The American Chestnut

The American Chestnut

The American chestnut tree, (Genus: Castanea dentata, Species: C. sativa, Family: Fagaceae) is a large monoecious deciduous tree. This big, beautiful tree provides green shade in the summer, a stunning array of fall foliage and a spinney cupule (bur) that holds and protects the chestnut during its growth and maturation.  As its leaves begin to fall, so does the bur whereupon it splits and releases the chestnut.  The American chestnut is important for both food and forage.   This was of course until the American chestnut tree was devastated by chestnut blight-a fungal disease (Cryphonectria parasitica)) where upon it has been estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century.

Hand holding brown chestnuts and green chestnut on branch

American/Chinese Chestnut
Photo Source UF/IFAS

However, through scientific research it has been discovered that the Chinese chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima) is recognized as being highly blight resistant (but not immune).  Many places in the United States have replanted the American chestnut tree with the Chinese chestnut and its cultivars.  In fact, there are several chestnut orchards.

The chestnut is classified as a nut.

Green chestnuts surrounded by green chestnut leaves

Chestnut Tree
Photo Source: Vern Wilkins, Indiana University, Bugwood.org

However, it differs from most nuts, as it is low in lipid (fat) content – approximately three percent.  Nonetheless, the chestnut is nutritious; it contains carbohydrates, proteins and is rich in vitamins and minerals.  The mature chestnut (nut pulp) is more than 50 percent water thus special care must be taken to extend its storage so that it does not spoil.

Local, fresh chestnuts are generally only available in the fall.  A good chestnut is fairly large, firm to the touch and feels dense.  The USDA does not have any standards for grades of chestnuts although sometimes size standards are based on the number of nuts per pound.

According to the American Chestnut Foundation® if fresh chestnuts are to be stored for eating, store them in a paper grocery bag for up to two months. Leaving fresh chestnuts at room temperature for a few days helps their starches convert to sugar. For longer storage, put chestnuts in the freezer and use immediately after thawing or they will become mushy.

Chestnuts can be eaten in a variety of forms –

  • Fresh – dry roasted or boiled
  • Frozen
  • Dried
  • Canned
  • Pureed
  • Ground into flour (obtained by grinding dried and peeled chestnuts)

    Three chestnuts inside the open but of the American Chestnut tree

    Three chestnuts inside the open but of the American Chestnut tree.
    Photo Source: USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station, Bugwood.org

Cooking methods for chestnuts vary widely too.  Customarily though, chestnuts are Dry-Roasted in the oven, over hot embers, on top of the stove in a skillet, or even in the microwave. Once peeled, the chestnut can be pureed, added to soups, stews, stuffing’s, and vegetable dishes or even turned into a decadent dessert.

  1. Heat a skillet on top of the stove or preheat the oven to 425° F
  2. Rinse the chestnuts in cold water. (this removes any bird droppings etc….)
  3. Using a sharp knife, score the flat side of each chestnut nut with “X”. (The chestnut is FULL of  moisture, the “X” keeps it from exploding.)
  4. Using a roasting pan or skillet place the chestnuts in the oven, over an open fire, or on top of the stove.
  5. Dry roast, stirring every five minutes until the shells begin to split open. (At this point the shells are brittle and have curled back some at the X.)
  6. Remove from the heat when the insides feel soft. (This will depend on the nut but usually about 15 – 20 minutes.)
  7. Peel the shells off the chestnuts and enjoy warm or cold.

The internet contains a wealth of chestnut recipes.  One I particularly enjoy is Chestnut Hummus.  Instead of using your favorite bean, prepare a pound of chestnuts by either boiling or dry roasting.

When cool enough to handle toss all of the traditional hummus ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth.  Serve in your favorite bowl drizzled with a bit of extra oil and favorite accoutrements.

Chestnut Hummus
1 pound prepared chestnuts
1 whole lemon, juiced
¼ cup tahini or 1/4 cup sesame oil
1-teaspoon cumin, whole or ground (or your favorite seasoning! – have you tried harissa?)
¼-cup oil
½ cup hot water, more if necessary to make a good spreading consistency
Salt to taste

Serve with your favorite accompaniments. (crackers, fresh sliced vegetables etc.)

Bon Appetite!

Crops in Season: June

Crops in Season: June

Part of cultivating a healthy, sustainable food system is to learning eat seasonally and locally.  This means enjoying foods at their seasonal peak. In addition, there is value knowing when produce items are in season as these products are often tastier, healthier, fresher and more economical.  Additionally, eating seasonally encourages a varied diet.

According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), Fresh From Florida produce is plentiful! The month of June is especially productive!  June claims:  Fresh From Florida avocado, cantaloupe, carambola, eggplant, guava, lychee, mango, mushroom, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peanut, potatoes, sweet corn, tomatoes and watermelon!

pink, green, yellow tropical fruit with green leaves

Tropical Fruit Day, 2005. UF/IFAS Photo Source: Thomas Wright.

Most of the listed produce items are pretty conventional.  But what about something not so straightforward like the lychee?

The lychee (Litchi chinensis), linked to the Sapindus genus, is native to warm temperate tropical regions of southern China.  The lychee is harvested ready to eat.  The lychee is covered with a hard, non-edible covering and contains a crisp, juicy, sweet pleasant inner (tasting a bit like a cross between a strawberry and a grape).  Lychee are a great source of nutrients, containing, energy (carbohydrates) as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber.   Lychee can be consumed fresh off the tree, frozen, canned, pickled, dried or even as ingredients in salads, marinades, sauces or desserts.

Try it!  You just might like it! The University Florida UF/IFAS Extension has a great publication if you are interested in growing lychee. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG05100.pdf    The World Wide Web has a plethora of interesting recipes for the lychee as well that you can check out.

Lychee Growing in the Florida Home Landscape https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG05100.pdf

Florida Crops in Season https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Consumer-Resources/Buy-Fresh-From-Florida/Crops-in-Season

Building Financial Capacity in Children and Youth

Building Financial Capacity in Children and Youth

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, (CFPB) has defined financial capacity as a the combination of attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life, within an enabling environment that includes, but is not limited to, access to appropriate financial services. 

Many of the attitudes, knowledge and skills needed to build financial capacity can be learned.  People learn behavior through a variety of contexts.  Children, in particular, learn through practices modeled by a parent or caregiver. In fact, research shows that parents and caregivers have the most influence on their children’s financial capability.

If you are like most parents, you probably recognize this—and you are interested in setting your kids on a good path toward financial well-being. However, many parents also say they do not always have time, tools, or personal confidence to start talking about money thinking their children will learn about it in school, later on, when they are old enough to understand.

This is most unfortunate. According to the Council for Economic Education 2018 Survey of the States, only 17 States require high school students to take a course in personal finance.  So, if a parent isn’t teaching their children basic money/financial skills who is?  Economical and financial literacy is a foundational element to achieving financial health and financial well-being.  It is never too early (or too late) to start building this.

Talking to children about money, even in EARLY CHILDHOOD, helps children build the skills they need later in life.  Early childhood education experts like to call this scaffolding.  You are setting the framework…the support…the platform, encouraging financial capability milestones from early childhood into young adulthood. Children can learn the behaviors, knowledge, skills, and personal characteristics that support financial health and well-being.

Books can help start these critical early conversation. The CFPB has made it EASY!  Parents can be their child’s first financial capability teacher!  The University of Wisconsin-Extension Family Living Programs and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Financial Security have selected books for the CFPB Money as you Grow Book Club.  This program uses easy to read and understand children’s books to discuss money concepts. These books include many favorites:

  • A Bargain for Frances, by Russell Hoban
  • A Chair for My Mother, by Vera Williams
  • Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, by Judith Viorst
  • Count on Pablo, by Barbara deRubertis
  • Cuenta con Pablo, by Barbara deRubertis
  • Curious George Saves His Pennies, by Margaret and H.AS. Rey
  • Just Shopping With Mom, by Mercer Mayer
  • Lemonade in Winter, by Emily Jenkins
  • My Rows and Piles of Coins, by Tololwa M. Mollel
  • Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall
  • Sheep in a Shop, by Nancy Shaw
  • The Berenstain Bears & Mama’s New Job, by Stan & Jan Berenstain
  • The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money by Stan and Jan Berenstain
  • The Purse, by Kathy Caple
  • The Rag Coat, by Lauren Mills
  • Those Shoes, by Maribeth Boelts
  • Tia Isa Wants a Car, by Meg Medina
  • Tia Isa Quiere un Carro, by Meg Medina

Fortunately, many of the building blocks for good financial decision making – like self-regulation, patience, planning, and problem-solving – do not require a lot of financial know-how.

Reading books with children is a creative way to learn about the many sides of money management. Pick up a few of the titles at your local library and influence your children’s financial capability.  Building good habits leads to a life of good financial health and well-being.

Example of key ideas from reading books:

 

PLANNING How Children Show It
Making Decisions Can look at a few choices and select on what will bring the best results.
Setting Goals Can follow a multi–step plan.
Prioritizing Can prioritize choices when they want two or more things at once.
Solving problems

 

Can describe problems and come up with a few idea to make things better.
MONEY
Earning Can identify the different jobs people in the family and in the community do to earn money and keep it safe.
Spending Make spending choices with their own money – real or play.
Saving Keeps money in a safe place and keeps track of amount saved for future spending.
Sharing and borrowing Can explain the difference between lending and giving something away.
ME
Self-control Can talk about times when they were able to wait and how they were able to do it.
Follow-through Can identify who they can turn to for help reaching a goal, or what tools or tricks might help them stick with a plan.
Staying true to yourself Name one special thing they like about themselves and their loved ones.
Flexibility Can talk about a time when their plans did not turn out how they wanted and what they did instead.

 

Resource:  https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/money-as-you-grow/

What’s in your FREEZER?

What’s in your FREEZER?

March is Frozen Food Month.  In fact, the National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association (NFRA),Inc., likes to suggest that there is MEALTIME MAGIC in the FROZEN AISLE.  I could not agree more!

words "March Frozen Food Month" on a plate with fork and folded napkin to left all on a placemat

March is Frozen Food month. Photo Source: with permission from Frozen Food Alliance

Frozen foods are a smart choice.  Frozen foods are always in season, last much longer than their fresh counterparts, are convenient, economical and full of variety.  Plus, frozen foods can be portioned and packaged in ways that don’t leave anything to waste.

A lot has changed since 1925 when Clarence Birdseye was issued U.S. Patent #1,773,079, to freeze fish.  This U.S. Patent marked the beginning of today’s frozen foods industry.  In 1927, he extended the freezing process to quick-freezing meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables.  Birdseye’s initial introduction of 26 frozen foods has morphed to so many frozen products that the NFRA boasts over 3,700+ different choices.  There is something FROZEN for every taste and every budget!

The modern day frozen product is generally supercooled at temperatures below -54°F.  This supercooled fast freezing process produces smallish ice crystals that help foods retain their personal characteristics.  Additionally, a lot of research goes into commercially frozen food’s packaging. Many frozen products can go directly from freezer to microwave, oven or even a pot of boiling water.  Packaging must also consider the constraints of the home freezer knowing that its average temperature is around 0° or a bit below.

Although cold temperatures like 0°F or below puts a temporary hold on many biological processes microorganisms are not always killed off during freezing.  It is important to recognize that proper care must be taken preparing some frozen foods.

In addition, when foods are frozen for extended periods of time or are frozen improperly, freezer burn can begin to develop on the food’s surface. Freezer burn happens when moisture in the outer layers of the food evaporates into the dry freezer air, leaving behind empty pockets in the tissue of the food.  Freezer burn on meat is visible as brownish-white discolorations and on other foods dry, white spots. While it is not harmful to eat, freezer burn can adversely affect the flavor and texture of food.

It is easy to prevent freezer burn.  One can easily reduce the food’s exposure to air through the use of correct wrap before storing food in the freezer. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html) has excellent information on how the use of proper packaging materials can protect the flavor, color, moisture content and nutritive value of foods from the arid climate of the freezer.

Frozen food packaging depends on the type of food to be frozen. In general, packaging materials must have certain characteristics:

  • Moisture vapor resistant
  • Durable and leakproof
  • Not become brittle and crack at low temperatures
  • Resistant to oil, grease or water
  • Protect foods from absorption of off flavors or odors
  • Easy to seal
  • Easy to mark (with both content and date)

Additionally, a full freezer is the most energy efficient.

Posting a frozen foods inventory (list) near the freezer and keeping it up to date by listing the foods and dates of freezing is helpful.  Remembering also to rotate foods in the freezer.  An easy acronym for this is FIFOFirst-In, First-Out. In other words, use the food stored the longest before you use the newest.

Moreover, purchase a thermometer if your freezer does not have an automatic temperature display.  A freezer should be maintained at a temperature of 0°F or lower. At higher temperatures, foods lose quality much faster.

Most recently, a woman from North Carolina, Sheila Pulanco Russell, is credited with bringing a lifehack to the masses with her “how to” Facebook posting.  I think it is a good thing to know.  It is called the One Cup Tip. All it entails is putting a cup of water in the freezer, freezing it solid, and then placing a quarter on top of it and leaving it in the freezer.

When you return from an extended out of town trip you know if your power was out. It the quarter is sitting at the bottom of the cup you know your power was off too long and that your frozen food is not safe to eat.  If the coin is in the middle of the cup, the outage was fairly short and your food should be good (frozen foods that still have their crystals are safe to eat and refreeze). If the coin is still on the top, then there was no power outage or just a quick one and all is well. Note: no one wants food poisoning, so if you are in doubt, throw the food out.

Have questions?  Don’t hesitate to call your local county extension agent from the Cooperative Extension office; they’re free!

 

Heidi Copeland

Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, III

University of Florida IFAS Extension

615 Paul Russell Road

Tallahassee, Florida 32301

hbc@ufl.edu

(850) 606-5203

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For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Monday, April 15, 2019

For MOST Taxpayers, Federal Income Tax Returns are due on Monday, April 15, 2019

The Internal Revenue Service has announced that they began taking and processing tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and refunds to taxpayers will be issued as scheduled.

Nevertheless, many software companies and tax professionals are accepting income tax return information now and promising instant refunds.   KNOW that money being promised comes with a charge. As they say, there is NO free lunch, especially around tax time.

For taxpayers who usually file early in the year and have all of the needed documentation there is no need to wait to file. Taxpayers should file when they are ready to submit a complete and accurate tax return. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically to minimize errors and for faster refunds.

The filing deadline to submit 2018 tax returns is Monday, April 15, 2019 for most taxpayers. Because of the Patriots’ Day holiday on April 15 in Maine and Massachusetts and the Emancipation Day holiday on April 16 in the District of Columbia, taxpayers who live in Maine or Massachusetts have until April 17, 2019 to file their returns.

Also, because of the change required by Congress in the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act, the IRS is required to hold refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) until February 15, 2018. The IRS wants taxpayers to be aware it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. Factoring in weekends and the President’s Day holiday, the IRS cautions that many affected taxpayers may not have actual access to their income tax refunds until the end of February 2019. The IRS must hold the entire refund — even the portion not associated with the EITC and ACTC.

It is amazing to know that the IRS issues more than 9 out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.   Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund. However, it is possible your tax return may require additional review and take longer. Where’s My Refund? has the most up to date information available about your refund. The tool is updated no more than once a day so you do not need to check more often.

Your refund should only be deposited directly into accounts that are in your own name; your spouse’s name or both if it is a joint account. No more than three electronic refunds can be deposited into a single financial account or pre-paid debit card. Taxpayers who exceed the limit will receive an IRS notice and a paper refund.

Whether you file electronically or on paper, direct deposit gives you safe access to your refund faster than a paper check.

IRS logo with Eagle symbol

IRS

hand holding fanned out US dollars

Money

Adapted from: https://www.irs.gov/help/ita