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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fêtes des Châtaignes – Chestnut Festivals

It’s the season of fêtes in France.

We’re lucky in Provence; it’s a great place to celebrate these country festivities.

The late autumn sun was unusually warm here on Sunday, an extra incentive for all of the 613 inhabitants of Les Mayons to celebrate the annual chestnut festival.

This is deep Provence, a village surrounded by cork, olive and chestnut trees – a village steeped in tradition, no glamour here just good old fashion heart and soul seduction.

Chestnut trees grow wild in this area of the Massif des Maures where for hundreds of years chestnuts used to be a staple food for the country folks; they made flour, and beer from chestnuts and fed the peelings to the animals.

Today, chestnuts are included in many menus in France. It can be chopped and mixed in with a salad, make a hearty yet delicate winter soup. It’s the sweetness of chestnuts that makes it so decadent in our desserts, so enticing in liqueur de Châtaigne.

But why do we say marron glacés for those wonderful crystallized chestnuts and Vin de Châtaignes for wine made with chestnuts? They are after all made from the same fruit.

It has to do with the biologic aspect, the separation of the fruit.

Sweet chestnuts produced from the chestnut tree can be either marrons or châtaignes depending on the separation – if the fruit has a partition it’s called a châtaigne, if it’s  contained as a single piece, then it’s a marron.

Châtaigne or marron, nothing beats the aroma of fresh roasted chestnuts out in the open especially on a fine day in October.

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