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Chestnut (Castanea) is a genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees and shrubs in the Beech family Fagaceae, native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and the edible nuts they produce.
The fruit can be pealed and eaten raw (almost unknown in North-America), but it then can be somewhat astringent especially if the pellicle is not removed.
The other way of eating the fruit which does not involve peeling, is to roast them. Any method of cooking requires to score the fruit beforehand, else the flesh expands and the fruit explodes. Once cooked its texture is similar to a baked potato, with a delicate, sweet, nutty flavour.
Chestnuts can be dried and milled into flour, which can then be used to prepare breads, cakes, pancakes, pastas (it is the original ingredient for "polenta", known in Corsica as "pulenda"), used as thickener for stews, soups, sauces..., . The flour can be light beige like that from Castagniccia, or darker in other regions. It is a good solution for long storage of a nutritious food. Chestnut bread keeps fresh for as long as two weeks.
A fine granular sugar can be obtained from the fermentation of the juice, as well as a beer; and the roasted fruit provides a coffee substitute. Parmentier, the famous potato promoter among other achievements of his, extracted sugar from chestnuts and sent a chestnut sugarloaf of several pounds' weight to the Academy of Lyon. The continental blockade following shortly after (1806-1814) increased the research into developing chestnuts as a source of sugar, but Napoleon chose beets instead.
The nuts can also be eaten candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted or fried (fritters), in sweet or savoury recipes. They can be used to stuff vegetables, poultry, fowl and other edibles.They are available fresh, dried, ground, canned (whole or in puree).
Candied chestnuts (whole chestnuts candied in sugar syrup, then iced) are sold under the French name marrons glacés or Turkish name kestane şekeri ("sugared chestnuts"). They appeared in France in the 16th century. Towards the end of 19th century, Lyon is brought low by the collapse of the textile market, notably silk. Clément Faugier ingénieur des Ponts et Chaussées, is looking for a way to revitalize the regional economy. In 1882 at Privas, he invented the technology to make marrons glacés on an industrial scale (although a great deal of the over-twenty necessary steps from harvest to the finished product are still accomplished manually). Chestnuts are picked in autumn, and candied from the start of the following summer for the ensuing Christmas. Thus the marrons glacés eaten at Christmas are those picked the year before.
Sweet Chestnuts are not easy to peel when cold. The most efficient way to peel them is described here. One kilogram of (untainted) chestnuts yields approximately 700g of shelled chestnuts.
Chestnuts' taste vary slightly from one to the next but is somewhat sweet and certainly unique. Chestnut-based recipes and preparations are making a comeback in Italian cuisine, as part of the trend toward rediscovery of traditional dishes and better nutrition.