Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Raising Urban Foragers

I would love to take a class in foraging, which is more of a hunt for wild edibles than gleaning is.

In the suburbs, "urban foraging" is when your elementary school has a chestnut tree on the front lawn, dropping two dozen glossy nuts a day, and all we have to do is collect (gleaning), cut a slit into each one, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. After shelling, a little olive oil and salt is a nice seasoning.

In fact, I bet the kids will get to school 15 minutes early today just to have a chance to scour the ground under the tree for today's harvest.

Vitamin-C Nuts?
Chestnuts, unlike other nuts and seeds, are relatively low in calories; contain less fat but are rich in protein, minerals, vitamins and phyto-nutrients that benefit health. They are exceptionally rich in Vitamin C -- one cup provides more than 70% of the daily recommended amount. They are also an excellent source of folic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, B-complex vitamins. And they are gluten-free.

Early in the 20th century, the once mighty American chestnut tree was mostly wiped out by fungus chestnut blight, imported to the US on Asian chestnut trees. Once 4 billion strong and an icon of East Coast forests, the American chestnut trees from Maine to Mississippi, by 1950, had mostly disappeared. Although chestnuts continue to be sold in the United States, those that are offered by street vendors, for example, tend to come from Spain and Italy. Many of the nut-producing trees we see in our neighborhoods today are Chinese chestnut trees, resistant to the blight.

The American Chestnut Foundation is an excellent informative source, with tips for collecting and storing to enjoy worm-free nuts:
4) There are worms in my nuts!  How do I get rid of them?
The worms in chestnuts are larvae of the chestnut weevil. There are two species--the 'lesser' and the 'greater.' Very few pesticides are labeled for treatment of chestnut weevil, so the best way to control their proliferation is through good sanitary practices. Every fall, be certain to collect all burs, nuts, and leaf matter from under chestnut trees and burn them. Try to collect nuts within one or two days of falling from the bur (if not before).

As soon as possible after harvest, treat nuts by putting them in 120'F water for 20 minutes.
If you’re going to eat the chestnuts, store them fresh in a grocery bag in the refrigerator for up to two months. Sweeten fresh chestnuts by leaving them at room temperature for two days (starches will convert to sugar).