It’s Chestnut Season!

It’s Chestnut Season!

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.

Chestnuts are low in fat and rich in vitamins and minerals. Photo source: Heidi Copeland, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County

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.

Bon Appetit!

WOW! Your Guests with Holiday Baking

WOW! Your Guests with Holiday Baking

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.

Baking favorite treats can become a family holiday tradition.
Photo source: Heidi Copeland, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County

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):

  • Beat
  • Blend
  • Cream
  • Cut in
  • Fold in
  • Grease and flour
  • Mix
  • Whip

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:

Ingredients                                                                        Substitute

  • 1/2 cup butter/margarine                                                         1/4 cup applesauce & 1/4 cup canola oil
  • Sweetened Condensed Milk                                                     Low-fat sweetened condensed milk, low-fat evaporated milk
  • Egg (1)                                                                                           2 egg whites or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Evaporated milk                                                                         Evaporated skim milk
  • 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.

Heidi Copeland, CFCS

Extension Agent

Leon County Extension

Dorothy C. Lee, CFCS

Extension Agent

Escambia County Extension

Persimmons: Food of the Gods

Persimmons: Food of the Gods

Persimmons are a versatile fruit. Photo source: Heidi Copeland, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County

Have you ever tried a persimmon?

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: Holiday Ahead!

Caution: Holiday Ahead!

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.)

Simple foods can be delicious and healthier.
UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

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.

Guest

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.

Have You Ever Thought About Entering Baked Goods in the North Florida Fair?

Every year, King Arthur Baking Company hosts baking contests in every corner of the country at county, regional, and state fairs.  The North Florida Fair is no exception – King Arthur Baking Company is hosting a baking contest with cool prizes. 

The name King Arthur stands for attributes of purity, loyalty, honesty, superior strength, and a dedication to a higher purpose (yes, the Arthurian legend, King Arthur). For over two centuries, King Arthur Flour has been providing baker’s flour. In 1790, King Arthur Flour began importing flour to Boston from Britain. King Arthur Flour has gone from using imported wheat to using USA-grown wheat – flour that, two centuries ago, was sold in wooden barrels to flour sold in pre-weighed bags at retail stores.

In 1996, to ensure King Arthur Flour would remain in good and caring hands after their retirement, owners Frank and Brinna Sands decided to sell the company to its employees. The original tenets of King Arthur flour are still intact… although the name of the company has been changed to King Arthur Baking Company, now selling dozens of flours along with baking supplies and equipment. The logo changed a bit too, but the flour remains a favorite of bakers everywhere.

The North Florida Fair (and King Arthur Baking Company) encourages bakers of all levels to enter the King Arthur portion of the baking contests using King Arthur flour and a recipe from King Arthur Baking Company. 

Banana bread is a tasty way to use overripe bananas.

Banana bread has been in the American recipe rolodex for nearly a century. Banana bread was originally promoted to encourage the use of chemical leaveners, baking powder and baking soda, and to use precious food, old bananas.

The quick bread recipe chosen for the North Florida Fair is not only easy to bake but is nutritious and delicious as well as planet-forward. Using VERY ripe bananas and ingredients mostly on hand is an undertaking in being sustainable. Those errant, aging bananas that more often than not get tossed in the composting bin can be used in this banana bread. In fact, the older, the better! Your wayward bananas can be frozen, thawed, and used in this banana bread.

Quick breads are easy. The King Arthur Banana Bread recipe only uses one bowl, and a few other measuring and stirring tools, plus flour, sugar, leaveners, and a few flavorings that are typical in most homes. 

Show off your skills at the King Arthur Baking Contest! There are generous prizes for youth and adults.

DEPARTMENT 520 – BAKED GOODS – North Florida Fair – See CLASS 31 KING ARTHUR FLOUR at the bottom of the Baked Goods page for complete rules and recipe

2022 King Arthur Bread Company Baking Contest Prizes

Adult Prizes:

  • First place $75 gift card
  • Second place $50 gift card
  • Third place $25 gift card

Youth Prizes:

  • First place $40 gift card
  • Second place $25 gift card
  • Third place King Arthur Tote Bag

Let’s get baking and see you at the Fair!

September is Food Safety Education Month

September is Food Safety Education Month

Keeping your family’s food safe is critical for our health – that’s why September is designated as Food Safety Education Month.

Foodborne illness can occur when we eat contaminated food. In order to keep our food safe, we must follow safe food handling methods when storing and cooking foods.

Following proper food handling principles helps keep our foods safe from the contaminants that can cause foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends these 4 steps to protect your family from foodborne illness: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

woman washing handsClean: Wash Hands, Utensils, and Surfaces Frequently

  • Wash your hands and kitchen surfaces before you prepare any food. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and warm water.
  • Remember: Germs can survive on surfaces in your kitchen, including on your hands, counters, utensils, and on cutting boards.

Separate: Avoid Cross-contamination

  • Cross contamination is common in the kitchen. Cross contamination is caused by transferring dangerous bacteria from raw foods to other foods and surfaces.  
  • Remember: Separate any raw meat, along with poultry, seafood, and eggs and use separate, individual cutting boards. Make sure to wash cutting boards with hot soapy water in between uses.

Cook: Make Sure to Cook All Foods to the Right Temperature

  • Cook food to the proper internal temperature to eliminate germs and bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Use a calibrated food thermometer to get an accurate temperature reading.
  • Bacteria can rapidly multiply when food is held at room temperature.
  • Remember: The Temperature Danger Zone is between 40°F and 140°F. This is the temperature range that best supports the growth of microorganisms like bacteria.

Chill: Properly Refrigerate and Freeze Foods

  • Keep your refrigerator at 39°F or below and your freezer at or below 0˚F.
  • Perishable foods, especially frozen meat, should never be thawed on the countertop or in hot water. Leaving meat out on the counter or in the sink while it defrosts allows the meat to reach temperatures higher than 40 degrees, the Danger Zone.
  • Remember: It is important to refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours, or within 1 hour if food has been held at 90˚F or higher.

Anyone can get foodborne illness; however, older adults, children younger than 5, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system may be more likely to get sick from a foodborne illness.

To learn more about food safety, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/keep-food-safe.html.

The UF/IFAS Electronic Data Information Set or EDIS is a great place to find more information about food safety: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/food_safety.