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Looking for easier ways to enjoy fresh Chinese water chestnuts. Peeling tiny spheres is arduous!

 
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OK, so I have been growing Chinese water chestnuts since 2014... sort of.  I am talking about the reedlike plants and corms of Eleocharis dulcis that grow in mud, not the floating hyacinth relative.

Having them in buckets all over my garden creates frog-filled water habitats with reeds that attract dragonflies, and I really love the flavor of the black-skinned tender white corms.  True confession time, though: I sort of stopped dumping the buckets and harvesting the corms several years ago.  They have been perennial in my climate (although I think this winter's all-time-record cold 13F below zero may have taken them out, giving me an opportunity to reboot with new stock) and the truth is, most of the ones I get are not much bigger than the joint of my admittedly-fat thumb.  By the time I peel off all the dark skin with a small knife, they aren't that much bigger than marbles, and the labor involved is too substantial for me; I'm too lazy to spend half an hour with a paring knife for a snack/meal for one person.  Tasty, but not worth the time and effort.  The skin itself is woody and bitter, so not peeling them seems not to be an option either.

It's true that in every bucket or small pond where I grow them, I usually get a small few corms the size of a small walnut -- often just one or two in a whole container that may have dozens of smaller ones.  Those ones are worth peeling, but there aren't enough of them to justify the messy stoop labor of digging them up.

Today's project has been researching for solutions.  I see several potential approaches, divided into two categories.  Basically, figure out how to grow bigger water chestnut corms, or find an easier low-labor way to de-skin them.

Here is a cooking video that has corms about 50% larger (guessing, it's hard to tell with precision) than any I have been able to grow.  You see them about a minute in:



LARGER CORMS

1) Possibly there are better cultivars that make larger corms.  I'm just using the descendants of random corms I bought at an Asian grocery seven years ago; and those, though larger than I tend to get in my own garden, were not as big (I think, it's hard to tell) as ones I see on Asian-food cooking shows.  I have Googled for information on improved varieties/cultivars, but not much has come up.  Does anybody know more about this?  This old article speaks of improved varieties, but makes it sound like the improved varieties are the ones being grown for commercial sale, thus mine might be one of those.  However, mention is made about corms up to 4cm (1.6 inches) wide, which is a bit bigger than any I have grown.  A variety "Hon matai" is sometimes mentioned as having good size, but some Googling did not pick up a source for propagules.  I did see one person on a forum who claimed to find 2-inch corms at his Asian supermarket, which is interesting but not too helpful.  Corms that size would be a lot easier to peel!

2) Possibly it's a question of husbandry.  I have about a growing season that varies between seven and not quite nine months, depending on last/first frost dates and how cool the weather is near them.  Some sources suggest they're just happier with tropical or subtropical growing conditions than with my situation in a continental climate on the boundary between temperate and sub-tropical.  I've also seen suggestions that they may want more fertilizer than I usually give them, but nothing really solid.  Any of you know tricks for growing bigger water chestnut corms?

This guy in Australia suggests only planting one corm per pot, but he appears to be getting the same result I am -- just a few larger ones and a whole bunch of tiny ones:



[PROCESSING TRICKS]

1) What I do is peel them like a very small potato, with a paring knife in one hand and the corm in the other.  Basically like this Australian gentlemen, although his corms are larger than mine.  Note that it takes him almost three minutes to peel one corm.  I'm maybe not that slow, but it's not real far off:



2) In China, I have seen via several sources, they sell them peeled and raw on skewers as crunchy fresh street food.  Here's a video of an woman who is peeling them incredibly fast, using a large cleaver-style blade that she passes over/past the corm with incredible skill and precision.  She's much faster than the Australian, but I have zero hope of learning that sort of incredible knifework without it costing me several fingers:



3) What I went to YouTube looking for, but did not find, was some clever hack to do them in bulk or by mechanical means.  Perhaps blanching to make the skins slip, or roasting, or flash-freezing, or a gadget, or ... if I knew, I wouldn't be looking!  But I'm not finding any hint of a faster easier way.  It seems like the only way through this swamp is to do the drudgework.  Unless one of you has a trick that the internet would not divulge for me?




 
Dan Boone
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Found a quick video that makes it look a bit easier to use a vegetable peeler than a knife on this job:

 
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This reminds me of the black walnut conundrum-too much time to get to the tasty.

If I did these at my house,  I think I might select the big ones for eating and planting and give the rest to the chickens.

A skewer stacked full of  the small ones could be chucked into a drill, the skin removed with lathe knife.
Or a dremel with a metal grinding bit could remove the skins.
 
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William Bronson wrote:This reminds me of the black walnut conundrum-too much time to get to the tasty.



speaking as one who started a company to process black walnuts (and other nuts) with machinery, i kind of agree. part of the question is how far do you want to go, dan? would it be worth it for a couple hundred dollars?

there are commercial vegetable peelers on the market that would probably work for this kind of application (if you’ve ever bought peeled tiny beets in a can, you’ve seen their work), mostly rotating cylinders with stiff bristles and plumbed to rinse away the peelings. i doubt the price of a real one would appeel (ha) to you but maybe a mock-up could work well enough.

with nuts, the cost of the machinery makes it necessary for the processing to be a community- or region-wide thing, so the volume keeps up with the machines...there probably should be community-wide agriculture processing centers that do the same thing....

 
Dan Boone
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greg mosser wrote:

William Bronson wrote:This reminds me of the black walnut conundrum-too much time to get to the tasty.



speaking as one who started a company to process black walnuts (and other nuts) with machinery, i kind of agree.

...

with nuts, the cost of the machinery makes it necessary for the processing to be a community- or region-wide thing, so the volume keeps up with the machines...there probably should be community-wide agriculture processing centers that do the same thing....



Yeah, Black walnuts grow here and I have access to several good trees, but I never bother.  The work involved is just wildly out of proportion to the reward, much though I love the flavor.  Unfortunately I live in the kind of toxic place where nobody does community anything except churchin'.  This used to be sorghum molasses country, the kind of place with travelling sorghum mills that came to every town, but nothing like that exists now.  A local museum still has a donkey press they fire up for festivals, but they don't actually make any sorghum; they just grind a few stalks for show and dump the juice.  We do have local pecan cracking but nobody who has the complete machinery for sorting and cleaning the cracked-out nuts.  


Part of the question is how far do you want to go, dan? would it be worth it for a couple hundred dollars?

there are commercial vegetable peelers on the market that would probably work for this kind of application (if you’ve ever bought peeled tiny beets in a can, you’ve seen their work), mostly rotating cylinders with stiff bristles and plumbed to rinse away the peelings. i doubt the price of a real one would appeel (ha) to you but maybe a mock-up could work well enough.  



This is useful, thank you!  The example that comes to mind is the machinery that turns big carrots into skinless "baby" carrots by abrading off the outer layers.  I never considered the commercial-type mechanics.  Probably I wouldn't pay hundreds of dollars for a machine but I will spend some time online finding out how they work, to see what might be improvised.  
 
Dan Boone
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Since Greg mentioned the commercial peeling machines that got my mind running on the notion of home-kitchen rotary electric peeling machines using abrasion.  It took a lot of false starts to find the right keywords, but I have finally satisfied myself that, as a product category, these machines exist.  I have not yet taken the next step of trying to source, price, or evaluate the practicality of such machines; there are issues of storage, counter space, ease-of-cleaning, price, and various other factors to be considered.  Plus the main question of how well they might work on small root crops (not just water chestnuts, but what about apios ground nuts?)

That's all next.  But here are the YouTube videos that convinced me there are products/methods that may be worth evaluating.

Stand-alone rattling plastic countertop appliance:



Similar device, showing the debris/water poured into her compost bin:



There's at least one food-processor style device out there that includes an abrasive peeling disk.  That unit works dry, and looks to perhaps generate more food waste in the form of abraded vegetable flesh:



There exist attachments for kitchen stand-mixers:



To a man with shop tools, everything looks like a job for a high-speed electric drill:



Same method, on dirty new potatoes straight from the ground:



This guy put abrasive plates inside a hand-operated salad spinner, he got good results but admits it was slow and probably not easier than peeling his potatoes by hand:



None of these people seem to have tested their devices on anything but potatoes, but I see potential for experimentation here!



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