Christmas would not be the same without roasted chestnuts! There are always stalls selling ready-roasted chestnuts on the markets during December, or you can buy them and roast your own on an open fire.
The Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa, family Fagaceae), also known as the Spanish Chestnut, Portuguese Chestnut or European chestnut, is a species of chestnut originally native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor. It is a medium-sized to large deciduous tree attaining a height of 20-35mtr with a trunk often 2mtr in diameter. The oblong, boldly toothed leaves are 16-28cm long and 5-9cm broad. The flowers are 10-20cm long, upright catkins, the male flowers in the upper part and female flowers in the lower part. They appear in late June to July, and by autumn, the female flowers develop into spiny cupules containing 3-7 brownish nuts that are shed during October, although some species only have one large nut./p>
The bark often has a net-shaped pattern with deep furrows or fissures running spirally in both directions up the trunk. The tree requires a mild climate and adequate moisture for good growth and a good nut harvest, which is why it grows well in the Northwest area of Murcia. Its new growth is sensitive to late spring and early autumn frosts, and is intolerant of lime. Under forest conditions it will tolerate moderate shade well.
Sweet Chestnut is widely cultivated for its edible nuts. As early as Roman times it was introduced into more northerly regions, and later was also cultivated in monastery gardens by monks. Today, centuries-old specimens may be found in Great Britain and the whole of central, western and southern Europe. The raw nuts, with their pithy skin around the seed, are somewhat astringent. The skin of the nuts can be relatively easily removed by quickly blanching the nuts after having made a cross slit at the tufted end; once cooked they become delicious, developing, when roasted, a sweet flavour and floury texture not unlike sweet potato. They can be used for flour, bread making, a cereal substitute, coffee substitute, a thickener in soups and other cookery uses, as well as for fattening stock.
Leaves infusions are used in respiratory diseases and are a popular remedy for whooping cough. It is much used in homeopathy and hair shampoo can be made from infusing leaves and fruit husks.
This tree responds very well to coppicing, which was commonly practiced until fairly recently in Britain, and produces a good crop of tannin-rich wood every ten years or so. The tannin renders the young growing wood durable and resistant to outdoor use, thus very suitable for posts, fencing or stakes. The wood is of light colour, hard and strong. It is also used to make furniture, barrels (sometimes used to age balsamic vinegar), and roof beams, notably in southern Europe (for example in houses of the Alpujarra, Spain). Due to older wood’s tendency to split and warp badly, and acquiring a certain brittleness, it is not frequently used in large pieces. It is a very good fuel. A tree grown from seed may take twenty years or more before it bears fruits.