The following types of chestnuts may be found in Southern California stores:
FRESH CHESTNUTS are grown here in California or imported from Italy and China. The California chestnuts are medium brown in color and typically arrive in our markets earlier in the fall than the Italian variety.
Italian fresh chestnuts have dark brown, glossy shells. They're currently available at many Italian markets, as well as some supermarkets.
Both these varieties are perishable, but will keep under refrigeration a few days in ventilated plastic or brown paper bags. For longer storage, shell, blanch and freeze whole or chopped in freezer containers. Do not thaw before using.
Fresh Chinese chestnuts are smaller in size and sweeter in taste than the other two varieties. Look for them in Chinese markets, vacuum packed and sold in bright red or yellow wrappings.
DRIED CHESTNUTS are imported from both China and Italy. The Asian variety are available at many Chinese markets. Sorrento Market in Culver City has just received a new shipment of Italian dried chestnuts, called castagne secche .
In "The Key to Chinese Cooking" (Knopf: 1977), Irene Kuo writes: "I love chestnuts but hate the tedious work of shelling and peeling them. Therefore, I usually buy the dried blanched chestnuts, available in Chinese grocery stores and in some American markets."
To reconstitute the chestnuts, place one cup in a deep bowl, sprinkle with one-half teaspoon baking soda and cover with two cups boiling water. Stir well and soak one hour. Rinse in warm water to remove the soda, then remove any red inner skins from the creases with a wood pick. Bring the chestnuts to a boil with two cups water in a small saucepan, then turn the heat low to maintain a gentle simmering, cover and simmer for one hour. "By that time the chestnuts should be firm but tender and sweet," says Kuo. Turn off the heat and set aside, or if doing this several hours or a day ahead of time, drain the chestnuts, cover and refrigerate.
CANNED CHESTNUTS are available anytime of the year at specialty food markets and some supermarkets. They come unsweetened and sweetened, packed with or without water.
PRESERVED CHESTNUTS are candied or glazed, sometimes with brandy or other flavorings added to the syrup. The most famous are the costly Marrons glaces, imported from France.
Kuri No Kanro Ni, cooked chestnuts in sweet syrup, are similar and less expensive than the French. These large, bright-yellow chestnuts may be found at some Chinese markets.
PUREES are available in cans, both unsweetened and sweetened.
CHESTNUT SPREAD is canned chestnut puree with sugar, glucose syrup, candied chestnut pieces, water and vanilla added.