Chestnuts in Michigan

In Japan, chestnuts are a celebration of autumn.
My recent post about simmered chicken with chestnuts (tori to kuri no umani) got me thinking about visiting a chestnut orchard here in Michigan. 

I’ve never seen a chestnut tree!

Nearly all of the American chestnut trees were killed by a blight (fungus) in the early 1900’s. Last December (when making classic rice with chestnuts {kuri gohan}), l was surprised to learn that chestnut trees grow in Michigan.

Last Saturday was a warm blue sky bright sun autumn day with trees bright reds and yellows. It was perfect for a drive in the country.

The nearest orchard is in Livingston County, and according to the LaFever website, they have 350 trees on nearly 70 acres. We called ahead, but got only an answering machine. No one was there, but we took pictures. The chestnut burrs on the ground were all empty, and though they look like cute fuzzy animals, they are needle sharp! J. spoke to Mr. LaFever later and he said that a late frost had ruined 90% of the crop. Best to email him from the website know about next year.
Mike LaFever, 8353 Turner Road, Fenton, Michigan 48430, 810-750-5037 

I did a quick search and found other chestnut orchards also had bad years:
Winkel Chestnut Farms, 10788 Garfield, Coopersville, MI 49404, Phone: 616-895-1332, Alternate Phone: 616-560-7743
DeKleine Orchards, LLC, 1887 32nd Ave., Hudsonville, MI 49426-9665, (616) 896-8453
Links to chestnut orchards in Michigan

And if the late frost wasn’t bad enough:
May 27 , 2010
LANSING – Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) Director Don Koivisto today announced the establishment of a new plant pest quarantine against the Chestnut Gall Wasp to protect the state’s growing chestnut industry…
(the last two pictures were taken during our little adventure—just such views are so common here: an old barn and a cornfield after harvest. Perhaps some of my readers will find them of interest.

It’s hard to believe that deer or squirrels or other critters would be able to extract the edible nut from a knife-sharp array of needles! Humans have boots to break the burrs, and tongs to pick up the ‘meat.’


5 thoughts on “Chestnuts in Michigan

  1. I’ve only been around chestnut trees once ~ they were all around the border of a campground we visited in Tennessee. We had to kick tons of chestnuts off of the lot so we could set up our tent. Not a good place for a campsite!! I wish I knew where some closer trees were now, so I could try them out in a recipe!

  2. Hi Tiffany,
    Wow, talk about a nightmare for the princess and the pea! YIKES!! Sounds almost as bad as sleeping on a nest of porcupines.
    Well, no Michigan chestnuts for us this year, but you can probably find them in Asian groceries: peeled and frozen, cooked in syrup in the refrigerated section, peeled in shelf-stable packages, or soon I hope fresh in the fridge…
    Chinese recipes seem to use them a lot.

  3. What a pity the chestnut harvest failed in your neck of the woods. It must be heartbreaking for the orchardists but in the way of the natural world there is always next year…always hope.

  4. Yes, that late frost was bad for the nascent Michigan chestnut growers.
    We can only hope that next year will be better.
    The place we went to, the fellow has a ‘day job’ but even so, it had to have been a disappointment.
    Am I right, chestnuts were not wiped out in Australia? Are they the Chinese species? The Chinese chestnuts are what most Michigan orchards are growing, though if you look at p2 on this post, I think some are using hybrids like the Virginia American chestnuts. Smaller nuts but amazing wood…???

  5. Some of the michigan chestnuts are original american chestnuts. They were brought to Michigan by early settlers and being outside the traditional range (and the cooler climate) they have managed thus far to evade the blight that destroyed the traditional range. Apparently there are some out west as well, brought by settlers as well.

    Nothing at all like the vast original range, but still nice to know.

    It does also sound like great progress is being made on an American / Chinese Chestnut hybrid that would be mostly American chestnut (which grows larger) but with the blight-resistance of the Chinese Chestnuts.

    Here is hoping that can work to restore them to the eastern forests.

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