Italians and Their Chestnuts
Italians love chestnuts. Ok, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but come late fall, chestnuts can be found everywhere in Italy: roasted chestnuts on the wintery outdoor markets, chestnuts in delicious stews in restaurants, and chestnut cakes and other desserts in the pastry stores.
I used to see chestnuts on German christmas markets growing up, but never really cared for them much. I mean, come on, why go for chestnuts when you can have gebrannte Mandeln, Backfisch and tons of other delicious food (that’s probably bad for you)? But when Marco and I started going to these markets together (for example a Christmas market on Piazza Navona in Rome), he always wanted to buy roasted chestnuts. I guess growing up that was part of his Italian traditions. And so, after many years of having a few each time, I actually developed a taste for them too and now enjoy walking through Modena with a bag of warm roasted chestnuts when winter comes around.
Festivals in Italy
In Emilia Romagna it seems there is a sagra (festival) for just about every food or drink you can imagine. Some are big festivals with a lot of stands and attendees (for example the Sagra Dell’uva E Del Lambrusco Grasparossa in Castelvetro). Some are small and very local (Il Cicciolo d’Oro – a fair all about fatty fried pork in Campagnola Emilia). One of the bigger ones is the Sagra delle Castagne in Zocca. Friends had told us about it and one weekend, we had nothing to do and decided to go check it out. So, I googled around a little and found a chestnut forest nearby where we could go walk up an appetite, enjoy being outdoors, and see more of the area.
We got there and it was beautiful. Way more beautiful than I had expected. I also had no idea that it was THE spot for locals to go to and collect chestnuts. As in, the forest was filled with people everywhere, collecting chestnuts: woven baskets and plastic bags filled with shiny, brown chestnuts. I had never seen anything like it. In Germany, my sister and I would head out with our mom and collect some of the German Kastanien to use them in our little art projects, but I had never collected the edible ones.
The Great Italian Chestnut Hunt
When we first got to the forest, we started walking a bit and Marco, the hunter/gatherer that he is, started stuffing his pockets with chestnuts. And once you start, you can’t stop. I collected a few and then I couldn’t stop seeing them everywhere on the ground. The deeper we got into the forest the more we saw and the more we collected. Luckily, we had Bailey, our pup, with us, which meant we had her (clean!) poop bags and had a place to put all the castagne (chestnuts).
The deeper we got into the forest, the bigger the chestnuts got. It turned into quite the frenzy and we had to force ourselves to stop picking up the shiny, big chestnuts at some point. I think we ended up with maybe 3-4 kilos of the stuff! In fact, we stayed there so long and spend so much time in the beautiful forest that it was too late to head to the festival in Zocca by the time we called it a day 🙂 Oh well, we had a blast and even before leaving we had already deciced to go back next year. Only with more time to go to the festival after and more prepared with bigger bags (or even cute little baskets like some of the locals we saw).
I think these outings are one of my favorite parts of living here in Italy. Being out in nature, enjoying the lush, green hills and vineyards in Castelvetro, going cherrypicking in Vignola, heading to the beach close to Ravenna for a walk in early summer and staying for some seafood after. There is just so much to do and a lot of it happens outdoors.
Oh, and if you’re curious about what happened with all the chestnuts, follow me on Facebook or Twitter or sign up to get the blog posts delieverd via email. I’ll post something soon about how we roasted them at home (including some tipps and tricks now that we know how to do it) and what we did with our bounty.
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