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A Famous Tree Grows In Connecticut

DSCN0675-300x2451We call it a Chestnut Tree but it’s really a Castanea Crenata (Fagaceae). Yep that’s the scientific name for this 1876 luscious monster, a Japanese Chestnut tree,  growing in the front yard of the Bee and Thistle Inn in Old Lyme, Connecticut. It’s one of just two in the state. They’re monitored routinely by  experts to make sure they stay healthy because they’re so rare in these parts.

What’s the history here? As the story goes…in 1876, S. B. Parsons of Flushing, New York, imported lily bulbs through plant collector Thomas Hogg for his garden in Connecticut, but one of the baskets contained, a seed of Castanea crenata.  He planted the seed, and gave seedlings to all of his friends. Two of these trees survived and continue to thrive. The other tree is in Cheshire behind the Congregational Church.

The trees are now nearly 135 years old and still as healthy as ever and this time of year start bearing fruit. I bet you didn’t know that chestnuts are encased in big prickly green balls that hang on the trees and then start to ever so slowly open up and fall to the ground.

At “The Bee” this time of year, the chef makes all kinds of things out of these beautiful nuts and in fact the grill at the Inn is called “The Chestnut” after this famous tree. One of the most scrumptious is the Chocolate Chestnut Bourbon Torte which you can make yourself. Thanks to “The Bee” for providing the recipe.


6 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups sugar plus 1/3 cup
4 Tablespoons Bourbon plus 2 teaspoons
2-1/2 cups ground chestnuts
¾ cup ground pecans plus pecan pieces for garnish
2 Tablespoons coffee
6 Tablespoons chilled butter cut into pieces
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ pound bittersweet chocolate
3-1/2 cups whipping cream
½ cup confectioners’ sugar

Make the cake:
Heat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour two nine-inch cake pans. Beat 6 egg yolks well. Stir in 1-1/2 cups sugar, chilled butter and 1-1/2 teaspoons bourbon, and then blend in 2 cups ground chestnuts. Stir in ground pecans. Whip egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold whites into batter. Divide mixture between the two cake pans and bake for 25 minutes. Cool on a cake rack, then remove from the pans.

Melt unsweetened chocolate with heavy cream over low heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons bourbon.
Whip 2 cups of cream to soft peaks, gradually beat in confectioners’ sugar and then fold in 2 tablespoons of bourbon. Garnish with cocoa powder.

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  1. JBxtr
    Posted September 17, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    I live in Cheshire and I think I have one of these trees in my yard! It is not near the Congregational Church. Wondering if my tree is a descendent?

    • Annie Mame
      Posted September 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Oh, my gosh…it just might be, call the Bee and Thistle Inn and they can give you the name of the guy that comes out and checks on their tree on a regular basis to make sure it’s healthy. How exciting!