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!

Living Well Resources for Times of Disaster

Living Well Resources for Times of Disaster

Hurricane season is June 1 to November 30, with peak season in September and October.  And hurricanes are not the only disasters we have to contend with.  Living Well in the Panhandle provides the trusted Disaster Resources you need so you know what to do to keep your family and you living well.

Disaster Resources

Below are helpful resources for preparing for and handling the aftermath of a disaster.  For more information, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

Food Safety
Is My Food Safe to Eat?
Keeping Your Food Safe During Emergencies:  Power Outages, Floods, and Fires
USDA – A Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety-Severe Storms and Hurricanes Guide
Well Water Safety
Well Water Testing

Housing
Search for an open emergency shelter near you by texting SHELTER and your zip code to 4FEMA (43362) Example:  SHELTER 01234

lightning storm with palm trees

Lightning storm. Photo Source: UF/IFAS

Cleaning Up After a Hurricane
Safety Comes First!
Get the Right Tree Care Professional
Hiring an Arborist – Spanish
Cleaning Mold After a Flood
Hurricanes and Mosquitoes
Mosquito Control Tips for Homeowners

Money Management/Consumer Issues
Avoiding Fraud and Deception
Six Steps in Making an Insurance Claim
Replacing Lost or Damaged Documents
FEMA – Individual Disaster Assistance
FEMA – Interim Housing Resources
USDA Farm Service Agency Disaster Assistance
Disaster Recovery Loans
Tax Relief After a Disaster
Complaints – If you have a complaint about disaster relief assistance, contact the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s Office at 1-800-323-8603.

Family Health and Wellness
Call the Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 for free counseling – 1-800-985-5990 (TTY) 1-800-846-8517
OR text TalkWithUs to 66746
Mental Health for Adults
Mental Health for Kids
Mental Health for Adolescents

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Practices to Minimize Flooding Damage to Commercial Vegetable Production
Florida Panhandle Agriculture
Florida Panhandle Agriculture Facebook

Proactive Preparation – National Preparedness Month

Proactive Preparation – National Preparedness Month

September is National Preparedness Month, so right now is a great time to think about how you can be prepared, and then act on those thoughts and get ready for an emergency! This article will help get you thinking, give you some great starting points, and provide resources to turn to.

Emergencies Have a Wide Horizon

While hurricanes are likely the first thing panhandle residents think of when it comes to emergencies, are you prepared for others? Fires? Floods? Hail? Lightning? Tsunamis? Drought? Heat waves? Tornadoes? Possible winter storms? Marine oil spills? Major sewage problems? Other life-threatening medical disasters? Being prepared for a hurricane like Michael is vital to panhandle life, but it’s certainly wise to consider other possible disasters and to be prepared for anything.

Being prepared for an emergency can greatly reduce the stress it causes. (Photo source: Stephanie Herzog)

There are also so many ways to prepare for emergencies that it can be overwhelming to think about. Do you have sufficient food storage? What about clean water for your whole family (pets included)? How are you going to wash your clothes? How do you purify water? What if your toilet isn’t usable, what do you do? Can you safely start a fire if there’s no heat? What about shelter? How do you stop a gaping wound? How do you turn off the water to your house? What is the best evacuation route? How do you contact someone when there’s no power? Are those potentially life-saving prescriptions easily accessible? Where is the deed to your house, the title to your car, and your family’s vital identification documents? You’re filing an insurance claim, and you have no idea what brand your Smart TV was, where you bought it, how old it was, or how much it cost – what do you do?

Preparation Brings Relief

Have all of these questions got you thinking, but perhaps exhausted you? Now imagine that you could answer every one of these questions confidently – how do you feel? A weight lifted? Stress is a central source of fatigue for us all, and with it comes a variety of problems – mental, physical, financial, and social. Think of a time when you were prepared for the expected or unexpected – was your stress considerably less? Most likely it was. Preparation is a positive, proactive behavior that gives foresight into the unknown. Procrastination tends to be the default within a human’s nature, so being prepared doesn’t necessarily sound like a fun thing to do with your time. But it will be a game-changer for your life when the time comes that you have to react swiftly and decisively in the event of an emergency. The investment is well worth it!

However, you don’t have to do it alone. Thankfully, there are many professionals here to help you! Here are a few starter tips to aid you in the beginning of your preparation:

  1. Human Life. First and foremost, in an emergency the highest priority is that of preserving human life. Material objects can be replaced – a life cannot be. Always keep this in mind while preparing for and responding to emergencies!
  2. Sustenance Storage. Have adequate food and water storage for your needs. Label your food and water storage with the month and year to help track expiration dates.
    • Canned and dehydrated foods are great for storage, and many items have a long shelf life.
    • Remember one gallon of water per person/pet per day – store as much fresh water as you can! You can only survive a few days without water, but weeks without food.
    • Plan in your near future to eat and drink the food and water supply that are nearing expiration and then replace the storage with fresh sustenance.
  3. 72-Hour Kit. Have a 72-hour kit for each member of your family, including pets. Backpacks or duffel bags are ideal grab-and-go containers. Keep a 72-hour kit both in your home and in your car.
  4. Review Annually. Pick one Saturday a year as your “emergency preparedness day” where you review all of your food and water storage, medical supplies and prescriptions, fire extinguishers, and all other emergency materials.
    • Make an inventory and then head to the store to replace any expired or missing items.
    • Clean and organize your storage space and emergency kits so everything is accessible.
  5. Evacuation Plan. Have an evacuation plan and put it on the calendar to practice it with your family – and even neighbors – every three months.

Start now to be prepared!

Additional Resources

Sources

Jaffe, E. (2013, March.) Why wait? The science behind procrastination. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/why-wait-the-science-behind-procrastination

Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination: A meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65

What grade would your kitchen get?

What grade would your kitchen get?

If you are anything like me, you pride yourself on keeping your kitchen safe and clean. Everything is tidy and in its place, there is no expired food in the pantry or refrigerator, and all the appliances are clean and free of debris.

But really. How clean is your kitchen? Out of curiosity, I recently graded the cleanliness of my kitchen using this handy checklist from Rutgers University. And while I received a pretty good grade, there were a few things I discovered I was not doing correctly. As a food safety instructor, I was ashamed of myself!

paper towel dispenser

The safest and most sanitary way to dry your hands is with disposable paper towels. Never use a dishtowel for anything other than drying dishes. (Photo source: Samantha Kennedy)

The top five things I overlooked are:

  1. While the inside of my microwave oven was clean and free of debris, I failed to pay enough attention to the door. It was a little grubby. While it may not seem important to keep it clean since it does not come in contact with food, gunky buildup from food and other sources can harbor bacteria. Be sure to always keep the door clean!
  2. I have a bad habit of using the same dishtowel to dry my hands that I use for other functions in the kitchen. The best food safety practice is to either use paper towels to dry your hands or have a designated towel for hand drying. In fact, dishtowels should only be used to dry dishes, not to wipe down countertops or clean up spills.
  3. While I hate to admit it, I have sometimes resorted to thawing foods on the counter when I have realized that one of the ingredients for that night’s dinner is still in the freezer. THIS IS A VERY UNSAFE PRACTICE! Thawing foods at room temperature (i.e. on the counter) exposes foods to the Temperature Danger Zone, which can encourage the growth of pathogens. The Temperature Danger Zone is the range of temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees F. Keep cold foods below 41 degrees and hot foods above 135 degrees to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. There are only 4 acceptable methods to safely thaw foods:
  • In the refrigerator.
  • Under running water. (NOTE: The water temperature must always be less than 70 degrees F.)
  • In the microwave. (NOTE: The food must be cooked immediately after thawing.)
  • During the cooking process.
  1. I do not actually store a lot of leftovers. As a single person, I generally prepare small meals that can be eaten in one sitting. However, on those occasions when I do have leftovers, I do not always label them with the date. Leftovers stored in the freezer should be labeled with what it is and when it was put into the freezer. Refrigerated leftovers should not be kept longer than 7 days. Frozen leftovers should not be kept longer than 6 months.
  2. My cats are allowed in the kitchen and even on the countertops. While I always sanitize the surfaces before I prepare food, the best food safety practice is to prevent pets from coming into contact with countertops and other food contact surfaces.

How do you think your kitchen would fare? I encourage you to take a few minutes to grade your own kitchen to make sure you are doing everything you can to keep your kitchen as clean and sanitary as possible.

For more information about food and kitchen safety, please visit https://www.foodsafety.gov/.

Summer Local Eats – Supporting Farmers’ Markets

Summer Local Eats – Supporting Farmers’ Markets

Eating fresh, local produce is a great way to be healthier, save money, and support the local economy. (Photo source: Stephanie Herzog)

Summer Local Eats – Supporting Farmers’ Markets

Summer is a great time of year to eat locally grown fresh produce! There are many options rich in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and nutrients. Farmers work hard to provide life-sustaining sustenance for society, and consumers supporting their efforts at the local level has an array of health and economic benefits.

Fresh summer crops in the panhandle abound. Produce that is ready this time of year includes peppers, cucumber, peanuts, okra, squash, corn, and watermelon. Spice up a summer salad with fresh cucumbers or peppers or try tasty yellow meat watermelon for a chill and nutritious summertime snack! Local, fresh produce is a healthy alternative to processed foods or produce found in grocery stores. Produce sold by local farmers is freshly picked and because you know where it comes from, it is both safer to eat and keeps for longer periods of time than grocery store produce, which often has traveled long distances, is seldom inspected, and is kept in storage before finally being put out on the floor for purchase.

Supporting your farmers’ market benefits both you and your community in many ways. Purchasing from local farmers and farmers’ markets is both financially sound for you and is supportive of the community’s economy – the money changes hands locally and creates and maintains jobs. Not only does it benefit the economy, it also fosters a stronger sense of community unity and trusted relationships, which is vital to any successful society and local economy. For example, farmers will sometimes offer a “u-pick” program, depending on the crop, where you go to their farm and pick what produce you want right from the field! You get to keep half, and the farmer keeps half. This is a great cooperative effort that benefits everyone – you get free, fresh produce, and the farmer gets free labor. Who doesn’t love a win-win scenario?

Jackson County farmers’ markets information. Residents in Jackson County have a wonderful farmers’ market in the heart of downtown Marianna, located at Madison Street Park (2881 Madison St.) that goes throughout the summer every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning from 7am-12pm. After September, the market will continue through the fall, winter, and spring each Saturday at the same time. Tuesday and Thursday have farmer vendors only, while Saturday includes a variety of vendors, such as arts and crafts, plants and flowers, jams, jellies, honey, etc. This market also offers a raffle when you purchase items from vendors! For any questions about the market or how to join as a vendor, visit their Facebook page or contact Tony Mayo, the current farmers’ market manager or Terry Johnson, the public relations manager for the market. His number is 850-592-5114. It’s a good idea to bring cash or checks, but some vendors do accept credit and debit cards.

Want to find a farmers’ market near you or learn more about the benefits and best practices shopping at a farmers’ market?

Come experience the buzz and benefits of the farmers’ market!

Sources:

Local farmers at the Marianna City Farmers’ Market

Wang, Q., Evans, E. A., Pikarsky, M., & Olczyk, T. Consuming local vegetables from our local growers. UF IFAS publication HS1251.

Tune Up Your Lifestyle

Tune Up Your Lifestyle

Eating healthy is not something that just happens by going on a particular diet. In fact, the best kind of diet is where the right choices are made, and it becomes a way of life. Sometimes we need to know some ways to change the bad habits we have developed. There is no ‘quick fix’.

Class working out with weights, MyPlate, fat, and muscle in foreground

Tune Up Your Lifestyle
Photo Source: UF/IFAS

With today’s fast-paced lifestyles sometimes we feel we don’t have the time to do the things we know we should. For instance, to get more exercise, do things like park a distance from the store when you go shopping, walk up and down the stairs instead of taking the elevator, walk to lunch, or even turn up the speed on regular activities you perform around the house.

When grocery shopping choose foods from the basic food groups (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and reduced-fat dairy products) to round out a healthy meal plan.

Convenience foods are a part of today’s lifestyle, but they often lack nutritional quality, texture, and flavor. Preparing foods at home can be healthy and economical. You can boost nutrition and flavor by adding fresh herbs, spices, and aromatic vegetables to the meal menu.

Foods and beverages high in sugar add empty calories to the diet and contribute no nutritional value. Read labels to determine the amount of added sugar in food products. Choose lower calorie beverages.

Experiment with new food items. Try adding different fruits, vegetables, or grains to your diet. For example, try tropical fruits such as mango, guava, papaya, or grains as quinoa, barley, or millet, to add vitamins, minerals and fiber to the diet.

Before you go out to eat, don’t starve yourself. Drink water before the meal to avoid overeating or eat a snack before dinner and you won’t be tempted to overeat.

When socializing don’t meet at eating places. When you do dine out, cut out fried main dishes or ones with heavy sauces and gravies. Eat smaller portions and don’t go back for seconds. Order low-fat foods when possible. However, keep in mind that you too need to allow for indulgence along the way.

Be active! Physical activity has health benefits. Being physically active not only burns calories, it aids in physical strength, and cardiovascular health. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend being physically active at least 150 minutes a week for adults. (https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/).

Chances are, along with a healthy diet and regular physical activity, your tune up will result in living a healthy lifestyle.

https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Consumer-Resources/Buy-Fresh-From-Florida/Tropical-Fruit

https://www.tropicalfruitgrowers.com/

 

For further information, contact:

Dorothy C. Lee, C.F.C.S.

UF/IFAS Extension Escambia County

3740 Stefani Road

Cantonment, FL 32533-7792

(850) 475-5230

dclee@ufl.edu