Here comes another one of my confessions: I’m kind of obsessed with chestnuts (yes, I’m still talking about food). So when I was in Montseny and found out I’d be visiting a chestnut farm (!!!), I got all sorts of excited.
My passion for chestnuts began years ago in Madrid, during chilly months when my fingers were frozen and my stomach empty. You see, each winter, carts pop up in city squares, outside shops and on street corners, all hawking rolled-newspaper cones stuffed full with dark toasted wintery nuts of love (what? That’s not what you call them?). Peeling off the flaky, burnt outside, you’ll inevitably blacken your fingers, savoring the warm doughy inside. They’re like Christmas in your mouth, and conjure up images of a fireplace and Jack Frost nipping at the air.
I’m not sure that the Catalans have this same Christmas-nut connection, but what I do know is that they dig them too. The region, in fact, holds a yearly celebration on November 1st – called a Castanyada (castanya/castaña meaning chestnut in Catalan/Spanish) — to honor the ancient seed. Indeed the chestnut used to be a lot more important to Catalunya, until the 19th century came along, and with it corn and potatoes (here’s looking at you America).
During the fiesta, families come together for a Thanksgiving-style meal, including roasted chestnuts, panellets (a bite-sized pastry often made of almonds and pine nuts), and even sweet potatoes. Let’s be honest, the only crucial element missing is some pumpkin pie and maybe some stuffing.
It’s this nut-driven passion that motivates the folks at Castanya de Viladrau: a farm committed to sustaining and growing chestnut production in Montseny. They not only harvest the nuts, but also focus on evangelizing all the marvelous things you can do with them.
As a food, they can be enjoyed beyond just roasting on an open fire, but also for use in honey, beer, chocolate, cookies, sausage, cake, liquor, jam….really, the list goes on. And the tree wood – both sturdy and rot-resistant – can be used for everything from furniture, to planters and more. Basically, it’s a miracle tree.
The fine folks at Castanya de Viladrau care so deeply for castañas, that their work is actually just a hobby. By day, the group of volunteers report to their full-time jobs, but in their free time, the chestnut enthusiasts give tours of the farm facilities, go to fairs, and generally just make the world a better place. My kind of people.
If you are ever in the region, please pop by and say hello to my new friends at Castanya de Viladrau. Who knows – you might just run into me, as I’m seriously hoping to return in the fall to not only help on the farm, but also to celebrate what might very well be my new favorite holiday.
*Disclosure: I traveled through Montseny as a guest of Turístics Montseny. Rest assured that I’m keeping it real – all opinions are entirely my own.