With fresh American-grown chestnuts now widely available, more and more people are learning how to prepare and enjoy them. True American chestnuts, once common in North America, nearly disappeared following a devastating blight that swept across the eastern U.S. in the early 20th century. By 1940, nearly all American chestnuts were gone. Fortunately, due to the combined efforts of scientists, botanists, and growers, commercially cultivated chestnuts are back.
That’s good news for all of us. Chestnuts, it turns out, are not only delicious, they’re pretty healthy too.
Unlike most other tree nuts, the large, edible nuts of the chestnut tree contain almost no oil, so they’re naturally low in fat. Chestnuts have a mild flavor, nut-like (surprise) and naturally sweet. They also have an interesting texture; firm and crisp when raw, but soft and yielding when cooked. If you’ve never eaten a cooked chestnut, you might find the texture a bit unusual, but just give chestnuts a chance; you’ll quickly become fond of them.
While most Americans have only recently become reacquainted with chestnuts, they have been an important food source in both Europe and Asia for millenia. Consequently, there is a vast body of recipes and cooking techniques ready & waiting for the curious cook to explore.
Chestnut Marmalade, or “Marmellata di Castagne” in Italian, is one of those classics that is still around because it’s good. It’s better than good, in fact – it’s fantastic.
Chestnut marmalade is nothing like a citrus marmalade; there’s not a drop of citrus in it. Smooth & creamy, full of sweet chunks of chestnut, chestnut marmalade is delicious spread on hot buttered toast, but it also makes a wonderful addition to cakes, cookies and other desserts.
Chestnut marmalade also just happens to be quite easy to make. It does take a little bit of effort to remove the shells from the fresh chestnuts, but it’s worth it. And if you really want to make it easy, you can even use frozen or preserved chestnuts that have already had the shells removed.
Chestnut Marmalade (adapted from the Silver Spoon cookbook)
- 1 pound fresh chestnuts (substitute frozen or ready-to-eat chestnuts)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus a generous pinch
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
To remove the outer shell from the chestnuts, start by cutting a shallow slit or “X” into the chestnut. Peel away the tough outer layer and discard. Don’t worry about the fuzzy-papery inner husk at this point; we’ll deal with that momentarily.
Place the shelled chestnuts into a saucepan and add 1/2 teaspoon salt and enough water to cover them completely. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to cook until the chestnuts are very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, but don’t wait for it to cool too much. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove a few chestnuts at a time and peel away the inner papery husk. They should slip right off, but be careful – the chestnuts will be very hot. Work quickly too, because once the chestnuts cool, the husks can be very difficult to remove. (Don’t ask how we know that.) They will also be very soft, but don’t worry if they break up a bit – you’ll be chopping them up in the next step anyway. Discard the husks and put the cleaned chestnuts (whole & broken bits) into a clean bowl.
Once they’re all cleaned, chop or slice the chestnuts and place them into a clean saucepan. If you prefer a chunkier texture, chop the chestnuts coarsely; for a smoother texture, chop them quite finely. Add the sugar and 1 cup of water, stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for about 40 minutes. Watch the bubbling pot very carefully as it nears the end of its cooking time. The mixture will rapidly become quite thick and can scorch quickly, so stir constantly and reduce the heat if necessary during the last few minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool momentarily, then stir in both the vanilla extract and a generous pinch of coarse salt. These two final ingredients add tremendously to the final flavor of the marmalade. We used our own homemade vanilla extract which has an amazing & intense flavor, far better than anything you can buy (see our earlier post here to learn how to make it yourself). We’ve also fallen completely in love with the way a little extra hit of salt enhances the flavor of sweet things. Omit these ingredients and you risk diminishing the deliciousness of the fruits of your hard work!
After adding the vanilla & salt, ladle the marmelade into clean jars. Close them tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. For longer storage, put the marmalade into sterilized canning jars, top with new canning lids & rings, and process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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