It’s time to honor the humble chestnut on Roast Chestnuts Day, December 14. As it’s the season to be jolly, Roast Chestnuts Day comes at a perfect time for the holiday season. Roasted chestnuts often fill the air with their earthy scent as they’re cooked by street vendors during December. Not only this, but the delicious snack keeps the cold away for those in the Northern Hemisphere. While the day is a relatively new celebration, the tradition of roasting chestnuts has been around for a long time. When they are roasted, the natural sweetness of the nut is revealed, delighting our taste buds!
We have a lot of cultures in history to thank for learning how to roast chestnuts, bringing us the Roast Chestnuts Day we have today! Chestnuts hail from a tree indigenous to the Americas and Asia. There is a multitude of species that mankind has been harvesting for centuries. The Native Americans had been consuming them long before the first European settlers arrived. The Europeans, in turn, were introduced to the chestnut from Sardis. Sardis was an ancient capital, which is now part of eastern Turkey. It was an important city of the Persian Empire until it fell to Alexander the Great in 334 B.C.
Alexander the Great, one of the world’s greatest military generals, together with the Romans, planted chestnuts throughout Europe. The trees were spread throughout the mountainous Mediterranean regions where certain grains could not grow well. Chestnuts became a staple food source for locals and a valuable item in bartering. The ancient Greeks ground them into flour and made chestnut bread. Some species of chestnut trees were grown for their wood as well.
The United States produces only 1% of the world’s chestnut production. China is the world’s leader, even though most American chestnuts are imported from Italy. American chestnuts were decimated by a deadly blight, which ravaged the trees during the early 1900s. Approximately four billion chestnut trees succumbed, and their recovery has been mediocre.
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