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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Clean: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.
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.
Blueberries were once known as star berries because of the pointy flower calyxes on top of the berries. Blueberries have grown in North America for thousands of years. Native Americans dried the berries in the sun and crushed them into a powder to be used as a rub on meats. Whole berries were added to soups, stews, and to other ingredients to make a pudding call sautauthig.
Blueberries from a Central Florida hobbiest farm. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.uthig.
Luscious, sweet blueberries have a nutrition profile. Blueberries are low in fat and a good source of fiber and vitamin C. Blueberries are very high in antioxidants.
Look for fresh blueberries that are firm, dry, plump, smooth skinned, and relatively free from leaves and stems. Color should be deep purple blue to blue-black; reddish berries are not ripe but may be used in cooking.
Blueberries will keep a day or two at room temperature. They will remain fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Cover berries to prevent dehydration. Reddish berries will be sour but will ripen if placed in a container with a few ripe berries and left uncovered at room temperature for a day or two.
Fresh berries should be stored covered in the refrigerator and washed just before using. Use berries within 10 days of picking or purchasing.
Blueberries are easily frozen for later use. Freeze unwashed blueberries in airtight, resealable plastic bags. If thawed, keep refrigerated and use within 3 days.
Next time you are shopping in the produce department, add fresh blueberries to your shopping cart and enjoy the delicious flavor of the berries.
BLUEBERRY PANCAKE STACKS
Vegetable oil for cooking
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
Dash of nutmeg
In a mixing bowl, stir together the milk, oil, and egg. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Add dry ingredients to the milk and stir just until mixed (batter should be slightly lumpy). Gently fold in the berries. Spoon the batter onto a griddle or pan greased with vegetable oil and heated to medium-hot (dollops should be about the size of a silver dollar). Let the batter cook until the tops of the pancakes begin to bubble, then flip and cook until done.
Stack and serve immediately with softened margarine and warm syrup.
Makes about eighteen 2 ½” pancakes.
Combine 1 pint of blueberries and 1 cup of maple syrup in a saucepan.
Heat to boiling, then lower the heat and simmer until most of the fruit has burst. Remove from heat and use a fork to smoosh the berries. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
July is one of my favorite months of the year. Summer is in full swing, school is out, temperatures are soaring, and we celebrate Independence Day, as well as my birthday! While all those things are great, my favorite part about the month is celebrating National Ice Cream Month all month long! Who wouldn’t love a cold, sweet treat on a hot, summer day?
Did you know that one 1/2 cup serving of regular ice cream is considered a good source of calcium and phosphorous, containing 10% of the recommended daily value? While ice cream can be part of a balanced diet, its high calorie and fat content are something to consider. Ice cream is good in moderation, something I know I struggle with.
Cold, Delicious, and so many flavors! Photo source: Lyndsey B.
One of my favorite things about ice cream is the options are endless. Not only are there numerous flavors to choose from, but there are other options for how it can be made or served. “Add-ins” such as berries, chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and whipped cream can change how the base ice cream tastes. Some of the most popular flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, cookie dough, strawberry, butter pecan, etc., do not need any add-ins though.
Types of ice cream also can be broken down into different categories:
Regular ice cream is a frozen food product made from dairy products with at least 10% milk fat.
Light ice cream contains at least 50% less fat or 33% fewer calories than regular ice cream.
Low-fat ice cream contains no more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Nonfat ice cream contains less that 0.5 gram of fat per serving.
Frozen custard, also known as French ice cream, contains a minimum of 10% milk fat as well as 1.4% egg yolk solids.
Sherbets have a milk fat content only between 1-2%.
Sorbet, also known as water ices, are similar to sherbet, but do not contain dairy.
Frozen yogurt has a mixture of dairy ingredients such as milk or nonfat milk that has been cultured, as well as other ingredients for sweetening and flavoring.
Enjoy a scoop of ice cream in honor of National Ice Cream Month. Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
Since the kids are home from school, I am always looking for activities for them. Check out the recipe and instructions below for how to make your own ice cream in a bag at home!
3 Zip-top bags: 2 quart-size and 1 gallon-size
¼ c. cream
¼ c. milk
1 Tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
4-5 c. ice
1/3 c. salt (rock salt or large granules works the best)
Toppings of your choice (sprinkles, chocolate syrup, fruits, whipped cream, etc.)
A cool and refreshing sweet treat Photo Source: Angela Hinkle
Bag it! In a quart Zip-top bag, combine cream, milk, sugar and vanilla. Push out excess air and seal. (Double bag it to avoid spillage)
Ice it! Add the ice and salt into the gallon zip-top bag. Then place the smaller, sealed bag into the ice.
Shake it! Seal the bag and shake vigorously, 7 to 10 minutes. Do this until the ice cream has hardened. The more you shake, the quicker it hardens.
Remove it! Remove the smaller bag from the big bag. Throw the big bag away.
Top it! Either eat the ice cream out of the bag or spoon it into a bowl. Add your favorite toppings and enjoy!