Foraged Gardening Recipes

Chestnut spread (or mash) infused with spruce needles

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Find out how to make chestnut spread infused with spruce needles, a delicious fall, winter, or holiday spread made from chestnuts and edible conifer needles!


Chestnut spread or chestnut mash? 

We recently created and shared this chestnut spread with friends and family. It was a big hit, so now we’re sharing it with you! 

The spread has the consistency of hummus, however the flavor is quite unique. It has the sweet nutty flavors of chestnuts combined with the delicious orange skin-rosemary flavors of spruce needles. 

We serve it either as a standalone appetizer with crackers or on a charcuterie plate.

Spruce needle-infused chestnut spread: quite a wonderful flavor combination!

Spruce needle-infused chestnut spread: quite a wonderful flavor combination!

While we call it a spread, don’t let that limit how you use it. It can just as easily be deemed a “chestnut mash” and served as a dinner side akin to mashed white or sweet potatoes. 

Spruce needles – or substitutions 

We used 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh blue spruce (Picea pungens) needles in this recipe. However, there are plenty of other edible conifer needles that would work well.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to *safely identify and use edible conifer needles in the kitchen, please be sure to read our detailed guide, How to eat your Christmas tree and other edible conifers. (*There are poisonous conifers such as yew, but edibles are easy to differentiate.)

No matter where you live, there’s pretty much guaranteed to be edible conifer needles nearby, so lack of spruce needles should not be a hindrance to making this recipe!

Just substitute the edible conifer needle of your choice, 1:1, with spruce needles. The flavor profile of your chestnut spread might be a bit different when using other conifers, but it will still be quite good. 

A meet and greet event between the two starring ingredients. Chestnut spruce needle recipe

A meet and greet event between the two starring recipe ingredients.

What type of chestnuts?

We used fresh hybrid Chinese chestnuts from our trees to make this recipe. This means they have some moisture in them as a starting point. 

The exact quantity of chestnuts we used? Depending on how you measure them:

  • 10 ounces fresh whole chestnuts (weighed shells on)
  • approximately 2 cups (measured shells on)
  • or approximately 15 chestnuts. 

If you’re using dried chestnuts or canned chestnuts (in liquid), you’ll want to modify your prep/cooking approach. If using frozen chestnuts, simply thaw them to room temperature before starting.

Recipe steps, tips, and process photos

This is a simple recipe, but there are some important details to make sure you get it just right: 

1. Cut chestnuts in half then shrink them to remove shell and testa

Fresh chestnuts still have a shell and an inner testa/seed coat that needs to be removed before you cook them in this recipe. The easiest way we’ve found to remove these parts is to:

  • Cut the nuts in half with a large knife. 
  • Slightly dry the nuts in a dehydrator on 115°F (44°C) for about 24-36 hours so the nut meat shrinks, causing it to separate from the papery testa. (We use an Excalibur dehydrator.)
You want to dry your chestnuts just enough to easily remove the shells and testas, not to the point of full dehydration.

Picture 1: Chestnuts cut in half and ready to go in the dehydrator for shrinking. Picture 2: You want to dry your chestnuts just enough to easily remove the shells and testas, not to the point of full dehydration. The two chestnut halves in the front left of the second picture show what they should look like once the shell and testa are removed. 

If you don’t have a dehydrator, you could place your cut chestnuts in your oven on the lowest temperature possible and remove them once the testa is easy to separate.   

Once you have your chestnuts cut in half with no shells or testas attached, you’re ready to get started! 

2. Blend milk and spruce needles for one minute.

In order to help release the wonderful flavors of your spruce needles (or other conifers) you’ll put your milk and needles together in a blender, then blend them for about one minute. This will NOT obliterate the needles, it will only open them up a bit allowing for faster flavor extraction. 

3. Cook all ingredients low and slow for one hour. 

Put all of your ingredients (chestnut halves, milk, needles, salt) in a small saucepan. Ideally your milk is covering (or nearly covering) your chestnuts when you get started. 

Over medium-low heat, slowly cook the ingredients for about 1 hour uncovered, stirring every so often. This step cooks, softens, and infuses the chestnuts with flavor. It also reduces the water content of the milk while infusing it with the flavor of spruce needles. 

4. Remove the needles 

Even after an hour cooking on the stovetop, spruce/conifer needles will still have a tough texture and a lot of strong flavors left. Translation: you don’t want to add them to the final puree. 

While your milk is still warm/hot, remove the chestnuts with a spoon, and set them aside in a bowl. Once they’re cool enough to touch by hand, remove any spruce needles sticking to their surface. 

While the milk is still warm/hot, you’ll also want to strain it to remove the needles. 

1. Chestnut-milk mixture done cooking. 2. Strain out needles. 3. Remove chestnuts and any spruce needles still stuck to their surface.

1. Chestnut-milk mixture done cooking. 2. Strain out needles. 3. Remove chestnuts and any spruce needles still stuck to their surface.

Now you have cooked chestnuts and concentrated, infused *milk ready to go in your blender or food processor! (*We had about 1/3 cup infused milk after cooking.)

5. Pureeing (and maybe) adding more milk 

Puree your chestnuts and milk concentrate in a blender or food processor. We used a small multi-bladed Ninja.

If your spread is too thick or chunky after all your milk concentrate has been added, you can slowly add some fresh milk until you achieve the desired smooth consistency.     

1. Place cooked chestnuts in blender. 2. Pour in milk concentrate. 3. Blend until smooth (add more fresh milk if needed to reach desired consistency).

1. Place cooked chestnuts in blender. 2. Pour in milk concentrate. 3. Blend until smooth (add more fresh milk if needed to reach desired consistency).

All done!

Serve your spruce-infused chestnut spread warm or cool. Or serve it as a sweet and savory side dish mash; if serving as mash, it’s best served warm.  

This recipe makes about 6 appetizer-sized portions as a spread. If using as a mash or primary side dish, it’s closer to 3 servings.

Recipe: Chestnut spread (or mash) infused with spruce needles

Recipe: Chestnut spread (or mash) infused with spruce needles

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Spruce needle-infused chestnut spread (or mash)

Course: Appetizer, charcuterie, Side Dish, spread
Cuisine: American
Keyword: chestnut mash, chestnut spread, christmas chestnut recipe, how to eat your Christmas tree, spruce needles
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6
Author: Aaron von Frank

Chestnut spread infused with spruce needles is a delicious fall, winter, or holiday spread made from chestnuts and edible conifer needles. Or serve as chestnut mash!

Ingredients

  • 15 fresh, large Asian chestnuts, cut in half (alt measurements: 10 ounces chestnuts weighed shells on or 2 cups measured shells on)
  • 1.5 tbsp fresh spruce needles 
  • 1 cup whole organic milk, grass-fed 
  • pinch of salt or to taste

Instructions

  1. Chestnuts should have shells and testas removed and be cut in half before starting.

  2. Put milk and spruce needles in blender, and blend on high for ~1 minute.

  3. Put all ingredients in small saucepan over medium-low heat with lid off. Cook for approximately one hour, stirring occassionally. If it starts to boil, turn temperature lower.

  4. Remove pan from heat. Pull out chestnus with spoon and set aside in bowl until they cool enough to remove any remaining spruce needles from nut surfaces by hand. Strain warm/hot milk to remove spruce needles.

  5. Put chestnuts and concentrated, infused milk in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to add a bit more fresh milk to achieve ideal smooth and creamy consistency.

  6. Serve warm or cool as a spread or warm as a side dish of mash!

Enjoy!

KIGI,

Tyrantfarms

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