Food Happiness Travel

Breadfruit and Chestnuts

BreadfruitBob and I once swore we would never live in a place where breadfruit didn’t grow.  We kept good to this promise for eight years and then re-entered the world of winter.  A place where breadfruit doesn’t grow.  A place where 99% of the population has no idea what breadfruit even is.

But, as I discovered with mangoes and peaches – when you move around the planet, what the left hand taketh away, the right hand replaces with something equally good.  Peaches are one of my top five favorite fruits and peach pie remains my number one most favored and scrumptious dessert.  When we moved to the tropics where there are no peaches, I discovered mangoes and decided early on that they were a suitable substitution.  And the green coconut pie.  Well, that was something from another world!

Back when we were managing Mountain Equestrian Trails in Belize, we were often amused at the short sightedness of some of our guests.  One lady asked us point blank, “How do you live without strawberries?”  Another sighed at dinner before announcing that “Someday, I’m going to go to the REAL rain forest.”  “Real rain forest?”  I asked, “What would you find there that you aren’t finding here in this rain forest?”  “You know,” she said “where there are orchids hanging from the trees.”  Our assitant manager, Rolando was seething, “Step into the forest with me now and I’ll show you all the orchids you want.” he said through his teeth.  Never mind the enormous cubic yard of oncidium cascading from the Stinky Toe tree beside the barn.

Chestnuts from Lyle and Tami's TreeWell, until I had my chestnut epiphany yesterday, I was talking like one of those small minded people who think whatever they left behind is somehow better than what they have today.  Yesterday, it was “Ow, winter is coming again and I haven’t had any breadfruit for years!”  Today it’s “Breadfruit, smeadfruit – it doesn’t grow here.  Get over it!”

As a child, I recall my father driving me to Jersey through downtown Manhattan on a nippy fall day and while paused at the light, a vendor walking over to the car window and handing my dad a cone of piping hot roasted chestnuts in exchange for a couple of dollars.  In case you don’t know, heaven on earth is a paper cone of hot chestnuts to share with your dad!

Now, I love chestnuts and always have.  They are fluffy and nutty and sweet – almost like cake.  The perfect balance of savory and sweet, protein and carbohydrate.  In fact, chestnuts have a very similar taste and texture to breadfruit as it turns out.

Every Thanksgiving of my childhood, I would sit at my Nana’s huge dining room table with her other seven grandkids awaiting the arrival of her incredible chestnut dressing.  Never mind the turkey.  And most years since then, I’ve made a point of bringing chestnut dressing to the Thanksgiving table.  Hard pressed to find local chestnuts, I’ve had to buy expensive imported chestnuts, many of which were inedible, having molded from weeks of travel and storage.  Alas, local chestnuts were unheard of.  The mighty American Chestnut tree, once ubiquitous in North America, all but disappeared after a blight was accidentally introduced and billions of trees died from the foreign disease.

Happily, chestnuts are making a come back in our area.  A few weeks ago, Jason and Haruka discovered that Esta and Murray of Cohen Farm were selling chestnuts at the Farmer’s Market.  They happily picked up a couple of pounds for us which we promptly roasted.  Bob and I ate chestnuts to our heart’s content and froze a pound for Thanksgiving.

Hoping for more, I asked Haruka to shop for us again but alas, the Cohen crop had all been sold.  And then two days ago Lyle and Arlo drove up out of the blue with a beautiful basket of chestnuts from their own tree down the road.  I practically cried!  “These are for us?!”

These are exactly the kind of neighbors one can only hope for.  Lyle had thought to plant chestnut trees on his property years ago and now they were bearing fruit.  He and Tami are happy to share and willing to plant trees and wait years for the payoff.

That’s when I had my moment of clarity.  Chestnuts are food from the gods in the same way as breadfruit is.  In the same way as strawberries, mangoes and peaches are.  Every region has it’s own bliss.  It’s up to us to seek it out and embrace it.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

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