Chestnuts… on an Open Fire…and History
As we ready ourselves with the joys of Christmas, we must not forget that some joys have been destroyed. What do I mean? Take the chestnut trees that we associate with “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire”…a beloved Christmas song. This is what happened to the chestnuts and the trees that made them plentiful to people in years past:
The American chestnut (Castanea dentata) is a large, monoeciousdeciduous tree of the beech family, native to eastern North America. The American chestnut was once considered one of the most important forest trees throughout its range and was considered the finest chestnut tree in the world. However, the species was devastated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease that came from introduced chestnut trees from East Asia. It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century by blight after its initial discovery in 1904. (Wikipedia)
There were people years ago that enjoyed the chestnuts. The song about chestnuts, of course, had not been written at that time.
Late one evening, or morning… I was reading about an amazing woman in Virginia, USA, named Orlean Puckett and what the author said about chestnuts and their ordinary use…even as a stuffing for special times….perhaps Christmas.
“According to Wavy Worrell, a great grandniece of Orlean Puckett, the Hawks family had a special recipe for chestnut stuffing: ‘Aunt Orlean stuffed her turkey with chestnuts. She’d boil and peel ’em cook ’em in salt water and mix in breadcrumbs, onion and salted butter. They had a chestnut orchard and there were plenty of chestnuts for roastin’ and eatin’, but mostly for barterin at the store’….Chestnut leaves were also important. Made into a broth, the leaves held medicinal properties that helped in the treatment of chest colds and coughs.” (Taken from Orlean Puckett, The life of a mountain Midwife by Karen Smith. )
God’s gift to people through nature is truly a gift. As we think of the gift of His Son at Christmas, there are other gifts that He has given. It appears that in nature’s bounty there is a treatment for many physical concerns… even with chestnuts. We know that God has provided much and many of our medicines come from the natural sources. How sad that the chestnut trees were destroyed, but how joyful that many people in the past understood their gift to mankind and enjoyed them.
This midwife, Orlean, that I mentioned loved the chestnut. More than the chestnut, she also loved the people of the mountains in Virginia. Her history of caring of her neighbors is remarkable. She not only had a spirit of love at Christmas, but a year-round spirit:
Orlean lived to be 100; married at age 16 and moved to a log cabin, lost all of her many children in infancy, and turned her grief toward helping other women with the birth of their children. Her trips on horseback throughout the mountains, in any kind of weather, gave life to over 1,000 babies. It is truly hard to imagine such human dedication and endurance. Generations have spoken of her and keep her in their memory…as will millions who stop by the old cabin to marvel at what she did. A marker and a cabin stands in her honor on the Blue Ridge Parkway today.
Cabin on Milestone 189.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway
As we sit in our cozy homes during this Christmas season, it may be good to think of past years and what a Christmas would be like for people without electricity, refrigeration or other modern conveniences. The love of Christmas and the spirit of Christ has been strong for people like Orlean and it will be up to us to pass along this Spirit. Merry Christmas.
A portion of the song: CHESTNUTS ROASTING ON AN OPEN FIRE
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yule-tide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe
Help to make the season bright….And so I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it’s been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you. ( Songwriters: Mel Torme / Robert Wells)
Video with all the words…turn up sound