November 9, 2010

American chestnut (soup) poised for a comeback

Image: American chestnut (source)
This post's title was taken from "The Root of the Matter" by Tom Christopher (Martha Stewart Living, Nov. 2010) about the loss of "emblematic American trees" as a result of chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle, sudden oak death, and mountain pine beetle (via climate change).  Christopher noted that the American chestnut (Castanea dentata) "is posed for a comeback" as a blight-resistant species courtesy of wheat genes. Read Christopher's entire article here.

Recently I drank cream of European chestnut (Castanea sativa) soup and look forward to a local version of this earthy soup.

9 comments:

  1. I just read back to back books where the Chestnut had a supporting role. I of course knew what had happened to them, but never realized how important they were to the people, wildlife and ecosystems of the Appalachians.

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  2. Les: please share the book titles.

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  3. The American chestnut was indeed a formidable player to life in the Appalachians. It's such an inspiring tree that a number of strategies are being pursued to restore the tree to the forest. Another approach that is looking promising is the backcross breeding efforts of the American Chestnut Foundation. By starting with pairing Chinese chestnuts (which have blight resistance) with American chestnuts (which grow tall and quick and can compete in the forests) and then backcrossing subsequent generations with pure American trees, they have been working towards trees that are all American...except with blight resistance.

    Their "Restoration Generation" is 15/16th American and currently being tested in national forests. In addition, the American Chestnut Foundation has invited their members to be part of their science team. Sponsor members can plant their own seeds and measure and monitor the trees' growth and performance in the coming years. I'm growing some right now!

    More details on the American Chestnut Foundation can be found at http://www.acf.org.

    Also-- I can recommend a non-fiction book about the American chestnut:

    American Chestnut: The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree by Susan Frienkel.

    I thought the book did a great job covering why the tree was as important as it well in addition to the various approaches of restoring it.

    P.S. I hadn't read it, but if Les is referring to a fiction book-- I heard American chestnuts are featured in "Prodigal Summer"

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  4. First, Vicky, thank you for your thoughtful and informative comment!

    Second, it seems that we are not the only ones talking about the American chestnut's comeback. The Yale Alumni Magazine (Nov/Dec 2010) reported on ongoing research in the Yale-Myers Forest to "bring back" the tree. The project was initiated by former forestry master's student Leila Pinchot who planted chestnut seedlings bred with genes from the blight resistant Chinese chestnut by Sandra Anagnostakis of the Conn. Agricultural Experiment Station. Read more http://www.yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2010_11/lv_chestnut016.html

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  5. I remember a European Chestnut soup, cooked-up by a friend of mine, that was one of the finest things I've ever tasted. I've tried to duplicate it a couple of times, at different Thanksgivings, and have failed miserably each time. My attempts always came-out like looking, and tasting like putty.

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  6. Georgia,
    Ooooh thanks for the link!!!

    And here's another for the mix--- a recent article about the Washington Post. I thought my mother misspoke when she left me a voicemail saying there was an American Chestnut article on the front page. But she was right! It WAS on the front page of the Washington Post. w00t!

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/17/AR2010101703320.html

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  7. Vicky, thank YOU for the link. A well written article and the journalist mentioned Kingsolver's book.

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  8. Allen, I'm rarely successful with cream of (insert name) recipes.

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  9. Another recent article, this one from the Roanoke Times

    http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/267417

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