I’ve just received an email from Ponti nel Tempo (Bridges in Time), the tourist organisation for the Alpi Apuane, notifying me of NINE chestnut festivals, one starting tonight and eight on Sunday. You can tell these are for locals because they don’t give you much warning; they assume you live here and are ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Here’s what’s on offer:
From Friday 11 to Sunday 13 October
Autunno Apuano, Loc. Bosa (Careggine)
Sunday 13 October
Fiera di ottobre, Castiglione di Garfagnana
Castagnata del CAI, Fortezza di Mont’alfonso (Castelnuovo di Garfagnana)
La Castagna e i suoi sapori, Convalle (Pescaglia)
Mondinata con la Befana, Pegnana (Barga)
Castagnata in piazza , Cascio (Molazzana)
Festa della Castagna, Trassilico (Gallicano)
Festa della Castagna alla Selva del Buffardello (San Romano in Garfagnana)
Festa del Borgo della Poesia , Castelvecchio Pascoli (Barga)
Details of each event can be found at www.pontineltempo.it.
What’s most surprising to me is that despite being a sagra (festival) junkie, I’ve only been to one of these, the Fiera di ottobre at Castiglione, where they serve a delectable lunch including porcini mushrooms and black truffles. Highly recommended! Although every single sagra is tempting, I’m going to Convalle, because that’s where my friends Nada and Romeo live and weave the most beautiful household linens. To read more about them see my blog Weaving a Life of Happiness, and to visit them come on my Tastes & Textiles tour next May. But I’m digressing.
Chestnut festivals are attractions for the whole family. The children enjoy the roast chestnuts.
So do their parents and grandparents, but the latter are especially nostalgic about the necci, chestnut-flour pancakes cooked between flat stones or steel plates over a burner and often used as wraps for ricotta. Some of the grandparents ate dishes prepared with chestnut flour for every meal when they were young.
Collecting, drying, shelling, sorting and milling chestnuts is a whole story in itself, a story of nourishment and social cohesion. You can read about how my village does it in my blogs Getting Under the Skin, To the Mulino, At the Mulino.
Sadly, we haven’t lit the metato, the chestnut drying hut, for the last two years, because there haven’t been enough good quality chestnuts.
The enormous, centuries old trees are under attack from a teeny weeny Chinese wasp with a long name, Dryocosmus kuriphilus, which was first spotted in the Piedmont in 2002. The female lays its eggs in the leaf bud (no male fertilisation is required) and the first year no damage is detected. The following spring galls are visible on the affected leaves and the presence of the larvae causes the leaves to be smaller and deformed. Photosynthesis is inhibited, the tree becomes weaker and produces fewer and smaller chestnuts. The most effective control found so far is a Japanese wasp, the natural predator of D. kuriphilus, which has been released in limited numbers, and should result in a good battle. Australians will shudder and think of the cane toad.
I don’t suppose attending a chestnut festival will help the poor chestnuts, but we’d better enjoy them while we can.