Old Chestnuts

1640 Kitchen Still Life Barbieri

1640 Kitchen Still Life Paolo Antonio Barbieri

Under the spreading chestnut tree…’ Longfellow, The Village Blacksmith

Up until fairly recently chestnuts trees  were a part of the New England landscape. Castanea_dentataA fungal blight introduced at the beginning of the 20th century pretty much took all the chestnuts by the 1940’s. The presence of imported chestnuts in time for the holidays is just a shadow of the spreading chestnut tree’s previous presence.

Like in the Fable of The Monkey and the Cat from Aesop, no less

Aesop for Children (1919)


Once upon a time a Cat and a Monkey lived as pets in the same house. They were great friends and were constantly in all sorts of mischief together. What they seemed to think of more than anything else was to get something to eat, and it did not matter much to them how they got it.

One day they were sitting by the fire, watching some chestnuts roasting on the hearth. How to get them was the question.

“I would gladly get them,” said the cunning Monkey, “but you are much more skillful at such things than I am. Pull them out and I’ll divide them between us.”

Pussy stretched out her paw very carefully, pushed aside some of the cinders, and drew back her paw very quickly. Then she tried it again, this time pulling a chestnut half out of the fire. A third time and she drew out the chestnut. This performance she went through several times, each time singeing her paw severely. As fast as she pulled the chestnuts out of the fire, the Monkey ate them up.

Now the master came in, and away scampered the rascals, Mistress Cat with a burnt paw and no chestnuts. From that time on, they say, she contented herself with mice and rats and had little to do with Sir Monkey.

The flatterer seeks some benefit at your expense.

Singe et chat

Singe et chat



Tommaso Salini – The Monkey and the Cat – 1575



But chestnuts were also good roasted – and they still are.

To stuff a roasted Goose or Duck.

….Geese and Ducks are also stuffed with Chestnuts from which the peels and membranes have been removed [and which have been mixed] with Butter.

Rose, Peter, ed and translator. The Sensible Cook.(1683) p. 66.

Evidently FDR also like some chestnuts stuffed in his holiday bird.


Young, small turnips should be cooked in water without wine for the first boiling. Then throw away the water and cook slowly in water and wine, and chestnuts therin, or, if one has no chestnuts, sage.

Pleyn Delight, #17. (The Menagier de Paris, 1393)


Castanea sativa or sweet chestnut



Filed under Autumn, Christmas, Perception ways, The 17th century

3 responses to “Old Chestnuts

  1. Has there been any attempt that you know of to introduce resistant fungus-resistant chestnuts?

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