Date of this Version
Chestnut trees, and consequently chestnuts, were a large part of American culture at the turn of the twentieth century. The American chestnut, which is one of four primary chestnut species--Japanese, European, and Chinese being the other three--was prominent in many parts of the country but particularly, the eastern part of the United States. The wood from the trees was commonly used in furniture making and the chestnuts from the tree were frequently included on ingredient lists from recipes used during that era. To not be familiar with and eat chestnuts then could be likened to not having heard of and eating cheese today. They were a staple in the American diet.
All that changed with the introduction of the chestnut blight fungus from Asia. The fungus was particularly deadly. It was easily spread and killed the trees it infected. The fungus spread quickly through the forests and within a generation, almost all of the chestnut trees in the U.S. had vanished from the landscape and with them the knowledge and appreciation of the chestnut as an enjoyable food and valuable ingredient. At least two generations exist whose experience with chestnuts amounts to words in a Christmas song—“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”. Despite the fact the U.S. still imports approximately 20 million pounds of chestnuts annually, U.S. growers and processors of chestnuts face a mostly ‘uneducated’ market of chestnut consumers and chefs in the U.S. The one exception is Asian consumers. Many originate from countries where chestnuts are still a regular part of life and thus they are avid consumers of available chestnuts in the U.S.