In Italy school classes started on September 17th after their very long summer break of over three months. Of course, those students who have failed their exams will have spent much of their summer revising their subjects and for teachers there’s a lot of preparation time involved, so it’s not all sunshine, beaches and ice-cream for many.
The ‘feste’, however, continue and now that today is the autumn equinox the ‘sagre’ (or food festivals) concentrating on local produce are ready to launch.
‘Castagnate’, or chestnut festivals, abound in this Apennine part of Italy. Their main features are products made from the flour of the chestnut tree, or Castanea sativa (not to be confused with the somewhat inedible Horse chestnut prevalent in the UK, well-known to any schoolchild who has enjoyed playing ‘conkers’.
Actually, horse chestnut or Aesculus hippocastanum has its useful medicinal purposes in treating such ailments as varicose veins, haemorrhoids, enlarged prostate and diarrhoea. If eaten raw however it’s a useful way of doing someone in as it contains a poison called esculin. This was a particularly popular procedure in mediaeval times.
No such problems with the Castanea sativa, however. Some of its very edible products are:
- Chestnut jam. (Crema di Marroni). Absolutely delicious. I like it spread on crumpets.
- Chestnut flour pancakes, usually rolled up and filled with ricotta cheese, Nutella and , in some areas, pancetta (a type of bacon).
- Chestnut honey.
- Bomboneccio. A sort of chestnut cake made with chestnut flour, pine kernels, fennel and raisins.
- Pane casereccio. Chestnut flour bread.
- Morning. Roast chestnuts
It’s fascinating to visit the Castagnate festivals just to watch these products being made. Every area has its own particular recipe and names. For example, our ‘Castanaccio’ is called ‘Migliaccio’ in Florence.
What is remarkable is that chestnut-derived products were scorned at by the immediate post-war generation since they were associated with poverty and famine – indeed were called ‘food for the poor’. Now, of course, these items have regained their full worth as wholesome and tasty items rather like polenta. I wonder which ‘poor man’s food’ have become fashionable again in the UK? Faggots, tripe, offal, chitterlings, oats? Do let me know please. It could be useful after March 29th next year.
The main Castagnate festivals in our area are the following:
|1||October 7, 12.30||Camporgiano||Polenta festival|
|2||October 7, 15.00||Metello, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana||Local products|
|3||October 8, 14.00||Cascio, Molazzana||Local products, food trail|
|4||October 14, 14.30||Trassilico||Local foods and products|
|5||October 14, 14.30||Castiglione||Local foods and products|
|6||October 21, 12.00||Pieve Fosciana||Local foods and products|
|7||October 28, 12.00||Pontecosi lakeside||Local foods and products|
|8||November 9, 11.00||Lupinaia, Fosciandora||Stalls, old trades, local products|
Two useful web sites to explore are at
Here you can research into what kind of food festival you are looking for, where it is and when you want to visit it.
What about chestnutty things happening in Bagni di Lucca?
Last year there was a castagnata but to date I have found not indication of one for this year. Maybe later on?
The following events, not necessarily to do with chestnuts, are on the menu, however.
- 22-3 September. All day. The fabulous paese dei balocchi or Toyland for children of all ages, inspired by Carlo Collodi’s immortal book about a famous puppet’s unpredictably elongating nose.
- 28 September. 9 pm. Il Volo della farfalla, theatrical evening in memory of a young actor, Stefano Girolami.
- 29 September. Patron saint feast with procession at Granaiola.
- 30 September. Bagni di Lucca’s second-hand street market and attic sale.
Further afield there is the big castagnata at Marradi which takes place every Sunday in October.
There will be plenty more happening, of course. The main task, however, is to enjoy this extraordinarily warm autumn before the weather changes and we huddle around a wood fire.