Chestnuts and Wuthering Heights

Last Sunday in the gardens of the Villa Fiori at Ponte a Serraglio a “castagnata”, or chestnut Festa, was held. The weather was perfect for once and there was a discrete presence.

Once upon a time (and a recent time too) chestnuts were considered the poor man’s bread and sustained the majority of the population in these parts. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the chestnuts there would have been far more widespread famines during the Second World War in the region.

After the war, with the increasing personal well-being in Italy and with some unfortunate tree infections, chestnut flour was considered just a bad memory and discarded in favour of processed white flour and pasta. However, like polenta (maize flour) in the north of Italy, chestnut based producers have made a huge come-back and are truly a fashionable and ever-growing agricultural activity. If someone hasn’t tasted chestnut puree or cake then their taste buds are really missing out!

In a corner of the Villa Fiori gardens mondine (a variety of chestnut) were being peeled before being put into the roasting wheel. On the stand nearby necci (chestnut flour pancakes) were being toasted using the old-style irons. One could have them filled either with Ricotta cheese or Nutella. I opted for the ricotta and was well pleased. A bar further along served some good local red wine. There was a children’s activity stall among other stands which comprised items for charity sale and local agricultural products, including those delicious potatoes from the Prato Fiorito agriturismo which, growing at a height of well above three thousand feet, are approaching the same ecological zone as Ireland.

It’s truly castagnata season again. Already many feste have already taken place but here is a list of those that are coming soon to our part of the world.

***

Italy is not a country especially well-known for its wind but yesterday was an exception. Strong gusts blew over our mountains and hills clearing the atmosphere and allowing an extraordinary visibility. I decided to take to the road and headed for the villages which crown the hills above Ponte a Serraglio: Granaiola, Pieve di Monti di Villa and Monti di Villa, I didn’t descend into Riolo but kept up on the ridge passing the chapel of Sant’Anna and espying Montefegatesi through the trees. The autumn colours had barely started to tinge the forest leaves. Last year they would have been much more in evidence at this time.

I then took the road down into the Controneria which starts with that magnificent “balcony” road overlooking the main massifs of the Apuan Alps: the Panie, Monte Sumbra and Monte Pisanino.

The road then passes by the amazing synclines of the Monte Incoronata and the Prato Fiorito:

Thence I entered my own domain, the orto which was slightly disappointing this year due to the overweening rains. However, it looked idyllic yesterday afternoon and, after a bit of weeding, I stretched out on my hammock with a cold beer and took in the last warm rays of the sun.

 

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One thought on “Chestnuts and Wuthering Heights

  1. I must say that I do love anything to do with chestnuts you can have chestnut stuffing that is quite popular in UK but give me anything to do with chestnuts I did love the Maradi chestnut festival which offered such a variety of cakes made with chestnut flour my favourite being migliaccio a thin pancake like cake with rosemary and pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil wonderful but the variety of cakes on offer was always so amazing this Maradi Chestnut Festival runs on every weekend throughout all October weekends and is well worth the trip as it also offers exhibitions on chestnuts art exhibitions as well as other stalls of various kinds and also from far away places it has since become more of an international event. In fact we should go back there again as we have missed visiting Maradi in the last few years there is also a train that goes from Florence with lunch on board we should try that it is a total chestnut immersion day not to be missed.

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