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ORIGINS

CHESTNUTS

Chestnuts also played a very important role in the diet of the people of Calabria, especially of the less well off. Chestnut, in fact, can be considered a real "plant of civilization", as vine and olive tree, which had a profound impact on the journey of man and in the formation and evolution of the agricultural landscape of the mountain areas of Calabria. The rural populations of the mountain areas have always lived together; in particular, the mountaineer and the chestnut has always lived in harmony: one needed the other to survive through difficulty (food shortages, competition with other plants, etc.) and to give its best during periods of development (colonization of foothill slopes, new settlements, hydrogeological protection, etc.).

The origin of Chestnut in Calabria dates back to the period of the Magna Graecia. The Greeks appreciate the chestnut, develop its cultivation, by selecting new varieties, consume the fruits in various ways, work the timber and use the young Chestnut trees as poles. The prophet Isaiah, the poet Homer, the historian Xenophon and the physician Hippocrates already mention the chestnuts in their works. Greeks, Phoenicians and Jews traded Chestnuts around the Mediterranean basin. During the period of the Magna Graecia, fruits and seedlings arrive repeatedly in southern Italy, especially in Calabria where in the affected area find favourable conditions for the Chestnut growing. Soon, also the Romans discovered the various potentials of Chestnut and make it the subject of discussions in the areas of agronomy forestry, historical, cultural, culinary, medical and scientific poetry. Among the many Roman writers who have dealt with Chestnut, in the areas of agronomy, forestry, historical, poetic, cultural and culinary excel Pliny, Columella, Palladius, Ovid, and Livy.

And the poet Virgil, about Sila, wrote in his Georgics "Pascitur in Magna Sila formosa juvenca"... They were very popular places in Roman times ... beautiful meadows "where herds of sheep and cows feed themselves producing milk for delicious cheeses... and still Virgil dwelt also on the tasty chestnuts, roasted chestnuts, or boiled or cooked with milk and cheese.

After the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions, we witness a general decline that not even the chestnut escaped. And during the Full and Low Middle Ages there was a massive development of cereal crops that reduced the forest plantations, featuring wheat as the symbol of white and soft bread from the cities, chestnuts as dry and hard bread for the mountaineers.

We need to go as far as the High Middle Ages before the chestnut restore its historical significance. In the mountainous areas, the chestnut famine is equivalent to the grain famine: chestnuts become the bread of the poor and the gentlemen prefer other dishes. To improve the shelf life of fresh fruits, chestnuts were made falling off the trees with long sticks (shaking them down), the husks still full are first stored in the "ricciaia" and then in the sand. At least two thirds of the crop is dried for 20-40 days depending on the climate, at first in caves and on racks, then in special boxes called "pastillari", of which we can still find several examples in the mountain areas of Calabria.

CHESTNUTS