Monday, February 1, 2010

Chess Nuts Gathering

We usually get our chestnut gathering dose by going up to Monte Amiata and helping some friends of ours with their harvest. For various reasons this did not happen this year, but we still were able to gather our own even if only a few. Late last fall we were driving west of Siena on the via Pian del Lago on our third trip to try to see the medieval hermitage San Leonardo al Lago reputed for the beauty of its painted decorations, which were very nice, but not our main subject here. While driving here on a previous weekend we took a meandering drive over a mountain toward Monteriggioni. On the way we saw an almost impassable amount of cars parked and the former occupants all toiling away at taking the wild and free chestnuts as if it were some great holiday. The nuts they were collecting were not from the tended orchards but from the overgrown, maybe abandoned, trees that grew there. After a successful trip to the hermitage there was still enough daylight to try and collect some of our own chestnuts. Gone were the weekend warriors and we had the forest to ourselves.

In this first picture you can see a chestnut tree with its unique leaves along with the pods that usually contain a cluster of nuts. Below is what happens to the uncollected chestnuts, they turn into little trees. The leaves can turn bright yellow and into a warm brown before they fall.

Here's what you usually find, the pod drops and opens on the ground. It then is a race for the nuts between man and beast. First there are worms that often get in there very quickly and second the wild boar, squirrels, and other mammals find them as delicious as we do.

Did I mention that you should wear gloves for this activity? You should wear gloves! Even these cotton gloves get penetrated, but they are better than the alternative.

Look closely at the nuts for worm holes, if you see them throw it away. You should soak the nuts in water for a couple of days after you clean them off. These uncultivated nuts are much smaller than are available from the shops, but you can boil them and add to a rabbit stew or with sausages, tomatoes and cream to make a pasta sauce.

Oh yeah...this tastes good.

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