Over the holidays, I sampled a few exotic beers I received as gifts. One, a French beer, was flavored with chestnuts. The other was brewed in Louisiana and supplemented with the South’s greatest export (other than Elvis): pecans.
Yeah, I had the same reaction: chestnut-flavored beer? Pecan-flavored beer? Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise because both nuts have a long culinary history. And they’re finding renewed interest today because they’re a good source of plant protein and can reduce the risk of heart disease in men and women. Nuts also reportedly decrease LDL or bad cholesterol.
Frankly, both beers were rather tasty in moderation. These are sipping beers, not rip-roaring fraternity swill. And they go well with—not surprisingly—nuts.
The good news for you, my fellow gardeners, is that you can raise these nuts yourself. Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) grows from Zones 5-9, although colder climates may not offer enough time for nuts to ripen. In that case, you could switch to a related species, such as shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). Or grow chestnut.
American chestnut (Castanea dentata) grows from Zones 3-9, but a canker disease forces most people East of the Mississippi to keep them as shrubs. Every few years, the tree dies back and is replaced by multiple shoots arising from the base. These shoots eventually grow old enough to bear nuts, then die back again.
A better option may be Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), which is resistant to the canker disease. Chinese chestnut grows in Zones 4-8 and bears in as little as 6 years.
Both chestnut and pecan grow on a range of soils. Good drainage is the main requirement, but a neutral to slightly acid pH is helpful. You will be pleasantly surprised how quickly they grow. Pecans are moderate in growth rate, and chestnuts are so fast they’re only a step or two behind poplars.
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