I’ve been hearing about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” from Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song” since my brain first began processing information, but I’ve never eaten one. When I finally met Mel I forgot to ask, but I’ll wager he never had one either. Or maybe he did. I really don’t know.
Come to find out, chestnuts were a staple food, a significant source of protein through the winter months for native Americans in the eastern U.S. and those who settled here. “Rural communities depended upon the annual nut harvest to feed their livestock,” according to the American Chestnut Foundation. Then, around 1900, America was hit by a great chestnut tree blight, thought to have been brought in with imported Japanese chestnut trees.
Our poor American chestnut trees were all but wiped out. Most of the chestnuts now sold in the U.S. are imported from Europe or Asia. Meantime, scientists, along with the Foundation, are working on developing a fungus-resitant hybrid American chestnut tree.
So now you know. We don’t have a whole big chestnut thing going like we used to because our trees were killed by a blight. But the song remains while the Foundation works to restore the trees in our eastern forests. Good for them, and thanks to Mel Torme, for keeping our thoughts of the humble chestnut alive through so many Christmas seasons.