Mount Olympus, home of the gods, was said to have had an abundance of chestnut trees producing this sweet, edible nut. There are many varieties of chestnuts and the trees are common throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. Once peeled of their hard, dark brown outer shells and bitter inner skin, chestnuts can be enjoyed in a variety of ways including roasted, boiled, puréed, preserved and candied. They can be used in desserts or as a savory main-dish accompaniment. Fresh chestnuts, most of which are imported, are available from September through February. Choose firm, plump nuts without shell blemishes. Store unshelled nuts in a cool, dry place; refrigerate shelled nuts in a covered container. Chestnuts can also be found canned whole, in pieces or as a purée. They can be unsweetened, or sweetened as in marrons glacés. Dried chestnuts, as well as chestnut flour (dried nuts that have been ground to a powder), are often found in ethnic markets.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.