The chestnut tree grows widely throughout Canton Ticino between 200 and 1000 metres above sea level. Back in the early middle ages, when it was known as the “bread tree” and was one of the main food sources, people developed a range of techniques to preserve chestnuts; in this way, they could be consumed throughout almost the entire year. One of the most common preservation techniques was a particular process for drying chestnuts; they were first collected in the woods and then taken to small two-storey stone buildings known as “gra”, Here, they were slowly dried over a fire which provided steady heat for weeks on end. The romantic vision of these tongues of smoke spiralling up above the “gra” has become a distant memory, but the nutritional value and goodness of this autumnal fruit live on. Nowadays, as in the past, there is a wide range of products which can be obtained from chestnuts: flour, flakes, bread, pastries, cakes, jams and beer whilst foodies adore marrons glacés, roasted chestnuts and boiled chestnuts with cream or served as a side dish with game.
By Alessandro Pesce, journalist and Daniela Linder-Basso (UCT – Unione Contadini Ticinesi)