Host a Chestnut Roast This Fall

Fresh chestnuts are in season September to October in California. They are a fall crop. Photo by Anastasia Murphy

How to find, prepare, and impress with fresh chestnuts this season.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? ’Tis the season … but which season? In California, chestnut season is in the fall, so don’t wait until winter to satisfy your chestnut craving or curiosity. 

While four overarching species of chestnuts are grown in the United States — American, Japanese, Chinese, and European — many hybrids (bred for blight resistance) exist on chestnut farms. Harrison’s California Chestnuts orchard in Gridley, Calif., primarily grows the colossal variety, as do most California farms. 

Chestnuts in their burrs ripening on the tree.
Chestnuts in their burrs ripening on the tree. Photo by Anastasia Murphy


For the best quality and freshest flavor, purchase them from a local chestnut orchard, when they are in season — September through October. Local farms are often open during the fall for pickup or picking your own, or buy them at farmers’ markets or order from growers’ websites. 

These perishable delicacies must be stored in the refrigerator to prevent drying and mold. Keep them in a burlap or mesh bag (breathable) in the coldest part of the refrigerator, turning them often to allow air to circulate. Although they can be eaten raw, and some do, it isn’t recommended; raw chestnuts can cause stomach upset and aren’t as flavorful. We suggest eating only cooked chestnuts. Their shelf life is only about two to three weeks, so don’t store them too long. You can extend their life by freezing them, but after they’re thawed, they should be consumed within a day or two. 

Chestnuts on the tree, seen in its burr during fall harvest season.
Chestnuts on the tree, seen in its burr during fall harvest season. Photo by Anastasia Murphy

Chestnuts must be scored prior to cooking, no matter the method, to release the nuts’ moisture content and prevent them from bursting. Sandra Harrison, owner of Harrison’s California Chestnuts, suggests purchasing a chestnut knife, made specifically for this purpose. Boiling and steaming are fast, efficient ways to cook chestnuts for recipes, as is microwaving. Roasting on a grill or toasting in an oven are recommended for serving nuts whole. Cook times vary depending on method and nut size. 

Once cooked, the shell and fibrous internal skin, called the pellicle, must be removed before you eat the nuts or add them to dishes. 

Many farmers take pride in sharing their chestnut knowledge and tips and tricks, so ask them any questions you have to help you with your chestnut experience.


A traditional chicken and chestnuts recipe creates a delectable melody on your palate, while the nuts’ sweet, rich flavor shines in soups and “chummus”. Added to a charcuterie plate, chestnuts can replace bread and crackers for a gluten-free alternative. Try adding them to a favorite stuffed pumpkin recipe, or make a savory chestnut risotto. If you want to go over-the-top delicious, make marrons glacé, which are European-style candied chestnuts. Chestnuts are truly a versatile ingredient for savory and sweet recipes alike. 

Fresh chestnuts should be scored prior to cooking to allow steam to release.
Fresh chestnuts should be scored prior to cooking to allow steam to release. Photo by Anastasia Murphy

Cooked chestnuts have a roasted-carrot-like texture and possess impressive nutritional content. The nut’s meat is high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin C, along with being low in calories and 99 percent fat free, unlike its nut cousins. 


Eating chestnuts can be an interactive experience. While Harrison cites a plethora of ways to enjoy chestnuts, one of her favorites is when roasting, peeling, and eating them together with her family. The roasted nuts are served with wine and a platter of complementary foods — soft ripe cheeses, prosciutto, fruits, crackers, jams, and honey. 

Freshly harvested chestnuts, ready for roasting.
Freshly harvested chestnuts, ready for roasting. Photo by Anastasia Murphy

Remember, if you’re singing the holiday song with roasted chestnuts in hand, they’re likely imported, thus neither local nor fresh. Instead, relish the luscious nuts when they’re falling from the trees each fall. Purchase chestnuts fresh, then prep and freeze them ahead of time for those must-have holiday dishes. 

Harrison’s California Chestnuts