Source: The Chestnut Growers' Information Book
Chestnuts have been grown in Australia for over 100 years. The first recorded plantings of chestnut trees in Australia were in the 1850s and 1860s during the Gold Rush. It is widely believed that they were brought in by the Chinese with some of those trees still growing today. Other trees in northern Victoria were brought in from Europe and are around 120 years old and up to 60 metres tall. Most commercial plantings have occurred in the last twenty years.
Chestnuts have a sweet and nutty flavour. They have been part of the staple diet of Southern Europe, Turkey and Asia for centuries, and are now gaining popularity in multi-cultural Australia. The texture of chestnuts is like a firm baked potato, quite unlike other nuts which are crunchy.
Chestnuts are classed as temperate nuts and are most suited to deep well-drained soils. They need cold winter temperatures and warm to hot summers. They are a unique fresh product more like a fruit than a nut.
Chestnuts, unlike other nuts, contain very little fat or oil. They mainly contain complex carbohydrate (50%) and water (40-45%), with small amounts of protein (5-10%). Until the introduction of the potato, the chestnut was a major source of complex carbohydrate in Europe. Alexander the Great and the Romans planted chestnuts as they travelled across Europe on their various campaigns.
Traditionally, chestnuts are roasted over an open fire or in the oven (slit first and roasted on medium heat for 25-30 minutes, turning over after 15 minutes). They may also be cooked in the microwave, sandwich maker, hot plate or frying pan.
Their distinctive flavour and texture can give a unique taste to a range of dishes from starters to sweets. Chestnut soup is a winter classic and other equally delicious options are stir fries, casseroles, stuffings for meat and poultry, pastas, cakes and desserts.