In late fall, chestnuts pop in the night in the medieval backstreets of Arcidosso, Tuscan mountain village on Mount Amiata. Teams of men twirl the handle on huge perforated metal bins full of chestnuts rolling over the coals under the bellies of the bins. When the husks slip loose on the roasted chestnuts, the men shovel them into white paper bags, passing them out to those in line, awaiting the pungent goodness. “Locals” and visitors line up for the roasted chestnuts at this southern Tuscany Festa della Castagna (“Festival of the Chestnuts”). Munching hot chestnuts festival-goers wander the booths filling Arcidosso’s main piazza and winding down into the labyrinthine medieval backstreets.
Artisans from all over central Italy sell their wares at the Festa but the chestnut reigns in a rich program of festival events. Book presentations on the cultivation and harvesting of chestnuts and an array of lectures on the “noble chestnut” draw some and the stands offering food specialties of central Italy draw everyone.
At many a culinary stand, the chestnut stars: chestnut creams, cakes, pastas, flours, liqueurs at one stand, artisanal chestnut beers at another.
And in the Arcidosso bakeries, chestnut pies, cakes and pastries fill display cases; across the street, crates of chestnuts are for sale in front of the local fruit shop for those opting to roast chestnuts at home on the wood stove. At one booth, groups of local women offer their tempting homemade sweets, chestnuts the theme in each one.
Medieval crossbowers, bands, street musicians, choral concerts animate the chestnut celebration. And as day gives up to night, groups of families and friends fill the vaulted medieval cellars to feast on wild boar, soups with chickpeas, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts, pork roast with chestnut/apple sauce and chestnut/pear flans. Local volunteers cook up the goodness, with chestnuts starring in many a dish… but not only.
We chose a taverna where parents of the children in the local ski school cook together, their eager children serving at table and the ski teacher seating all diners, handling reservations. Part of the income will be contributed to the FESTA but part finances the ski school up on Monte Amiata… where snow will soon blanket the chestnut trees.
As we left, we passed a card-reader crouched at a small table in the vaulted alleyway, shuffling the cards he would read for a client. I wonder if he’s predicting a bountiful chestnut harvest?