Celebrating l’Albero del Pane

November 25, 2014 / Events
San Martino, Umbria

Rural people baptized it l’albero del pane (“the bread tree”) for this tree grew on the mountains where wheat would not grow (and if elevation was also too high for olive trees, walnuts gave oil). The chestnut has starred in the culinary history of many civilizations and nowadays, highlights many a central Italy food festival.

To discover the apex of chestnut culinary creativity, don’t miss the mid-November Festa del Vino e delle Castagne (Wine and Chestnust Festival) of San Martino in Colle, minuscule castle-village near Perugia.


As you enter the village through the medieval arch, you’ll see red-cheeked Signor Agostino roasting chestnuts over an open fire. At a stand nearby, a volunteer sells il vino novello (new wine, i.e. of this year’s harvest). Chestnuts and wine are inextricably linked in central Italy’s rural culture. A much-loved  saying, “San Martino, San Martino, castagne e vino” (“San Martino, San Martino, chestnuts and wine”) comes to life here in Umbria on November 11th, the feast of St. Martin, when rural families gather to inaugurate their new wine with roasted chestnuts.


And some festival visitors head here just for roasted chestnuts and vino novello. Others opt for a pre-chestnut hot sandwich: sliced roasted sausages (Signor Agostino on the job) slipped into torta, the Umbrian hearth bread, perhaps topped with mixed greens sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Or torta con barbozza (razor-thin, transparent slices of pork cheek).

If you’re there for full castagna indulgence, head into the food tent, just on the other side of the fire. Young volunteers serve up the indescribable goodness: the night we were there, chickpea/chestnut soup, homemade gnocchi with Umbria meat sauce, bean soup with pigskin, mixed greens of spinach, Swiss chard and chicory sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Main course headlining that night? Roast pork smothered in a buonissimo chestnut sauce. Desserts? With chestnuts, of course. Two tasty tarts.


In the tent kitchen, older volunteers cooked the feast. Peppa was plucking pheasants for the pheasant-stuffed ravioli (for the following night), flanked by Ezio rolling out the gnocchi. Bald retired baker Giovanni (“for over fifty-years, I baked from midnight to 8 a.m.) handled the torta bread-baking and Signora Rita split open torta slices for the filling with sausages, prosciutto or barbozza. Retired butcher Romano sliced barbozza and prosciutto with arthritic hands (“I”ve been doing this butchering work since I was seven. Pain-killers help me…”).


After our feast, we looked at the upcoming weekend menu of tasty dishes, posted near the tent door: the chestnut-filled gnocchi and the chestnut ravioli were enough to set our sights on a comeback.

For more reading, here’s an older note on San Martino in central Italy.



Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

14 Responses to “Celebrating l’Albero del Pane”

  1. marianna raccuglia

    I so enjoy reading Anne’s wonderful heartwarming observations on Umbrian life.
    The photos make me long to be there and share in the festivities. Thank you, dear Anne!

  2. sandra potter

    We stopped there in Sept. and enjoyed our walk with few tourists. Your food pictures make my mouth water …. we’ll be in attendance next year. Just love your articles, Anne!

  3. carol weed lundin

    There is no end, is there, to the towns and festivals you so enticingly describe to all of us who must live vicariously for a good part of the year?

  4. Are there different varieties of chestnuts for using in recipes? Does USA have chestnuts that would do well in Italian recipes?
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

  5. Katie Larsh

    I still have a favorite memory of the smell of roasting chestnuts outside the stores in the winter when I lived in Europe. Anne, you have brought them back again with your mouthwatering descriptions of this wonderful festival in San Martino!Thank you

  6. Jack Litewka

    Made me hungry. Had never considered heading to Umbria in November, but I might have to reconsider. ;-)

  7. Valerie Foster

    I love these notes that focus on the daily life of these real people. Grazie!

  8. david fleming

    Once again Anne has transported us to a unique slice of Umbrian life. The pictures together with description of the local customs /townfolk are so vivid, almost seems like I’m there!!

  9. Ann Krapf

    Your pictures of the food and the people combined with your great descriptions always make me wish I was back there with you. We went to a festival one year in Buonconvento and the kids from the town served the meals, just like this festival! Great traditions

  10. Patrizia Carroll

    So much delicious food in Italy. Never get tired of discovering new tastes. Thanks Anne.

  11. Carl Keane

    Anne — reading your description of the event and the food, and looking at the pictures, made me want to immediately jump on a plane for Umbria!


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