In 1946, Nat King Cole recorded “The Christmas Song,” the most-performed holiday song of all time. Its opening lyric, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” evokes images of Christmas for many. The song was originally penned by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé. Many people refer it to as the “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” song. Just when did burning chestnuts on an open fire begin?
In the early 1900s, in the United States, a fungus virtually wiped out all chestnut trees in North America. This is why chestnuts are mostly imported from other countries. The tradition of roasted chestnuts comes from northern European countries where vendors sell roasted chestnuts and sell them in paper bags. It is a very popular food item in China in autumn. Today, China is the world’s largest chestnut-producing country, and Hebei Province in north China is a major contributor. The tradition was carried on to the northern states of America from Europe. While most people roast them, the Portuguese are known to boil chestnuts, the results are juicier chestnuts with sweet juices. Around November, Portugal celebrates Dia de São Martinho (St. Martin’s Day) across the country and chestnuts play a significant role.
Why chestnuts are so darn expensive?
The U.S. imports 40 million dollars of chestnuts annually, according to the Northern Nut Growers Association, less than one percent of the world’s chestnuts are grown in America. This drives up the costs of the coveted chestnut.
“Before the American Chestnut was wiped out, everybody ate chestnuts,” Thomas Saielli, southern regional science coordinator for the American Chestnut Foundation says, “They would go out into the forest during harvest season—it was an event.”
“In the winter of 1908 over eleven hundred chestnut trees were felled in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, many of them were dead and the others so infected that removal was the best course to pursue…greater havoc from blight or insect pest on forest trees has probably never been excelled in deadly malignity…it is proposed to cut every chestnut tree in the park.”
The chestnut is the only nut that contains vitamin C. Chestnuts are also a great source of potassium, as well as minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. They also contain B vitamins and are low in fat. Most notably, however, they are exceptionally rich in vitamin C – with a 30g serving providing 20% of our recommended daily intake. The high concentration of vitamin C and other antioxidants make them a friend to our immune system at the time of year when we need them the most!
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, most chestnuts come from these top five world producers: China, mainland (1,650,000 metric tons), South Korea (70,000), Turkey (59,789), Bolivia (57,000), and in fifth place, Italy (52,000).