Chestnut: A winter fruit!
A winter image most loved and ever so familiar to Greeks; one that has inspired painters, novelists and song makers: it is none other than the image of the chestnut-seller sitting next to his portable brazier, at the corner of the street, roasting chestnuts on the charcoals and selling tasty snacks to passers-by.
Who could really say no to the tantalizing aroma of roasted chestnuts, drifting in the air, inviting everyone to stop briefly for a scrumptious healthy snack? The chestnut is, after all, a food of high nutritional value with a great taste which will satisfy your appetite and bring warm feelings to your heart!
So, next time you go out, look for the chestnut man, taste and feel the atmosphere of the Greek winter!
You can try chestnuts on their own, roasted, boiled or baked in the oven; use them also in your recipes and add a unique flavour and colour to your culinary pursuits, as both your sweet and salted creations will gain greatly by this ingredient’s mellow, rich taste. Although they are the perfect accompaniment to pork and poultry, the Greek traditional confectionery is where they are mostly used in. Enjoy them as a spoon sweet, in jams and spreads and you will certainly love it in cakes such as tsoureki, vasilopita and sweetbreads!
Chestnuts grow everywhere in Greece in Macedonian forests in the north and all the way down to Cretan mountains in the south; the new harvest is cause for celebration in many parts of the country. Join the locals in mountainous villages across the land and savour this valuable winter fruit with a glass of tsipouro [a strong spirit] or wine!
In the Peloponnese
It is time for chestnuts in late October! If you travel to Kastanitsa, a picturesque village on the eastern mountainside of Mt Parnonas, apart from chestnut dishes, you can try herbal mountain tea, traditional bean soup, boiled goat meat, wine and tsipouro. The feast includes various events involving traditional music and dancing, a cooking contest as well as an activity for the little ones: a chestnut spoon contest!
In neighbouring Arna, Laconia, you can try roasted chestnuts, boiled or in sweets next to locally made tsipouro. Before leaving, make sure you carry with you some local produce such as walnuts, pomegranate, quince and mountain herbs. You will find them in the open air marketplace in the central square during the festival.
Another chestnut festival takes place in Ampeliona village, Messinia. Taste roasted chestnuts, hot bean soup and a shot of tsipouro near Trani Vrysi, the imposing stone fountain in the village square and then take a walk in the neighbouring chestnut tree forest. It is a 4km route to be taken on foot or by car through the dense woods!
On the islands!
A chestnut festival is a rare thing to see on an island…or maybe not?? Picturesque Agiassos on Lesvos Island is famous for its chestnut forest and the feast in November is all about welcoming the new harvest. Follow the trails in the forest, pick chestnuts along your way or watch a theatre or music performance, fill your suitcase with cheese, herbs and sweets made by the members of the Women’s Agricultural and Manufacture Cooperative of Agiassos or by other local producers.
If you happen to travel to Crete in late October or early November, make sure you visit Elos and Prassé villages near Chania. You can try baked chestnuts next to traditional roasts, and the chestnut spoon sweet.
In the rest of Greece
A treat of chestnut and tsipouro welcomes visitors to Ano Chora in the mountainous Nafpaktia region in early October. The braziers and distillation boilers are set up early in the day in the village’s paved square, awaiting visitors, whereas in the afternoon local ladies offer traditional pies and sweets such as pancakes, loukoumades, baklava, ravani, kourabiedes and spoon sweets.
A chestnut festival is put up also in Mavrilo village on the east slopes of Mt Velouchi in late October. Try the local chestnuts next to traditional pies accompanied by a glass of tsipouro under the shade of age-old plane trees; visit also the renovated gunpowder mill at the village entrance.
A Chestnut and Tsipouro festival is also held yearly in Rodavgi, Arta. Enjoy roasted or boiled chestnuts and fragrant tsipouro made from zampela – a local grape variety, against the majestic backdrop of Mt. Pindus Range and artificial Lake Arachthos.
A stone’s throw from Thessaloniki, in Livadi, Thermi, a chestnut festival takes place in the main square with the centuries-old plane tree. Follow the beautiful chestnut forest trails and enjoy the lovely view of Anthemounta valley and the horseshoe-shaped Thermaikos Gulf.
Tip: Do you know the expression “pull someone’s chestnuts out of the fire”? It suggests boldness and bravery!
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