Chestnuts are one of the delights brought every year by autumn; these fruits are linked with the Italian celebration of Saint Martin because people, above all on 11th November, are used to spending the evening with their family, eating roasted chestnuts and tasting some great wine. Chestnuts with their yellow pulp, their brown shell and thorny husk have a very curious and strange shape, which has probably contributed to the writing of many poems and nursery rhymes about them.
These fruits are produced by the chestnut tree (the scientific name for the tree is Castanea Sativa) and they’re harvested when they come to ripeness, between September and November. Curiously, the chestnut tree already existed in Europe in the Cenozoic period, but after the last ice age its habitat shifted to the south-western region of Asia; afterwards the plant was reintroduced and spread throughout Europe thanks to the Greek, the Romans and finally to the monastic orders that cultivated them during the Middle Ages, period in which the importance of this tree both for its wood and the nutritional properties of its fruit, rich of starch in its pulp, was recognized; but since 19th century the chestnut tree has lost the consideration it had acquired during the Middle Ages because of many social, economical and technological factors: people have changed their eating habits; other materials like plastic and metal were preferred to the wood of the chestnut tree; furthermore, deforestation increased; finally we can’t forget to mention the action of two parasitic, the Phytophthora cambivora and the Cryphonectria parasitica, which led to diminution of this species of plant.
However, as I’ve said, men have been interested in this tree since ancient times both for its wood and its fruits; Xenophon was the first to talk about the chestnut tree defining it “the tree of bread” and two famous Latin writers, Martial and Virgil, talked about the different ways of cultivating and eating chestnuts. In the past, they have been a great food source in the diet of the mountain populations during the coldest seasons; chestnuts have in fact important nutritional properties thanks to which they’re often employed in the field of medicine : rich in vitamins (especially from group B), fibers and minerals like Potassium and complex carbohydrates like starch (that converts to simple sugars during the cooking process and makes the chestnuts have a sweet taste); they are very caloric (100 g contain up to 200 calories!) so they are used to contrast physical and mental tiredness; with their fibers, they favour the correct rhythm of our intestine; they’re indicated against anemia and they can cure cough; other benefits typical of the chestnut include the antiseptic effects of its leaves for our mouths and throats, while the “juice” extracted from the buds is employed to cure venous insufficiency which can hit legs.
Although today chestnuts aren’t a fundamental ingredient of our daily diet, there are many ways to taste them: they can be boiled or roasted in special holed pans, but they’re often used to prepare the “ marron glacè” (the chestnut is first soaked in syrup and then covered with a sugar frosting ), jams or dried to obtain a particular flour with which it’s possible to make cakes (the most famous is called “Castagnaccio”) and pancakes.
Mmm, very delicious..don’t you think so? 😉 Do you like chestnuts? How do you prefer to eat them? Leave a comment and let us know!