How do you say Chestnuts in Italian? Castagne
I have to admit, I had no idea that chestnuts came from these spiky pom-poms. I really never thought about it. You really must be careful walking through the woods at this time of year. The wind sways the trees above and you can hear the thump-thump of the nuts falling. The spikes are hard and dry like a prickly cactus. You really don’t want to be hit in the head with one of those!
Show me something natural!
Monte Barro is a large rock formation emerging from the banks of the Adda River here in Lecco. It’s one of the first pre-Alp mountains and hits a height of 922 meters. Easily hikable, even for an inexperienced hiker like myself.
The most accessible trail from Lecco is across the old bridge Ponte Azzone Visconti. There is a little alley way leading to stone steps. Just start walking up the steps.
The colors and mild temperatures of autumn offer a pleasant walk up the well-marked trails. In late October the chestnut trees start dropping their spiky pom-poms which fall to the ground and break open. Inside are chestnuts. Dark, redish-brown, teardrop shaped nuts that are excellent for roasting or boiling.
Chestnuts naturally fall from the trees late October to November.
I met a family on the trail. It seemed to me to be a dad, a boy about 9 years old and the grandma and grandpa. Grandma was shouting out to the boy where to look for the chestnuts while the dad and grandpa were off in the nearby field, chatting. The boy had a blue backpack full of chestnuts and brought them over to grandma who dumped them on the ground and then carefully selected which ones were good to bring home. The boy pointed to the hillside and triumphantly told me “I went all the way up there!”. I asked the woman how she knew which ones were good or not. “They have to be firm. Then you must look at the color. Some of them are too small, they will be too bitter.” I then asked her about cooking techniques. The grandpa who was within earshot shouted over “These are only good for boiling!” Grandma and Grandpa seemed to disagree. I didn’t want to take up any more of their time, so I bid them a good afternoon. I happily took the extra plastic bag they offered me so that I could bring some home for myself. They carried on with their selections and wished me luck with my harvesting.
You can roast, boil or grill chestnuts. Boil with the skins for about 25-30 minutes (depending on size). Peel and eat.
Roast on an open fire or in the oven on 150°C for about 20-25 minutes. Be sure to cut a slit on them so they don’t explode in the oven.
I will be updating more info about hiking on Monte Barro…stay tuned!
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Article by Celia Abernethy (c)
Photos by Celia Abernethy can be licensed on Picfair