The chestnut season is celebrated every October in many regions across Greece with special events organized to promote the chestnut’s nutritional value.
In antiquity, the chestnut tree was regarded in Greece as the tree of Zeus. Mount Olympus, home of the gods of the ancient Greeks, was said to have had an abundance of chestnut trees producing this sweet, edible nut.
Once peeled of their hard, dark brown outer shells and bitter inner skin, chestnuts can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, roasted, boiled, mashed, preserved and candied. A special type of coffee with calming effects is produced from dried chestnuts, while the chestnut tree leaves are used for their therapeutic properties in lung diseases and rheumatism.
An annual “Chestnut Party” will take place during the weekend at Paleochori in Kavala Prefecture, northeastern Greece. According to organizers, over 5,000 people attend the event each year and consume roughly 5 tons of chestnuts and 1,000 kilos of wine.
Similar celebrations are also held in Damaskinia in the prefecture of Kozani, Agiasos on the island of Lesvos, Karitsa in the prefecture of Larissa and in Arna in the prefecture of Laconia.
The sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), originally native to southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, was introduced into Europe from Sardis in Asia Minor; the fruit was then called the ‘Sardian Nut’. It has been a staple food in Southern Europe, Turkey and southwestern and eastern Asia for millennia, largely replacing cereals where these would not grow well, if at all, in mountainous Mediterranean areas
Alexander the Great and the Romans planted Chestnut trees across Europe while on their various campaigns. The Greek army is said to have survived their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C. thanks to their stores of chestnuts. Ancient Greeks like the physician, pharmacologist and botanist Dioscorides and Romans such as Galen, the prominent physician and philosopher of Greek origin, wrote of chestnuts to comment on their medicinal properties. To the early Christians chestnuts symbolized chastity. Until the introduction of the potato, whole forest-dwelling communities which had scarce access to wheat flour relied on chestnuts as their main source of carbohydrates. In some parts of Italy a cake made of chestnuts is used as a substitute for potatoes.
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