Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate'er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - The Village Blacksmith
Photo: tutousan from Chinatown, Yokohama, Japan
The edible chestnut is best served roasted (or boiled) and was an important source of calories in ancient time. In winter, it used to be a survival food all over Asia: Alexander the Great apparently planted chestnut trees across Europe and the Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from India in 401-399 B.C. thanks to their stores of chestnuts. When we talk about sustainable agriculture, we had better remember how our ancestors relied on forests and nuts from trees.
Photo from otokonosweet
Roasted chestnuts are served as part of the New Year menu in Japan. The Japanese chestnut (called kuri) was in cultivation long before rice. Even in fashion-mecca Shibuya, Tokyo, you can get roasted chestnuts at stands near the busy station.
I love Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and other early American poets and writers, and I wonder what happened to their call, "for he owes not any man" today.
Did you know that there were some 3-4 billion chestnut trees in the eastern parts of the United States, with a fantastic biological diversity, until the blight eliminated this ancient forest: chestnut trees once made up about 25 percent of forests in eastern North America. A good reason to be very careful when you introduce a new, related species of plants or trees - or animals - to your region.
The first report of the blight was in 1904. Now, over 100 years later, efforts to restore blight-resistant American chestnut trees are (slowly) bearing fruit. No, they are not using genetically modified trees, just common breeding, and it seems promising. In 1912 the U.S. Plant Quarantine Act was passed to reduce the chances of such a catastrophe happening again - I hope Americans will join the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and make sure similar disasters do not happen again.
Why make the effort?
Chestnut trees were hard to miss. A mature tree exceeded 100 feet in height and might be 8 feet in diameter. Their limbs were like those of a true giant — long, knotted and strong. A chestnut even figures in the opening line of "The Village Blacksmith" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They were part of the life cycle two centuries ago. Wild animals and settlers' hogs ate the nuts. Settlers prized the strong, smooth-grained wood for furniture. They were lovely, too. In spring, chestnuts shimmered with white flowers; came the fall, their serrated leaves shown gold.
Michael Hinson, president of the Georgia chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the big tree to its native range, has a lot more to say to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Written by Martin Frid at greenz.jp