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Nov 9, 2013 07:49 PM

Can you actually buy American chestnuts anywhere?

My mother-in-law recently asked me to bring New England chestnuts back to California... and I was a little confused because I have only ever purchased Italian or French chestnuts, as far as I know. I vaguely remembered something about American chestnut trees being wiped out due to disease, but I know that was a long time ago. I realized that I am not quite as knowledgable on this topic as I'd like to be.

What's the deal with them now? Are American chestnuts available anywhere? Searching around online confirmed that people really only buy Italian or French chestnuts. I just went to Whole Foods and found fresh chestnuts, which stated "Origin: Italy".

If anyone has any information for me, I'd be very appreciative.

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  1. Here's what I found on Wikipedia:

    I was surprised--very happily--to find that we may have them in abundance again some day.

    We had Italian ones in the winter. My gram boiled them first, then roasted/baked them after. I wish she were alive so that I could ask her what the deal was with that. She loathed them! She said she was forced to eat a cold soup made of chestnuts when she was a little girl in Spain and that she'd hated them ever since.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hopeh

      <to find that we may have them in abundance again some day. >

      But then they may be destined to be wiped out -- evolution.

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        not necessarily -- NPR did a piece on chestnuts several months ago -- seems the "bloodline" (for lack of a simpler term) with which they're re-planting the chestnut acreage is from some American chestnuts that were naturally immune to the disease that wiped out the rest of the population.

      1. re: Alan408

        Those are not American Chestnuts, but non-native ones grown in California.

        1. re: JMF

          Three or four years ago, I went to Skyline Chestnuts, we came across a guided group, overheard some of the talk. What I remember was, "this is an American Chestnut, there are several on the property...........this tree is being used to develop a blight resistant .............."

          They estimated the trees are between 150 and 100 years old. Could someone have transplanted American Chestnuts to California 150-100 years ago?

          There are non-native trees on the property, but I have the impression they have been there for 150-100 years.

          1. re: Alan408

            Yes, I've been there too. The caretakers say that the trees are a mixture of European, American and Chinese genetics. They were planted more than 100 years ago.

            While native American chestnut trees have been almost completely wiped out on the East Coast, there are some trees that were planted on the West Coast that thrive. One theory is that chestnut blight needs humid summers to do its damage, and with our Mediterranean climate, the trees are fine in California.

      2. Now I can't remember where I saw it, but somebody down here in the Sunshine State (thought it was Fresh Market, but I can't find the ad...) was advertising chestnuts from Ohio.

        I'll split that hair....if they were grown and harvested from trees planted in the US, I'll count those as American chestnuts, whether they were from the American chestnut species or not....

        5 Replies
        1. re: sunshine842

          The current American grown that are resistant to the blight are a hybrid with Chinese chestnuts. American grown, but not the American chestnut in the pure sense.
          This year I'll be looking for chestnuts from Italy or France. The ones I bought last year were from China and were very difficult to peel and there was a lot of waste.

          1. re: sunshine842

            The thing is, the OP was asking about the actual American Chestnuts, not non-native. They do taste different, besides being completely unavailable unless you know where one of the few remaining adult trees are. (I have tasted them back 15 years ago.)

            1. re: JMF

              were they?

              "American chestnuts" could be correctly grammatically interpreted either way (American chestnut species OR chestnuts grown in America), and without clarification from the OP, it's speculation.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I understand the new(est) chestnuts here are 15/16ths US and only 1/16th Chinese. That sounds pretty good.


                Aren't European chestnuts originally from Asia?

                1. re: c oliver

                  Here is more on the hybrid. I expect to lose an ash shortly to ash borers and if so am considering one of these. Although I may be a tad too far north.


          2. In years past, Sunshine Foods in St. Helena, California has sold chestnuts which were grown in California, at least some were grown in the Napa Valley.

            1. Chestnuts from America are definitely available but I can't say whether they are American Chestnuts.
              In season, chestnuts grown in PA are available in farmer's markets in Philadelphia. This year a farmer my wife is friendly with brought us a few pounds of chestnuts from a tree she found in the woods near her farm.