AMBROSIAL VARIATIONS ON A CHESTNUT BUTTER THEME
Chestnuts are certainly not a familiar food item in most households. That’s largely because our once flourishing American chestnut trees suffered devastating blight that killed them all. By the 1950s all the millions of chestnut trees growing along the slopes of the eastern Appalachian had died.
And no one was able to make a delicious Chestnut Butter!
Three cheers for The American Chestnut Foundation that’s making great progress to bring the trees back using plant pathology technology, but it will be several years before we will see commercial crops of chestnuts available from those trees.
There are a few growers in California and Washington whose trees were not affected by blight. Every year their chestnuts are harvested in September and become available for online orders in October. Scroll down to the bottom of the feature for links so you can enjoy making Chestnut Butter like I do every year.
The chestnut season is very brief–September through November. I like to place an early order and have some delivered in October and some delivered the week before Thanksgiving. They really add a special sweet touch to a savory stuffing. And they make a delicious Chestnut Butter.
Grocery stores, of course, will be brimming with imported chestnuts, mainly from China. Those will be available through the early spring months.
For cooking and peeling fresh chestnuts, visit my post for the visual, step-by-step process, so you can enjoy the pleasure of cooking and eating fresh chestnuts.
If you don’t plan to cook fresh chestnuts, there are definitely excellent alternatives. The markets will have jarred cooked and peeled chestnuts ready to eat. Many Asian and Middle Eastern markets will have vacuum-packed pouches of cooked, ready-to-eat chestnuts that you can put to work in your favorite recipes.
Now for the joy of Chestnut Butter and it’s many variations. The recipes are easy to make and will keep for up to one week in the fridge. Chestnut butter, so creamy and flavorful, makes a delightful spread on morning toast. It’s also great on crackers, but that’s not all. Consider putting a dollop on the dinner dish to dip into as a condiment, kind of like you might do with chutney.
My desire to create a delicious, low-fat, ultra creamy chestnut spread resulted in this awesome thick, satin-smooth spread that melts in the mouth.
CINNAMON SPICE MAPLE CHESTNUT BUTTER
Yield: about 2 cups
2 cups coarsely chopped cooked and peeled chestnuts
6 tablespoons vanilla soymilk
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon maple extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process for a full 2 minutes to create a silky smooth butter. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl and provide a spreading knife. Enjoy!
Quicker than making apple butter, this delicious fruity chestnut butter takes no more than 20 minutes to prepare from start to finish and offers a welcome change from jams and jellies for morning toast, bagels, pita bread, and even muffins. The standard PB&J tastes even better with this chestnutty spread standing in for the jelly. Throughout autumn and winter, when the weather brings us a few shivers, we crave hearty foods with zesty flavors. Count of this chestnut-based fruit spread to chase away the winter blues.
APPLE CHESTNUT BUTTER
Yield: about 3 cups
3 cups dried apple rings, well-packed
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 rounded cup cooked, peeled chestnuts
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1/2 to 1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Combine the apples, water, sugar, and raisins in a 2-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and steam 10 minutes.
- While the apple medley is cooking, place the chestnuts, rosewater, orange blossom water, lemon juice, and cardamom in the food processor and set aside.
- When the apple medley is cooked, add it to the food processor along with all the liquid in the pan. Pulse and process until the mixture is smooth and creamy. You may have to stop the machine, scrape down the sides of the workbowl, and process until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Spoon into a serving bowl and serve with spreading knives. To store, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Keeps for up to two weeks.
With the addition of a bit of kitchen sorcery and a whirl in the food processor, this chestnut butter leans to the savory side. Naturally sweet and starchy chestnuts become transformed into an irresistible creamy spread that stands out on any variety of bread, bagel, or cracker. Consider this buttery spread as a tasty accompaniment to any savory dish, and use as you would a relish or a spread on your favorite bread or rolls.
GARLICKY CHESTNUT BUTTER
Yield: about 1 1/4 cups
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup water, divided
1 1/4 cups cooked and peeled coarsely chopped chestnuts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 sprig parsley, for garnish
- Cook and stir the onion, garlic, thyme, and 1/4 cup of the water in a medium skillet over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning.
- Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the chestnuts, salt, and the remaining 1/4 cup of water. Process for 1 or 2 minutes, or until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the parsley if desired.
A heavenly, light and buttery savory spread that makes eating bread shear delight. Quickly prepared, the chestnut-enhanced butter also serves as an appetizer spread on crackers or toasted baguette slices. Serve it over polenta or as a topping over other grains like rice, bulgur wheat, wild rice, or quinoa. Even baked potatoes will welcome a few dollops of the spread as a pleasant change from the familiar sour cream and chives.
SHIITAKE CHESTNUT BUTTER
Yield: about 2 cups
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water, divided
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup well-cooked chestnuts
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
- In a large, deep skillet combine the mushrooms, onion, soy sauce, olive oil, 1 tablespoon of the water, and garlic. Cook and stir over high heat for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the mushrooms and onions are softened, adding more water as needed to prevent burning.
- Transfer the mushroom/onion mixture to the food processor, add the remaining ingredients, and process until smooth and creamy. Transfer to an attractive serving bowl and serve with a spreading knife. Refrigerated, the creamy spread will keep for 1 week.