Early in 1781, before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, General Nathanael Greene’s headquarters were at High Rock Ford on the Haw River, northeast of what is now Greenesboro. When the McCain family built a farm on the spot in 1807, they named it High Rock Farm. Over 180 years later, the land and federalist-style home were purchased by Preservation NC, a nonprofit that protects historic sites in our state. The Teague family bought the farm, now under protective covenants, in 1990.
Richard Teague planted nut trees to enhance the value of the farm without ruining the historical accuracy of the spot. As a former chemical engineer, nut farming was a new endeavor, and the young trees took several years to produce nuts. Chestnut trees also have a checkered past in America: once abundant, they began to die off in the early 1900’s when the chestnut blight came to America from Asia. Asian trees were resistant to the blight but did not produce high-quality nuts. In 1953, Robert Dunstan, a linguistics professor at UNC, grafted buds from an American chestnut tree onto Asian rootstock. The eventual result was a Chinese/American hybrid that is resistant to the blight.
Chestnut trees are high producing and last hundreds of years. By planting the trees, the largest chestnut orchard in the mid-Atlantic, Richard is helping fill a gap in supply. Chestnuts rank third among nuts (behind peanuts and coconuts) in demand worldwide and are one of the top crops in China. The United States imports forty million pounds each year, but produces only one million.
High Rock Farm now has over 500 Dunstan chestnut trees, as well as over 400 pecan trees. The trees do well in the soil, which was previously deemed good for only tobacco. The farm produces 25,000 pounds of chestnuts a year, which are hand-picked off the ground in September and October. The nuts fall to the ground when their burrs open, signaling that they are ripe. (Pecans are harvested by shaking the trees.) Nuts are cleaned and sorted before shipping to stores. To extend the season, the farm makes value-added nut products like gluten-free chestnut flour and sugar toasted pecans. They’ve also diversified with blackberries and are planning to grow blueberries.
To roast chestnuts, cut an X through the tough outer coating and place the nuts in a cast iron skillet over hot coals (aka “an open fire”). Shake the pan every few minutes to roast the nuts evenly. After about thirty minutes, remove the chestnuts, peel, and eat while hot. You can also roast chestnuts in a baking pan in the oven for 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees. (You still need to shake the pan occasionally!) Or you can boil chestnuts for 20 minutes. Watch Brianne and Kevin roast chestnuts outside our Hillsborough store. Or, watch a video tour of the farm and see chestnut roasting.
Richard’s favorite way to eat chestnuts is “in pastries with chestnuts, pecans, and chocolate.” The farm sells dried chestnut kernels that can be rehydrated and used in recipes and gluten-free chestnut flour. Chestnuts can be used to brew gluten-free beer. A recipe for gluten-free pizza dough is here, and more chestnut recipes are here.
Visit High Rock Farm online at http://www.high-rock-farm.org/.