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A Nut's Progress

September 24, 1997

If you've never seen a chestnut in its natural prickly state, don't be embarrassed. It's been more than 50 years since a blight wiped out all the chestnut trees in the United States. But they're making a comeback.

Their return in Southern California is courtesy of Bud Weisenberg, a Temecula-area avocado farmer who says he prides himself on "doing things most people don't do." His first agricultural experiment was to grow persimmons among his avocado trees. "At one time, I was the second-largest grower of persimmons in Southern California," he says. "Now almost every other avocado grower grows them."

When Weisenberg had some spare land after pulling out extra avocado trees, he figured he'd experiment with chestnuts, even though he had never tasted one. "I like to grow things where I won't have competition," he says. "And I didn't know of anyone else in Southern California growing chestnuts."

He found the trees at a nursery in Central California and planted them in 1989. Three years ago he got his first commercial crop, a very small one. Since then, it's gotten a little better every year.

This year, he's selling chestnuts both husked ($2.50 for one-half pound, $4 for a pound) and in the husk (50 cents each) at the Wednesday Santa Monica and the Sunday Hollywood farmers markets.

Pitcher This

The coming of fall doesn't have to mean a return to dark colors on the tabletop. This floral- and lattice-patterned pitcher and platter, hand-painted in Italy, are a great way to keep summer on the table all year round.

A Little Squeeze

Yes, you can use your hands to drizzle lemon over your perfectly cooked fish, but it's hard to resist this admittedly nonessential but cute fish-shaped lemon juicer. $6.95 at Sur la Table in Pasadena.

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