skyline Blvd, Palo Alto. The Los Gatos address is just a mailing address.
I agree with the above, the American chestnuts are the freshest and sweetest you're likely to find anywhere.
There's also a place out towards Gualala on Fish Rock Rd, off 128 near Yorkville. Waaay out in the boonies...miles beyond the paved section of the road, but lots of chestnuts.
We also love the chestnuts at Green Valley chestnut ranch, but recommend getting them fresh before they've been frozen, as the frozen ones seem a bit dry.
We made it over to Green Valley on sunday and came home with 20lbs of chestnuts! This is something I would definitely do again next year, or at Skyline if it will have harvest later on this year.
For those who are interested but have not done this before, here are some things I wish I knew before going:
It's somewhat physically demanding as you have to squat on the ground to pick up the chestnuts. Next time I may bring a stepping stool to sit on....
There are lots and lots of bugs, especially spiders. I'll definitely have bug spray on next time.
The ground is quite uneven and filled with the spiky outer shells of the chestnuts. Wear closed toe shoes. Also, bring a pair of thick gardening gloves with you so you can open up the unopended spiky shells to get the chestnuts inside. Green Valley ran out of them and I got one glove with holes on them.
Bring cash or check as Green Valley can't take credit cards onsite. I didn't have enough cash or a check with me and they just asked us to send them a check with we get home. Very nice people over there.
I don't know the status on Skyline Chestnuts, but if you want to wander a little further north (Sebastopol), Green Valley Chestnut Ranch has u-pick (and home delivery if you just want to order and have them mailed to you).
Green Valley Chestnut Ranch
11100 Green Valley Road
Sebastopol, CA 95472
From their web site:
"This year we are planning special ‘open house’ events during National Chestnut Week. During the first two weekends of October (Saturday/Sunday October 7/8 and October 14/15) we will be open to the public for orchard tours, chestnuts u-pick, tasting, roasted chestnuts, and sales of Colossal Variety chestnuts, our Chestnut Honey, Chestnut Roasters, chestnut puree and crème, chestnut cookbooks, and other chestnut specialty products."
re: miss louella
Splendid, thank you! The article in Palo Alto online that I had linked above had made reference to chestnut orchards in Sebastopol and Brentwood, the only other ones in California. This must be the Sebastopol source. I can't seem to find anything about an orchard in Brentwood, anyone know about it?
One web reference said there are less than 500 acres of commercial chestnut orchards in the US. We're lucky to have these close to us.
re: Melanie Wong
Well, I found nothing in Brentwood, but I did find a directory of chestnut growers and they include these for northern CA:
Chestnut Ridge Ranch
7700 Peachland Road, PO Box 119
Boonville, CA 95415
Green Valley Chestnut Ranch
11100 Green Valley Rd.
Sebastopol, CA 95472
Lucienne Grunder & Dan Titzel
5999 Arbolada Drive
La Grange, CA 95329-9730
20514 Gist Rd.
Los Gatos, CA 95033
Ellen T. Edwards
East Ridge Ranch
1101 Clark Road
Marshall, CA 94940
Here's the link for the member directory for the chestnut growers of America:
Anyone want to share how they use these gems over on the home cooking board?
re: miss louella
re: miss louella
Not a u-pick, but I found one more local source of chestnuts. Hollyhock Farms of Potter Valley (firstname.lastname@example.org) was selling at the Healdsburg farmers market on Saturday morning. They grow Colossals. The gentleman told me that he would be in Healdsburg again this coming Saturday too.