A Holiday Tradition: Roasting Chestnuts


Are you roasting chestnuts this holiday? As the famous song opens, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Roasting chestnuts is a holiday tradition in many cultures around the world.

No one seems to know precisely how this tradition began. Some historians say that roasting chestnuts dates back to the 16th century when vendors sold them on the streets of Rome. Others say the tradition started in Portugal for St. Martin’s Day, and in Modena, Italy, for St. Simon’s Day.

At the Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens, we are thankful to have several of these beautiful trees around the property. Dr. Bartlett’s seedling innovation was important to the preservation and development of the Chestnut Tree.

This holiday season, we thought it would be timely to share the history of the Bartlett Chestnut from a page out of the book Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens by S. Jane von Trapp and Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens. 

Bartlett Chestnut (Castanea mollissima x)

The American chestnut (C. dentata) was an important commercial resource for the lumber industry in the United States until chestnut blight was introduced from Japan in 1904. Most of the native trees perished over the next 50 years. In 1916, the US Bureau of Plant Industry sent hybrid seedlings (Chinese chestnut crossed with an unknown hybrid) to experts across the country, including to Dr. Bartlett. Only Dr. Bartlett’s seedling proved to be resistant to both disease and cold. In 1934, this tree was named the Bartlett Chestnut by the US Department of Agriculture. It grew with multiple stems rather than a single trunk, but the form and flavor of the nut is similar to the native American chestnut. 

Today offsprings of these beautiful trees can be seen at the Arboretum.

Why not give this nutritious and delicious holiday tradition a try in your home?

The taste is described as earthy and sweet, resembling the flavor of a sweet potato. They contain potassium, B and C vitamins, and are very low in fat.

Roasting Guidelines for Oven:

Cut an X into the shell of each nut with a knife to allow steam to escape during cooking and prevent explosions. Place chestnuts on a cookie sheet X side up. Roast chestnuts in the oven at 400 F for about 10-30 minutes (timing depends on the size and freshness of the nuts and temperature and type of oven. Keep an eye on them – when the shell peels back, and the meat is a caramel color, they’re done and will be moist and easy to peel.

Are you inspired to add roasting chestnuts as a holiday tradition? Happy Holidays!