Page images

p. 163.) Such are the uses of the’chestnut tree on the Continent; from which, we think, it will not be wondered that Emmerich (Culture of Forests, &c.), and German authors generally, should consider the chestnut as not ranking as a forest tree.

We shall now take a short view of the uses of the chestnut tree in England from the time of Evelyn. This author commences by saying, that “the chestnut is, next the oak, one of the most sought after by the carpenter and joiner. It hath formerly built

a good part of our ancient houses in the city of London, as does yet appear. I had once a very large barn near the city, framed entirely of this timber; and, certainly, the trees grew not far off, probably in some woods near the town; for, in that description of London written by Fitz Stephens, in the reign of Henry II., he speaks of a very noble and large forest, which grew on the boreal part of it, and which was well stored with all sorts of good timber.” (Hunt. Evel., i. p. 161.). It is evident that Evelyn here falls into the common error, already noticed, of confounding the chestnut with the oak. He goes on to say that the chestnut affords the best stakes for palisades, props for vines and hops, and is good for mill timber and water-works, or where it may lie buried; “but if water touch the roots

of the growing tree, it spoils both fruit and timber.” It does well, he says, if kept dry, for columns, tables, chests, chairs, stools, and bedsteads; and, for tubs and wine-casks, “which it preserves with the least possible tincture of the wood of any whatsoever. If the timber be dipped in scalding oil, and well pitched, it becomes extremely durable; but, otherwise, I cannot celebrate the tree for its sincerity, it being found that, contrary to the oak, it will make a fair show outwardly, when it is all decayed and rotten within : but this is in some sort recompensed, if it be true that the beams made of chestnut tree have this property; that, being somewhat brittle, they give warning, and premonish the danger by a certain crackling; so as, it is said, to have frighted those out of the baths at Antandro, whose roof was laid with this material, but which, Pliny says, was of hazel, very unlike it. Formerly, they made consultary staves of this tree; and the variegated rods which Jacob peeled to lay in the troughs, to impress a fancy in his father-in-law's conceiving ewes, are said to have been of this material. The coals are excellent for the smith, being soon kindled, and as soon extinguished; but the ashes of chestnut wood are not convenient to make a lee with, because it is observed to stain the linen.” (Hunt. Evel. Syl., i. p. 162.) Cook, who may be considered as Evelyn's contemporary, recommends the chestnut for coppice-wood, and says the timber is very useful. Miller falls into the error of his time, in considering the old roofs of oak as being formed of chestnut; and hence he recommends the latter, as being a very valuable kind of timber; though, in the edition by Martyn, this author states that he thinks the timber supposed by Miller and other writers to be chestnut, in our old buildings, is only oak of a different grain, and of an inferior quality. Marshall says, “The uses of the chestnut have been highly extolled, and it may deserve a considerable share of the praise which has been given to it. As a substitute for the oak, it is preferable to the elm; but it is liable to to be shaky; and there is a deceitful brittleness in it.”. This property is also mentioned in White's Selborne ; and with the addition, that “towards the heart the wood is cup-shaky; that is to say, apt to separate into small pieces like cups, so that the inward parts are of no use. They are bought for the purposes of cooperage, but must make but ordinary barrels, buckets, &c. Chestnut sells for half the price of oak; but has sometimes been sent into the king's dock, and passed off instead of oak.” In another place, he observes that “the timber and bark" of old chestnut trees “are so very like oak, as might easily deceive an indifferent observer.” Pontey says that the wood and bark of the chestnut are known to possess the same valuable properties as those of the oak. Mitchell says that the wood of the chestnut is preferable to that of the oak, either in buildings or fences, and particularly for park poles. Mathew seems to confound the wood of the chestnut with that of the oak, observing that, in England, “ many of the largest of our ancient piles are wooded of it.” Its

decrease, he thinks, may be owing to a slight refrigeration of climate; but, as the climate is rather improved, and the spirit of planting become more general, this, he thinks, may give encouragement to more extended planting of the chestnut. There is one circumstance, he says, connected with the timber of the chestnut, in Scotland, which must prevent its general use in ship-building ; and that is, that few trees of it of any size are found without the timber being shaky or split; some to such a degree, that the annual rings, or concentric growths, have separated from each other. Mr. Mathew, who is evidently an original observer, though, in this case, he has mixed up facts that have come under his own observation with the current opinion respecting the use of chestnut timber in old buildings, and in the Spanish navy, remarks, with Bosc, that the timber, though a good deal similar to that of the oak, is not “quite so reedy and elastic, but is destitute of the large laminæ, or plates (filosh), which, radiating from the pith to the outside, become so prominent to view in the oak, when the longitudinal section is parallel to the plane of the laminæ.” (Nav. Tim., p. 47.) We have quoted these different opinions, for the purpose of showing that the ground on which British authors hitherto have recommended the culture of the chestnut as timber is the erroneous supposition that the roofs of many of our ancient buildings are formed of it; and that, on the faith of this, Evelyn, and others of them, appear to have argued in its favour, contrary to their own experience.

The following remarks on the properties and uses of the chestnut by Mr. Nathaniel Kent, a well-known and highly respected land and timber surveyor, are dated 1792, and were published in the tenth volume of the Transactions of the Society of Arts. They seem to us to contain all that can be said, from practical experience, in favour of the chestnut as a timber tree in Britain. “In 1676,” Mr. Kent observes, “ an ancestor of the present Mr. Windham of Felbrigg, in Norfolk, had the merit of being a considerable planter of chestnut. In the space of 50 years, it is presumed, these plantations required thinning, as his successor, about that time, began to apply this timber to useful purposes upon his estate. The first account is of the branch or limb of a chestnut, about 13 in. square, which, in the year 1726, was put down as a hanging-post for a gate, and carried the gate, without alteration, 52 years; when, upon altering the enclosures of the farm where it stood, it was taken up under my direction, and appearing to be perfectly sound, was put down for a clapping-post in another place. In 1743, a large barn was built with some of this timber, and is now (1792) as sound in every part, beams, principals, and spars, as when first the barn was built. About the same time, several chestnut posts and rails were put down, which I have since seen removed ; and, after standing 30 or 40 years, they generally appeared so sound, as to admit of being set up in some other place. The last instance I shall mention, though not of long date, will show the great superiority of this timber over oak in fences. In the year 1772, the present Mr. Windham made a large plantation in his park, which was fenced with posts and rails, converted from young oaks and chestnuts of the same age and scantling, such as were picked out of a place where they stood too thick. Last year, upon Mr. Windham's enlarging this plantation, it was necessary to remove this fence; when the chestnut posts were found as sound as when they were first put down ; but the oak were so much wasted just below the surface of the ground, that they could not be used for the same purpose again without the assistance of a spur to support them.” (Trans. Soc. Arts, x. p. 31.) “When the chestnut is suffered to stand beyond its full growth,” Mr. Kent continues, “it is the worst of all timber, being more brittle and more apt to crack and fly into splinters, than any other: but I have never known this to be the case with young chestnut.” Hence, he directs the tree to be cut when it is in a growing or healthy state; because it is “so early useful, that, if it be cut when it squares only 6 in., it will be as durable as an oak of six times its size and age. This is in a great measure accounted for by its having so little sap wood in proportion to other trees, as it will seldom exceed in thickness the breadth of the bark; whereas the sap wood of an oak will often be from lin. to 2 in. thick; which is not only useless, but, if suffered to remain, tends very much to the destruction of the timber: in other respects, the duration of the chestnut may be accounted for from its being less affected by worms or insects than other timber.(Ibid., p. 34.) He concludes: “ Let no one be afraid of cutting it too young ; for, let this tree be ever so small, if it is large enough for the purpose for which it is wanted, it will be the less liable to decay, from its youth; and, if underwood be the object, the proverb in beech countries will be fully verified : Cut wood, and have wood.' (Ibid., p. 35.) In some parts of Essex, the wood of the chestnut is preferred to that of the oak, for making gates, stiles, and hurdles; both of which last, from 15 to 25 years. Chestnut piles are much used there for embankments against the Thames or the sea. They are made 5 ft. long, and 10 in. in diameter, and driven 3 ft. into the earth. In a cohesive oozy soil, their duration is almost without end; but, in sand, they do not last longer than the oak. The embankment is formed by heaping up earth on both sides of, and over the row of piles, and sometimes branches are interwoven with them. In the south and west of England, Mr. Davies informs us, the chestnut becomes shaky, even when the trunk is only 6 in in girt; but the stools, he says, by their numerous shoots and large broad leaves, afford excellent shelter for game. In every part of the country where hops are grown, the most durable poles are those of the chestnut; and in Kent, it is well known, this tree is more extensively planted for furnishing hop-poles than any other, unless we except the ash.

Chestnut timber, in North America, Michaux observes, “is strong, elastic, and capable of enduring the succession of dryness and moisture. Its durability renders it especially valuable for posts; which should be made of trees less than 10 in. in diameter, and charred before they are set in the earth. In Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and part of Virginia, it is also preferred for rails, and is said to last more than 50 years. For shingles, this wood is superior to any species of oak, though it has the same defect, of warping. It is not extensively used for staves; and its pores, like those of the red oak, are so open, that it is proper only for dry wares; though the European species," he adds, "which is more compact, is employed in Italy to contain wines and brandy.” The chestnut of Europe is considered to make excellent hoops; but Michaux was informed by the coopers of New York and Philadelphia, that the American chestnut is too brittle for that purpose. A more probable reason, however, he observes, is, that, when bent, it is not strong enough to remain firmly attached, like the hoops of the hickory, by crossing the ends, but requires to be bound with osier, which is an additional labour and expense. The wood is little esteemed in America for fuel, as, being filled with air, it snaps as it burns; but it is much esteemed for the forge; and, in the neighbourhood of Pennsylvania, native chestnut woods have been turned into coppices, which are cut every 16 years for making charcoal.

Uses of the Fruit. Chestnuts are comparatively little used as food in England, as they are seldom eaten except roasted at dessert. They are, however, sometimes stewed with cream, and made into soup, either with milk or gravy. They are also occasionally used as stuffing for fowls and turkey; or stewed, and brought to table with salt fish.

Speaking of the chestnut as an article of food, Evelyn says, “We give that fruit to our swine in England, which is amongst the delicacies of princes in other countries; and, being of the larger nut, is a lusty and masculine food for rustics at all times, and of better nourishment for husbandmen than cale and rusty bacon; yea, or beans to boot. How we here use chestnuts in stewed meats, and beatille pies, our French cooks teach us; and this is, in truth, their very best use, and very commendable; for it is found that the eating them raw, or in bread, as they do in the Limousin, is apt to swell the belly, though without any other inconvenience that I can learn : and yet some condemn them as dangerous for such as are subject to the gravel in the kidneys; and, however cooked and prepared, flatulent, offensive to the head and stomach,

especially to those who are subject to the cholick. The best way to preserve them is to keep theın in earthern vessels in a cold place. Some lay them in a smoak-loft, others in dry barley straw, others in sand, &c.” (Hunt. Evel., vol. i. p. 163.).

The principal countries where the chestnut is employed as an important article of food are, the south of France and the north of Italy; where it serves, in a great measure, as a substitute for both the bread and potatoes of more northern nations. In these countries, it becomes a matter of importance to preserve the chestnuts during winter; and, accordingly, great care is taken in gathering, keeping, and drying them, so as to insure a constant supply. When the chestnuts are ripe, those that are to be preserved are collected every day from the ground on which they have fallen from the tree; and spread out in a dry airy place, till the whole is gathered together. But, as it is often a considerable time before the chestnuts are all ripe enough to fall from the tree, if the season be so far advanced as to be in danger of snow or heavy raios, after the fallen chestnuts have been collected and set on one side for drying, the tree is beaten with long poles, to knock off the remaining fruit. This operation is called gnuler les châtaignes. But the fruit thus collected is only considered fit for immediate use; and the greater part of it is carried to the local market, or sent to Paris. The husks of the chestnuts beaten off the trees being generally attached to the nuts, they are trodden off by peasants furnished with heavy sabots, when the nuts are wanted for immediate use ; but, when the chestnuts are to be preserved a few months, they are generally kept in their husks in heaps in the open air, or in barrels of sand, which are sometimes actually sprinkled with water in very dry seasons, in order to preserve the full and plump appearance of the nuts.

One of the modes of drying chestnuts, in order to preserve them for several years, is, to place those which have been collected from the ground on coarse riddles, sieves, or hurdles, in a dry airy place, and afterwards to expose them to the sun; or to boil them for a quarter of an hour, and then dry them in an oven. In Limousin and Périgord, where the chestnut flour is used for making the kind of cake called la galette, and the thick porridge called la polenta, which are the common food of the peasantry, the chestnuts are dried with smoke. A thin layer of nuts, which have been deprived of their outer husks, is laid on a kind of kiln pierced with holes ; and a fire is made below with the husks, and part of the wood of the tree, which is only permitted to smoulder, and is not suffered to burst into a flame. In a short time, the chestnuts begin to sweat; that is, their superabundant moisture oozes out through their skins. The fire is then immediately extinguished, and the chestnuts are suffered to become quite cold. They are then thrown on one side, and a fresh layer is spread out, and subjected to the same process. When a sufficient quantity of chestnuts is thus prepared, to cover the floor of the kiln at least 1 ft. deep, they are laid upon it, and a gentle fire is made below, which is gradually augmented during 2 or 3 days, and is then continued during 9 or 10 days, the chestnuts being regularly turned, like malt, till the nuts part readily from their skins : they are then put into sacks, which have been previously wet, and thrashed with sticks, or rubbed upon a large bench or table; after which, they are winnowed, and are then ready for the mill. During the process of drying, the fire is watched night and day; and the under side of the floor of the kiln (or hurdles, if these have been used as a substitute for a paved floor) must be frequently swept, to clear it from the soot. The dust which escapes from the chestnuts, when they are winnowed, together with the broken nuts, are carefully preserved for feeding cattle, and are called in France biscat.

The most general modes of cooking chestnuts in France are, boiling them in water, either simply, with a little salt, or with leaves of celery, sage, or any herbs that may be approved of, to give them a flavour; and roasting them, either in hot ashes, or in a coffee-roaster. They are also occasionally roasted before the fire, or on a shovel, as in England; but, when thus prepared, they are thought not so good. In whatever way the chestnuts are roasted, the

French cooks always slit the skin of all except one; and, when that cracks and flies off, they know that the rest are done. Chestnut flour is kept in casks, or in earthen bottles well corked; and it will remain good for years. La galette is a species of thick flat cake, which is made without yeast, and baked on a kind of girdle, or iron plate, or on a hot flat stone. It is generally mixed with milk and a little salt, and is sometimes made richer by the addition of eggs and butter ; and sometimes, when baked, it is covered with a rich custard before serving. La polenta is made by boiling the chestnut flour in water or milk, and continually stirring it, till it has become quite thick, and will no longer stick to the fingers. When made with water, it is frequently eaten with milk, in the manner that oatmeal porridge is in Scotland. Besides these modes of dressing chestnuts, which are common in Italy as well as in France, many others might be mentioned; particularly a kind of bouilli, called chatigna, which is made by boiling the entire chestnuts, after they have been dried and freed from their skins, in water with a little salt, till they become soft, and then breaking and mixing them together like mashed potatoes; and a sweetmeat, called marrons glacés, which is made by dipping the marrons into clarified sugar, and then drying them, and which is common in the confectioners' shops in Paris. (See Parmentier's Traité de la Châtaigne ; Mém. de Desmarets in Journ. de Physique for 1771 and 1772; Du Ham. Arb., i. p. 136.; N. Du Ham. ii. p. 65.; Dict. Class., &c., art. Châtaignier; Nouv. Cours, &c.) On the foreign modes of dressing chestnuts in Evelyn's time, that author says, “The best tables in France and Italy make them a service, eating them with salt, in wine, or juice of lemon and sugar, being first roasted in embers on the chaplet. In Italy, they boil them in wine, and then smoke them a little. These they call anseri, or geese: I know not why. Those of Piedmont add fennel, cinnamon, and nutmeg to their wine; but first they peel them. Others mace rate them in rose-water. The bread of the four is exceedingly nutritive: it is a robust food, and makes women well-complexioned, as I have read in a good author. They also make fritters of chestnut flour, which they wet with rose-water, and sprinkle with grated parmigans, and so fry them in fresh butter for a delicate.” (Hunt. Evel., i. p. 162.). Evelyn also says that "the flour of chestnuts made into an electuary with honey, and eaten fasting, is an approved remedy against spitting of blood and the cough; and a decoction of che rind of the tree tinctures hair of a golden colour, esteemed a beauty in some countries.” (Ibid., p. 163.) Sugar is said to have been obtained in France from chestnuts by the same process as is used for the extraction of the sugar from beet, and at the rate of 14 per cent; which is more than the average produce of the beet-root. (Bon Sens, as quoted in the Atheneum of Feb. 25. 1837.)

As a Tree for useful Plantations, the chestnut is chiefly valuable as underwood, and for its fruit. As underwood, as already mentioned, it is grown, in England, for hop-poles, fence-wood, and hoops. The poles last as long as those of the ash, and longer ; but they do not grow so fast, and they are apt to send out stout side shoots, which, if not checked, either by pruning or by the closeness of the plantation, cause, Cobbett observes,“ the upper part of the pole to diminish in size too rapidly. To get a chestnut pole any where between 12 ft. and 20 ft. in length, there will also be a disproportionate but; a disadvantage that none but skilful hop-planters can know. The vines of the hop (and it is the same with all other climbing plants) do not like to have a big thing to go round at starting.” (Woodlands.). Hence intelligent hop-planters, “ in order to obviate the injury arising from large-butted poles, stick in little rods as leaders, to conduct the vine to the pole at 2 ft. or 3ft. from the ground. (Ibid.) For this reason, the plants, in a plantation of chestnuts for undergrowth, ought not to be farther apart than 5 ft. every way; in which case they will require very little pruning, but will become drawn up of a proper size. When the tree is planted for timber, its properties suggest the propriety of cutting it down when the trunk is under 1 ft. in diameter, and for using it chiefly in rustic structures, gate-posts, and fencing. As a fruit tree, we have

« PreviousContinue »