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Chestnut Stuffing

As we look ahead to putting some of the things we have learned from our permaculture research into practice, one crop we've decided we will definitely be raising is nuts - specifically hazelnuts and chestnuts. Jay found a supplier (Badgersett Farms) for trees raised in Minnesota and got a sampler pack of nuts to try. To our surprise, we found fresh chestnuts quite good to eat just as snacks. They are a bit of work to cut open and shuck, but are quite tasty. The simplest way we've found to shuck them is to first cut the nut in half, and then pry the meat out of each side:

They do dry out if you keep them around any length of time so we started looking for ways to enjoy them when they are dry. And of course, being us, we had to turn it into an experiment comparing fresh from Minnesota chestnuts to commercially raised dried chestnuts (most likely imported from Italy, Spain, Korea or China). Since we had a couple of organic Cornish game hens waiting in the freezer, we decided to try chestnut stuffing. We used the same recipe for both types of nuts and carefully marked the birds so we could tell which had the dried nut stuffing and which the fresh. We found we like both. The fresh nut stuffing was noticeably sweeter but the dried nut stuffing had a somewhat richer flavor, possibly due to the fact that we did not remove the inner skin covering the nut.

The recipes we used for preparing the chestnuts were from an old Joy of Cooking cookbook - Boiled Chestnuts and Chestnut Dressing for Game.

Boiled Chestnuts
Cut in half to make 1 recipe of Dressing, or make a whole recipe and eat the remainder like mashed potatoes.

1 pound FRESH chestnuts, shelled and skinned
OR 1/2 pound shelled DRIED chestnuts soaked overnight

Boiling water (milk can also be used)
3 ribs of celery, chopped
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 T vinegar
1 T butter
2+ T warm cream

Drop chestnuts into boiling water or milk and add celery, onion, and vinegar.
Cook until tender. Drain well, then mash with butter. Add the cream and beat until fluffy. Keep hot over hot water.

Chestnut Dressing for Game
Makes about 4 cups, enough to stuff 4 Cornish hens or 2 chickens

2 1/2 cups boiled chestnuts
1/2 cup melted butter
1 t salt
1/8 t pepper
1/4 cup cream
1 cup dry bread crumbs or cracker crumbs
2T chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped celery

Combine all ingredients and use either as stuffing or bake as a casserole on the side.