How To Harvest and Store Chestnuts

Foraging for Chestnuts is a Fun Family Activity

Chestnuts
Chestnuts. Wataru Yanagida/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Chestnuts are a popular nut for the holidays and can be quite expensive in the stores. These are one of the easiest nuts to harvest in the fall if you can find a chestnut tree.

With a little effort, you can save money and enjoy these sweet treats in your favorite recipes.

How to Harvest Chestnuts

Chestnuts are typically harvested mid-September through November and are one of the easiest nut varieties to prepare for storage.

Pull on a pair of work gloves and give it a try.

  1. Wait for the chestnuts to fall to the ground.
  2. Gather up all of the nuts with open burrs. (You'll definitely want gloves for this job.)
  3. Remove the nuts from the burrs. Discard any with worm holes or other signs of damage.
  4. Promptly store the chestnuts in air-tight containers and refrigerate or freeze.

Identifying Chestnut Trees

Chestnuts are the fruit of the Castanea species of trees, which are found throughout the world. The American chestnut has suffered from blight and many of the native trees have been wiped out.

This deciduous tree is very easy to identify. Look for long, veiny leaves with a very short stem. The leaf is oblong and has many pointed 'teeth' running along the edge.

The nuts are protected by spiny husks called burrs (or burs). The burrs of some species hold more than one chestnut. Burrs grow in clusters and typically appear in early summer.

They drop from the tree in early through late fall and are ready to harvest.

Tips for Harvesting Chestnuts

  • Beat the squirrels. Try to gather the chestnuts as soon as they fall to the ground. This will preserve the quality of the nuts and minimize loss to squirrels (they love chestnuts, too).
  • Look for open burrs. When the chestnut is mature, the burrs will open and that is when you want to remove the husks (while wearing gloves). Leave the dark brown inner shell. 
  • Don't shell until needed. Chestnuts will dry out within a week of being removed from the shell. Keep them fresh by shelling right before you're ready to use them.
  • Store properly. In-shell chestnuts will keep in the refrigerator for a month or in the freezer for a year.
  • Listen for the rattle. Chestnuts that are in the shell can also dry out and will shrink and crack. Test the freshness of chestnuts by shaking them. If you hear a rattling inside the shell, it may be too dry to eat.
  • Sorting chestnuts. When sorting chestnuts, look for shells that are smooth, glossy and are heavy. These will hold the tastiest nuts.

Eating Your Foraged Chestnuts

Chestnuts are delicious and have a mild, semi-sweet flavor. When raw, they are crunchy and will soften when cooked.

There are many ways to enjoy your harvested chestnuts. Roasting unshelled chestnuts is a very popular method and a favorite holiday treat. Chestnuts can also be boiled or braised.

Chestnuts are a common ingredient in many recipes. They can be used in desserts, stuffings, soups and savory meat dishes. Candied chestnuts are absolutely delicious and a great way to reward yourself after the harvest!

You can even make your own chestnut flour to use in breads.