Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nuts For Thanksgiving! Chestnuts!

In spite of everything Mom Nature has thrown at us this year, (starting with an actual tornado), Badgersett will be getting chestnuts shipped out to our customers in time for Thanksgiving.

We'll be shipping the first orders out tomorrow, Nov. 16; later than our usual target date of Nov. 10. We delayed shipping for the extra days to allow the chestnuts' flavor to develop further; because of the extraordinary harvest weather- temperatures well above normal for us, and high winds, day after day, the "curing" process we put our chestnuts through simply took longer than usual. We didn't want customers to be disappointed with nuts less flavorful than they're used to.

Chestnuts fresh off the tree taste bland- little sweetness or complexity. Genetics does make a difference in flavor; and we've got the best there- but the other factors involved in bringing a chestnut to peak mouth and stomach joy require time, and knowing the secrets. One of the secrets to developing maximum chestnut sweetness is drying them - a little. Some of our secrets, though- are secret. :-) And we'll be keeping them that way.

So you'll know: our chestnuts this year will average a little smaller than usual. The growing year was bizarre, from start to finish; so cold early on that the trees flowered later than we've ever seen them do it, entirely in July; then finishing up hot, but with cold flashes. The chestnut trees seemed to be uncertain about when or how to ripen their nuts; then with the heat, decided to ripen everything all at once. Trees that normally ripen late were dropping nuts at the same time as early trees, and dropping them unusually fast. But a little smaller.

From the "food crop" standpoint, we did far far better than our neighbors with corn and soybeans. Both those crops grew slowly and poorly- and had their development stopped dead by an early frost. Soybeans were estimated to be only about 80% "ripe"; corn only a little better. Those crops were still harvested; but their value, both monetary and nutritional were down considerably. The chestnut crop was abundant; not affected by the little frost at all, and fully ripe.

In case you haven't run into it before, we have had authoritative expert opinions that Badgersett chestnuts; "intensely flavored nuggets"; are among the best anywhere.

You'll recall, of course, that we put out a new video about "how to peel chestnuts" last year. The video is thriving on YouTube - the original, very crude one, is still the all-time most viewed clip; but the "improved" versions are gaining steadily!

We have (of course!) learned something from the responses to the video- in particular; there are times when our cut/steam/plier peel method doesn't work.

We now know why. We were truly puzzled at first, because it always worked, either literally perfectly (on our own nuts) or 98% perfectly, even on store-bought European nuts we bought for testing. The thing is; we were always careful, whatever nuts we tested, to buy nuts we were sure were fresh. That's the problem, right there.

Chestnuts that have been dried moderately will likely not peel so very perfectly, using our pliers method. Two things happen; partly dry nuts may actually cook, during the steaming, and will then crumble when you try to squeeze them out of the shell; and not uncommonly, the "skin" of the nut, the pellicle, may stick tight and refuse to slip off.

We found this out looking for reasons why the peeling method didn't work so well; and found this year that some of our own chestnuts, dried far more than usual by the hot winds during harvest, are "sticking" when we peel them. You can predict when you may have this little difficulty; if you squeeze the nut, and the shell dents, or gives, more than 1/8 inch; it may be dry enough that peeling will take a little more work.

The upside is- the dryer nuts are almost always sweeter. And- the plier peeling method is still light-years ahead of older methods, or the old "cut an X on the palm of your hand" method.

Do remember that we have full instructions (some looking for 1 sound bite think too full!) on chestnut handling posted on our website; as well as a good sampling of recipes.

Now- the really amazing news! We can now offer you another nut, ready (now!) in time for Thanksgiving. Due to a very recent change in food regulations in Minnesota, we are now allowed to sell pre-cracked hickory/pecan nuts. Nutmeats are now considered "produce" in Minnesota, and can be sold directly by the grower, without the farmer having to become a licensed "manufacturer". Next post- hickory/pecan hybrid nuts arrive!

And; just to keep you on your toes- the hickories this year- are uniformly bigger than last...