Seemingly very easy to roast chestnuts over an open fire but the Alpini in Barga this weekend show their years of experience in tossing a full pan of chestnuts without dropping a few into the fire.
The Alpini (Italian for “alpines”), are an elite mountain warfare military corps of the Italian Army. They are currently organized in two operational brigades, which are subordinated to the Alpine Troops Headquarters.
Established in 1872, the Alpini are the oldest active mountain infantry in the world. Their original mission was to protect Italy’s northern mountain border with France and Austria. In 1888 the Alpini deployed on their first mission abroad, in Africa, a continent where they returned on several occasions and during various wars of the Kingdom of Italy. They emerged during World War I as they fought a three-year campaign on the Alps against Austro-Hungarian Kaiserjäger and the German Alpenkorps in what has since become known as the “War in snow and ice”. During World War II, the Alpini fought alongside the Axis forces, mainly across the Eastern Front and in the Balkans Campaigns.
After the end of the Cold War, the Italian Army was reorganised in the 1990s. Three out of five Alpini brigades and many support units were disbanded. Currently, the Alpini are deployed in Afghanistan.
Celebrations in Barga last year to mark the 80th anniversary of founding of the Alpini in Barga.
Probably one of the first foods eaten by man, the chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The chestnut tree was first introduced to Europe via Greece. Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C.
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”
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