The Water Chestnut
Most people in the U.S. have only tried water chestnuts from a can. I never thought much of them until I tried a fresh one. They are a common Chinese vegetable that keep their crunchy texture and sweet flavor when cooked. They’re fat-free and have lots of potassium and fiber. We are lucky in Florida to be able to grow them and enjoy them fresh. The water chestnut (Eleocharis dulcis) is quite easy for the backyard gardener to grow , but they need seven months of frost-free weather for their growing season.
The water chestnut is an aquatic vegetable. I always keep an inch or two of water in the containers I grow them in. My chestnuts are growing in inexpensive concrete mixing containers I purchased at Home Depot. I dug the ground out a little so the containers would sit in the ground. I let duckweed grow around the plants which makes the containers look pretty. It does splash out of the container when it rains, but then it seems to grow back overnight. Did you know that duckweed is edible too? I would have to be really hungry to try it. Maybe that is a culinary experience that should be left to the domestic animals and fish.
The water chestnut plants spread easily. It is only necessary to start with a small plant in each of these containers. The one plant will produce many more and give you a large harvest of fresh water chestnuts. The plants are mature after six weeks of planting them. The green tops will turn brown and die off. They are to be left in the water with the brown tops for two to three weeks and then harvested. To harvest the corms (tubers), you have to dig your hands in the muck and feel around for the round corms (water chestnuts). We actually had a really fun time doing this. It’s a good idea to leave one or two of the corms in the muck for the next growing season. I found my water chestnut starts from a place called TaDeGe in Ft. Lauderdale. We have visited this place several times and ordered stuff from the website. The guy that runs this business has introduced us to so many cool plants and fish. We’ve bought monster snails, wakin, gorgeous lotus, tiny shrimp, water lilies, and water chestnuts from him. His website is educational, full of humor and just plain fun to look at.
In the late 1980’s, Florida researched the possibility of making the water chestnut into a viable Florida industry. It didn’t work out because the corms are hand-harvested which made the cost of labor too high. The water chestnut was introduced into the U.S. in the 1930’s. In 1988, the U.S. imported 25,000,000 of them.
To prepare the fresh water chestnuts, the paper-like brown skin has to be peeled like a potato. There are many recipes for them, but the most common way to eat them is in stir-fry. We just peel them and devour. They haven’t made it to the frying pan in our household yet. They are sweet, crispy, and fresh with a fruity flavor. I think they taste like a coconut. My kids love them too.
With all the freezing weather we had in our zone 9b this year, I wasn’t sure what to expect of our water chestnuts. I never let the containers dry out through the winter and I found lots of sprouts today. I did a little happy dance. They made it.
Come grow with us!