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Accordion, red wine, castagnaccio and mondine

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Just last week we published an article bemoaning the fact that November is gradually becoming one  of the worst months of the year for services in Barga Vecchia (article here) In the article we talked in negative terms about how in the height of the summer season, it is not really a problem finding a place to sit down and eat or enjoy a drink but during the winter months it can get slightly more difficult with many places shut for a rest after the long summer season and effectively shutting the city until the Christmas/New Year holidays begin.

Maybe, now is the time to show the other side of the coin – Barga as a viable working community which sometimes flies in the face of what would be recognised as normal practice. One such occasion when it makes one feel very lucky be a member of this community happened this week in Aristos with the arrival of the great characters of Barga Vecchia, Natale Bertolini with a basket full of still warm freshly roasted chestnuts.

The humble sweet chestnut has been an important ingredient in the Mediterranean diet – Homer mentions them, and Pliny even says which kinds were grown in Southern Italy. With time their cultivation spread throughout the peninsula, because they were one of the few food crops that could be grown on steep mountain slopes, and also one of the few crops that could be expected to provide sustenance through the long winter months.

By the middle ages castagne were the staple food of the peasants in large parts of Italy. In this area it has been the saviour of many people who otherwise would have starved when times got really bad and the sweet chestnut flour is still known to this day in Garfagnana as “poor mans flour”

Natale, one of the masters of roasting chestnuts showed just why he is so famous in the whole valley for his technique. We published an article about his methods back in March 2007 (article here)

There are various methods that people try to preserve the chestnuts well past the autumn and into the winter. Some try burying them in glass demijohns and flasks in an attempt to keep them fresh. Others have even tried imitating the squirrels and edible dormice in this area who store the nuts inside hollow trees wrapped up in moss but the most widely used technique (and the one that Natale used even he didn’t want to admit to it in public) was storing them in the deep freezer.

Then the door to the bar opens and in walks Elena bearing a large tray of freshly baked castagnaccio – the classic sweet dish from this area made from chestnut flour. (A recipe for castagnaccio can be seen here ) Her decision to cook and bring in castagnaccio was completely independent of the arrival of Natale with his mondine – one of those great coincidences which sometimes just work here.

Within minutes the party was on, the red wine was flowing and all helped along by the stirring accordion playing of Giuliano.

Nothing every “over organised” just happening.

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