Written by David Shields
Originally Published in The Rice Paper Newsletter, Fall 2009
Native to the mountain south, the American Chestnut for centuries served as a major food source for forest wildlife until the introduction of the fungal blight that decimated the species after 1904.
In the 19th-century the roasted nuts were a favorite Christmas treat. Chestnut stuffing filled Thanksgiving Turkeys and Christmas Geese. Chestnut soup adorned the winter table of many southern homes. But the most refined dish prepared from the American Chestnut by southern cooks was chestnut pudding. The recipe derived from the Old World, found in both English and French cuisines, employing the European Sweet Chestnut. Because it often included rose water as an ingredient, one of the elements of 18th-century confectionary, Chestnut puddings tasted antique . . . traditional, and so found favor in those families that revered heritage. The version I have provided does without the rose-water, but captures the old taste of home.
Boil two dozen chestnuts, remove the shells, and rub the pulp through a sieve. Mix pulp with one- half pint of cream, two ounces of butter, three of loaf sugar, salt, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Stir these ingredients over a moderate fire until they thicken. As it thickens, increase the intensity of your stirring to prevent sticking and burning. When the preparation strips away from the sides of the pan easily, remove the pan from the heat, and add the well-beaten yolks of four eggs and the whites of three eggs whipped firm. Butter a mould and fill it with the mixture, fastening the cover securely. Steam for an hour and a half. When cooked, invert it on a dish, pour some warm fig or apricot ham over it and serve.