Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Chestnuts come from several different species of large trees in the genus Castanea, which are found in Europe, Asia, and North America. They’re unlike the other common nuts in storing their energy for the future seedling in the form of starch, not oil. Chestnuts are thus usually thoroughly cooked and have a mealy texture. Since prehistory they have been dried, ground into flour, and used in the same way that the starchy cereals are, to make gruels, breads, pastas, cakes, and provide substance in soups. Before the arrival of the potato and corn from the New World, chestnuts were an essential subsistence food in mountainous and marginal agricultural areas of Italy and France. At the opposite extreme, a luxurious chestnut specialty invented in the 17th century is marrons glacés, large chestnuts that are cooked, slowly infused over a day or two with a vanilla-flavored syrup, then glazed with a more concentrated syrup.