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 display of fall foliage, and a spinney cupule (bur) that holds and protects the chestnut during its growth and maturation. As the chestnut leaves fall, so does the bur. When the bur splits, it releases the chestnut.
The American chestnut was once a VERY important tree for food and forage as well as used as an impressive wood. Unfortunately, this important tree was largely decimated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease (Cryphonectria parasitica). It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century.
Scientific research 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, in this general region, there are several chestnut orchards.
The chestnut is classified as a nut… a dry drupe. However, the chestnut differs from most nuts, as it is low in lipid (fat), high in carbohydrates, and rich in vitamins and minerals. The mature chestnut (nut pulp) is more than 50 percent water; special care must be taken to extend its storage so it does not spoil. In fact, chestnuts are highly perishable and should be treated more as a fruit than a dry nut because of its high water content.
Locally, fresh chestnuts are generally only available in the fall. A good chestnut is 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 nuts are to be stored for eating, store fresh chestnuts 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 (no oil in the pan) or boiled • Frozen • Dried • Canned • Pureed • Ground into gluten-free flour
Cooking methods for chestnuts vary widely. Customarily, chestnuts are dry-roasted in the oven, over hot coals, on top of the stove in a skillet, or in the microwave. With the introduction of the Air Fryer and the Instant Pot, the internet is teeming with chestnut recipes for these appliances, too. Whatever method you choose, whether the chestnut is pureed, added to soups, stews, stuffings, and vegetable dishes or even turned into a decadent dessert, the chestnut is a tasty treat.
Traditional Dry Roasting Method for Chestnuts 1. Heat a skillet on top of the stove or preheat the oven to 425° F 2. Rinse the chestnuts in cold water. (Rinsing removes any bird droppings, etc….) 3. Using a sharp knife, score the round side of each chestnut nut with an “X” (the chestnut is FULL of moisture, the “X” keeps the chestnut from exploding due to expansion and makes it easier to peel). 4. Using a roasting pan or skillet, place the chestnuts in the oven, over an open fire, or on top of the stove, flat side down. 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. Wrap in a dish cloth and massage a bit. 8. When cool enough to handle, peel the shells off the chestnuts. 9. Enjoy warm or cold or added to your favorite recipe.
The internet contains a wealth of chestnut recipes. Pick one out to try.
The 2022 flu season is running at full speed and many of us will be spending more time inside due to colder temperatures, traveling, and gathering throughout the holiday season, which means we have a much better chance of coming in contact with people who may have the flu.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths in the U.S. each year. The flu can vary from mild to severe, so be sure to protect you and your family appropriately. Along with being vaccinated, other ways to avoid the flu include staying away from people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes by coughing and sneezing into your elbows, not your hands, washing your hands often with soap and water, and not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Be Aware of Flu Symptoms:
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Let’s Talk Facts About the Flu Vaccine:
It can keep you from getting sick with flu.
It can reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
It can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization.
It is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions.
During pregnancy, the flu vaccine can help protect pregnant women from the flu during and after pregnancy and helps protect their infants from flu in their first few months of life.
It can be lifesaving to children.
Getting yourself vaccinated may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, senior adults, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.
It’s important to note it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
Only about 50% of Americans get an annual flu shot. There are so many more people that could prevent hospitalizations, severe flu illness, and even flu deaths if they would get vaccinated. The science is strong and the flu vaccine has been available to the public since 1945 after the U.S. government researched its safety and efficacy on the U.S. military. The flu vaccine is highly recommended by doctors for children, adults, and senior adults. If you have a chronic health condition, it is even more important for you to get your flu vaccine and protect yourself and your family from flu exposure. Let’s all consider getting the flu vaccine in 2022 and 2023 to prevent severe illness, save lives, and to have a happy, healthy New Year.
Holidays are truly worth celebrating! And baked goodies are but just one way many families observe not just the holiday but family traditions and what is special.
Nonetheless, baking brings on an anxiety that cooking does not. In fact, baking is considered a science by some, whereas cooking is an art. Baking requires fairly exact measurements, whereas cooking can be very forgiving. Adding or subtracting ingredients can be personal discretion. For the most part, you cannot do that with a baked product.
However, once you get the basics down, the world is your oyster… you can do anything you want.
In baking, every ingredient has a specific purpose. For example:
Flour gives the structure to baked products (there are many types of flour)
Eggs bind the ingredients and can add to the leavening (think fluffy egg whites) to baked goods
Baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are leaveners (make baked products rise)
Fats, like butter, margarine, oils, or lard, add both flavor and texture to baked products
Flavorings (like vanilla) enhance the flavor of a recipe… know that a little goes a long way
Sugar sweetens and adds to the texture of baked products (there are many types of sugar)
Salt enhances the flavor of all the other ingredients in a baked product
Know, too, that in baking, measuring is of utmost importance. Dry ingredients should be measured in a dry measuring cup and wet ingredients in a liquid measuring cup. Small amounts of both wet or dry ingredients can be measured with measuring spoons.
Using a kitchen scale is the most accurate way to measure both liquid and dry ingredients. Accuracy in baking is of utmost importance. That is what science is all about. Too much or too little of an ingredient can mean disaster.
Other helpful baking tips include understanding the processes. Terms in baking include (but are not limited to):
Grease and flour
And then there are other issues. Baking requires an oven that has temperature controls. Knowing how your oven works is quite important. It never hurts to purchase an oven thermometer to check temperature accuracy. Know the property of the pans you are using. Baking pans can be made from a variety of materials… aluminum, cast iron, ceramic, glass, stainless steel, etc. Each of these heats a bit differently.
Holiday baking recipes can be heavy on fat, sugar, and sodium. Baking holiday goodies can be done nutritiously. The secret is to bake with simple substitutions. It is possible to use healthier ingredients without sacrificing flavor.
Here are some ways to lighten up your holiday baking:
1/2 cup butter/margarine 1/4 cup applesauce & 1/4 cup canola oil
All purpose flour (1 cup) Whole wheat flour, cake flour, or self-rising flour
Salt Ground spices
Heavy cream (1 cup) 1 cup evaporated skim milk
Margarine (stick) 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
Sugar (1 cup granulated) Brown sugar or marketed sugar substitute
Buttermilk (1 cup) Milk and vinegar, milk and lemon juice, or sour cream and milk
Chocolate chips (1 cup) 1/2 cup mint chocolate chips, dried fruit, chopped nuts
Chart adapted from American Cancer Society
The Home Baking Association, https://www.homebaking.org/, is a great website to reference. Their main goal is to perpetuate generations of home bakers.
Don’t be intimidated by baking. With a bit of patience and practice, you will be able to WOW! your holiday guests with delectable treats that may become a family holiday tradition for generations to come.
Persimmons belong to the genus Diospyros. The name Diospyros is derived from the Greek Dio (divine), and the Pyros (grain), accurately interpreted to mean “divine food” or, as a more muddled understanding, “Food of the Gods.” Although it appears persimmons originated in China, they are more extensively cultivated in Japan. Persimmons grow well in our area, too, and as far north as Indiana and Ohio. California and Florida account for most commercial production in the United States.
There are two main types of persimmons, Fuyu and Hachiya. The main types differ in shape, too. Hachiyas are acorn-shaped and are ready when soft; before they are soft, the fruit is extremely astringent. The Fuyu is a firmer fruit, shaped like a medium sized, squat tomato and is a non-astringent cultivar. Both are delicious.
Persimmons are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and iron, are low in calories, and can be used a variety of ways. Persimmons can be eaten raw like an apple (the skin is edible) or peeled and cut, making for great additions to cereal, smoothies, salads, salsas, etc. Persimmons can be dried or frozen and are used in a variety of products from jams to tea, too.
Persimmons are perishable. They have a very short shelf-life at room temperature. What do persimmons taste like? Personally, I think they taste like honey, or sugar, sweet and delicious. Persimmons are seasonal. Seek out persimmons to try today. You will be glad you did!
Caution! Holidays may be hazardous, particularly when it comes to the waistline. (Forethought and forbearance now will pay dividends for your health in the new year.)
Often, people rationalize, saying “It’s holiday time. I’ll eat healthy later.” Later often means a cost in more pounds, clothes that don’t fit, and self-esteem that is bottomed out.
So, how do you cope and come out on top of holiday temptations? Here are some suggestions for host, hostess, or guest.
Host or Hostess
Keep the menu light when it comes to foods high in fat and sugar. Remember that simple foods can be delicious and healthier.
Provide low-calorie foods such as low-fat cottage cheese or yogurt dips with fresh vegetables or fruit dippers.
There is also a variety of low-calorie beverages that contain fewer calories than traditional beverages. Eggnog contains 340 calories a cup.
Don’t prepare more food than needed for a party. You may end up encouraging everyone to eat more so you won’t have leftovers.
Make baked goods and other goodies in various sizes so guests can choose what they want. Remember, in many cases, you will still have a tasty product if you use about ¼ cup less sugar in many cookie recipes.
Don’t be offended if someone refuses food. Most likely, the reason is not your cooking, but their own resolve to maintain a diet.
Plan activities that use energy such as outdoor caroling or games. Holidays are an active time, but we seldom get enough exercise to offset extra calories.
Decide your food limits before you arrive at a party.
Play a game with yourself. See how long you can wait before you take that first nibble from the hors d’oeuvre tray.
Use a smaller plate.
Don’t stand next to the food table.
Let one drink last the entire evening.
Be aware of emotional eating.
Don’t go to the party hungry.
To curb holiday eating, eat a balanced diet with healthy choices and get plenty of exercise. Overeating doesn’t have to be part of your holiday celebration.
My name is Melanie Southerland, and I am the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for Jefferson County. I started in my position on August 1, 2022. I come from Taylor County, FL where I grew up and still live today. I love living and working in a rural community. I bring my passion for health and wellness promotion and knowledge of social determinants of health, aiming to reach all areas where people live, work, play, and worship. Health is comprehensive; it includes physical health, emotional health, mental health, and financial health. In Jefferson, I will be focusing on providing education and resources for improving healthy lifestyles and food safety practices as well as improving economic well-being.
I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Science and Child Development and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Florida State University. I bring experience from working with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program for the last five years where I served as the Nutrition Program Manager for five rural counties in northeast Florida.
When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my husband and our family. I enjoy walking my dogs, reading, and fishing!