Driving Over Chestnuts

I may have mentioned before, but it is Autumn in Asturias. The leaves have turned. The cider lorries collect the roadside sacks of apples daily. And round every bend on every winding back road huddles of people clutching baskets, carrier bags and, of course, sticks hunch to their task of collecting chestnuts.

As do we. It’s quite impossible to resist. The proliferation of the sweet chestnut tree is such that the roads are carpeted in their fruit at this time of year. In fact, I regularly suffer pangs of conscience as the car bumps over yet another prodigious patch of them, plastering them pointlessly to the tarmac. Such waste.

So, quite apart from dedicated foraging trips to the woods or chestnut groves, and much to the annoyance of our energetic greyhound, our daily roadside walks have become grossly extended in time but not distance, as I cannot resist stopping to stuff my pockets to bursting every few paces. As I roll yet another spiky chestnut casing underfoot to reveal its shiny bounty within, the hound prances about impatiently, occasionally resorting to a gentle nip on my sleeve to remind me where my focus ought to be.

Luckily, in addition to bones, meat and all things stolen, our greyhound is also partial to a roasted nut or two, so his payoff comes in the evenings, as he lolls in front of the woodburner which currently doubles up as a perpetual chestnut roaster.

We heart chestnuts ;)

The history of the chestnut in the culture of Asturias is as rich as the velvety flesh of the nut itself.  Introduced by the Romans, the chestnut was the staple food of northern Spain for many centuries, providing the main source of nutrition and being consumed in many forms, including flour. Knowing this, the nutty autumnal abundance falls neatly into place.

And so it is that the Asturian version of harvest festival, ‘amagüestu’,  is a celebration of both the apple and, primarily, the chestnut. And where better to learn about the traditions of a harvest festival than in a school?

Our little country school celebrates amaguestu in fine style, involving people from across the community and the generations. The children and teachers wear full traditional dress and there is gaita music (the Asturian pipes) to accompany their dramatization of chestnut picking throughout the ages. Chestnuts are roasted and the first (non-alcoholic!) pressing of the apples (sidra dulce) is drunk. Families provide the food, with an emphasis on local and seasonal specialties (and cake, because that’s always appropriate!)

All in all it’s a wonderful event and we feel privileged to be part of such a strong community that is still so clearly attached to nature and the traditions that spring forth from that. Mind you, you don’t actually need to go to any school to realise that – you just need to drive down an Asturian country road in Autumn and see all the chestnut collectors in action.


 

Comments

  1. I enjoyed this post. You write most beautifully and I always like learning about other cultures.

    • Thanks for reading Kate and for your lovely comment. I do find the traditions and customs of other cultures really fascinating, and they can often reflect back interesting insights about our own culture.

  2. What a gorgeous post… That first photograph is like a painting! I love learning about the culture in your region. I am also very partial to chestnuts – they keep my hands warm usually when we are wandering the Christmas Markets! :D

    • Thanks Emma. I have memory cards full of photos of impressive chestnut trees. They’re just too gorgeous to resist snapping! And the gorging on chestnuts continues nightly here :)

  3. Today is the Amagüestu celebration, and during this following weekend there´s gonna be held some celebrations at Arriondas. My daughter went today to school quite eager to enjoy the party. I liked your post, the pictures and descriptions in English; I would try to write a post about this weekend celebrations, difficult for mye since English is not my mother tongue, I would like to take some sentences out of your post, if you don´t mind and do my best. Saludos.

    • Thanks for your kind words Gustavo. I’m sure your daughter will enjoy the Amaguestu celebrations a lot. It’s a lovely fiesta. If you would like to use some of my text, with an acknowledgement and link that would be fine. Your English is excellent by the way! Un saludo.

  4. You make it sound lovely. Gorgeous photos! Best wishes and thanks for visiting my blog.

  5. We heart chestnuts too. Lovely post. Your blog always makes me want to come to your part of Spain.

  6. As a 22 year old English girl who has just moved to Gijón to work as a language assistant (currently very limited spanish) I’m really enjoying reading your blog about Asturias and it’s traditions! My school is currently celebrating amaguestu and I’ve been a little confused by it all until I read this post! Please keep posting lovely pictures – your village is much prettier than my endless view of high rise flats here!

    • Oh hi Kate! How lovely to ‘meet’ you and thank you so much for your kind words. I’m really glad you like the blog and that it’s proving helpful. I remember being rather flummoxed by Amaguestu when I first arrived here too! I’ll do my best to keep posting some nice pictures for you. To be honest I’m spoiled for choice with nice views round here! :)

Trackbacks

  1. […] history of the chestnut in the culture of Asturias is as rich as the velvety flesh of the nut itself.  Introduced by the […]

  2. […] cling to branches but at the base of the trees their fallen brethren pile higher and higher. Where, a couple of weeks ago, my dog walks inspired me to stuff my pockets full of chestnuts, now they send me scurrying off for my wheelbarrow to collect this bounty of leaves for […]

  3. […] cling to branches but at the base of the trees their fallen brethren pile higher and higher. Where, a couple of weeks ago, my dog walks inspired me to stuff my pockets full of chestnuts, now they send me scurrying off for my wheelbarrow to collect this bounty of leaves for […]

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