Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Chestnut picking in the park

It happens to be just the right time of year to pick chestnuts (castagne). We had guests this weekend in Maremma who are expert foragers and we wanted to show them what great foraging they could do in Tuscany, so we took them to a public park where we’d heard that one could safely and legally pick chestnuts.

chestnuts1

Okay, I considered not blogging about this place, or keeping its location secret, but really there are enough chestnuts there for all of us. In the small town of Sassofortino there’s a public park with huge chestnut trees. And around mid October these trees yield an unimaginable bounty of nuts! Locals bring their baskets or bags and take nuts from the ground or out of the burs that were constantly falling near or on us (being spiny the latter is quite painful). Each burr of this variety of chestnut contains 3, or sometimes 2 larger nuts. To get the nuts out of the burr without hurting yourself, step on one side with your shoe, or both sides if necessary. When picking nuts from the ground, check that the husk is intact; if it has a white secretion or any holes, that’s worms that have gotten in.

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We met a local man who asked us how our hunt was going – clearly a ploy to engage us in conversation as we could barely carry the 5 or so kilos that we’d picked up. He said indeed this is a great free resource and that it’s perfectly legal to come here and pick chestnuts. He noticed that we were not armed with bottles to fill at the fountain in the same park, and told us something we didn’t know – that there is excellent fresh spring water available here too.

How to cook your chestnuts

We boiled some in abundant water seasoned with bay leaves or whatever you have on hand, and a drop of oil, for 30-40 minutes (depending on if you like it more mealy or more liquid). Boiled castagne can be used in pasta or other meals. The more traditional solution is to cook them on an open fire, either with a BBQ or on a gas flame using a special pan with holes in the bottom. Remove the whole outer husk before eating! The sweet “marron glacé” is made with a larger variety of the nut.

Other chestnut events in Tuscany

This is the season to attend a fair at which roasted chestnuts and related products are sold. The most famous is the Sagra delle Castagne in Marradi, to which one takes either the regular regional or a special antique steam train. It’s a small town at the top of the Faentina, the road that connects Florence to Faenza over the Appenines. Firenzuola and Palazzuolo are two other places with chestnut fairs in October – check out the excellent article and list from APT Firenze.

By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Laura

    Delicious castagne!!!
    How many cakes with them!!!!! Castagnaccio, necci con ricotta (o nutella..), montebianco..
    And how many proverbs:
    “cavare le castagne dal fuoco”
    “prendere in castagna”

    When a big castagna party togheter?

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Laura!! The castagne are waiting here for you. When are you coming to visit?
    You can make a cake with them if you like!

  • Jann

    Ciao Alexandra,
    They’re so beautiful–and a bowlful of chestnuts is a perfect centerpiece for a table, don’t you think? Thanks for the tip about boiling…I’ve tried “frying” them in a normal frying pan without much success. (Chestnut cake sounds divine…)

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    You’re welcome – boiling is easy and requires no special equipment ;-). The centerpiece is a good idea, i think i’ll do that. BTW I was told to use a basket that breathes rather than a container in which moisture can accumulate.

  • http://www.annainsaluzzo.blogspot.com Anna Savino

    love chestnuts and never even had them until i moved to italy! roasted are the best way i have to say:) thanks for a great post!

  • Estherranada

    would luv to visit tuscany and enjoy pleasant hikes, chestnut-foraging, etc. any recommended bed & breakfast on a meager pensionista’s travel budget?

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Esther,
    I’m afraid Tuscany is rather a large area in which to make recommendations, and as a resident I haven’t a whole lot of experience with B&B’s. In Tuscany there is a large agritourism business and in the off season you can usually find something – even a whole apartment – for 30 euros per person per night,double occupancy. Beware that chestnut season doesn’t always guarantee good weather (nor does the period in which one would forage for mushrooms, since that requires a lot of rain).
    Tuscany also has a whole lot of different areas – the one i was writing about here was Maremma and there are a lot of hospitality options there; closer to Florence the valdarno has some good offerings. If you’re looking for a reasonably priced apartment rental in a villa my friend sara has a place near montevarchi (www.poggiolotuscany.com) and I think it’s about 1000 euros a week for a beautiful apartment.
    Hope that helps
    Alexandra

  • Angela Quaite

    I have picked a good amount here in Canada and was wondering if I am able to store them till Christmas what kind of storing /preparations would I need to do to make them last? 

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    That is a REALLY good question, Angela… Ours got worms and self-destructed in a month, so I figure I am not the right person to ask :) ! The two things NOT to do that we did were: keep them in a sealed plastic container; keep them in an open basket. So honestly I have no idea. You’d think one of those would be the right answer! Try a cooking forum, maybe?

  • Anonymous

    Refrigerate as soon as picked. Store in a paper bag only. Lengthy storage in a frost free unit will after time dry out the nuts. Don’t fear, cut the nuts in half, use a shallow container with a small amount of water, fill with a layer of the cut nuts, cover loosely, and microwave for 3 or 4 mins. Nuts will be easily removed from shell and husk. Last step, EAT ( or use however you please ).

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Helpful tips, thanks!