By Susan Krumm
Q: I just received a bag of fresh chestnuts as a gift. How do I store them?
A: To some, roasted chestnuts are a must in the winter months. They are more perishable than other nuts if not stored properly. Fresh chestnuts contain 40-45 percent carbohydrate, 5 percent oil and 50 percent moisture. It is the high moisture that makes them so perishable. Spoilage is almost always due to mold. Here are some ways to prevent mold:
Treat the chestnuts in a warm-water bath (125 degrees) for one hour. A cooking temperature lower than 125 degrees will not kill the mold organisms, and a higher one will damage the nuts. After the warm-water bath, drain and dry the nuts, then store in perforated polyethylene bags for up to two months in the refrigerator.
Dry the nuts. Place in mesh bags and hold at 40 degrees for four days in a place that has well-circulated dry air or put in a food dryer at 110 degrees for 4 to 8 hours. This reduces the nut moisture to 10 percent; therefore, you can hold the nuts for up to a year in a cool, dry area. Nuts dried this way must be soaked or steamed for 30 minutes before using.
You can store the freshly harvested chestnuts at 34 degrees in the refrigerator. This is ideal temperature and moisture. If you don't keep the temperature below 40 degrees, you will probably find "critters" infesting the nuts.
Freezing is recommended only for cooked or dried chestnuts. Cook by spreading chestnuts in a single layer on a shallow pan and cooking in a 400-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven, cool and package in a freezer container.
Q: If I want to cook them right away, what do I do?
A: However you decide to cook these nuts, cut a slit or an "X" on the flat side of the nuts to prevent explosions by allowing steam to escape and to make the nuts easier to peel. You can roast in your regular oven by preheating the oven to about 400 degrees and baking in a single layer on a shallow pan for about 20 to 25 minutes until tender. Then, wrap hot chestnuts in a towel and squeeze to crush the shells. Keep nuts wrapped for 5 minutes before removing. Shell the chestnuts by removing both the hard outer shell and the thin brown skin inside. Be careful not to burn your fingers. One pound of fresh chestnuts equals about 2 cups roasted and shelled.
For chestnut stuffing or cooking, cover nuts with boiling water and simmer 15 to 25 minutes until tender. Drain and remove shells and brown inner skin while warm. Proceed with stuffing recipe.
Microwave chestnuts if you like. Be sure to cut the slit as mentioned above. Timing will depend on the number of nuts and the size. They may "dance" and spit as they cook. Arrange them in a circle on a plate. Use five minutes for a cup full of nuts as a starting place. It is hard to say exactly because of size variation.
- Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058.