October is a great month for harvesting chestnuts in the mountainous regions. If you’re lucky, you might pass by some chestnut trees that has thrown all the ripe chestnuts onto the ground. We found plenty during our road trip to Asturias last year and now again, surprisingly in the regions of Mount Taygetus where alpine meadows makes it so different from the usual scenery you know in Greece. The Peloponnese is full of surprises and its scenery expands from white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters, vast olive and orange plantations to high mountains with luscious greens, ice-cold streams and diverse sources of mountain springs with fantastic water. Chestnut trees are hidden in some of these valleys and once they ripen, you will see them all on the ground.
If I would be living in the Neanderthal times, you would see me collecting herbs, and greens all day. I love collecting the things which the nature gives you. It could be the berries, arbutus (“Erdbeerbaum”), wild asparagus, rosemary or thyme, figs, nuts or whatever is in season. They are my Amuse-Gueule and I love adding them into my dinner plate. These greens grow wild and differ from season to season and from country to country. Plucking anything from a private garden that’s not yours or in a nature reserve, is of course tabu.
Water is also an important source whenever you’re on a road trip. Here, I am very particular on how the quality is and where it comes from. The last thing you want to catch while travelling is a bad stomach on salmonella or on chemicals and human waste. In the Peloponnese, good tasting water sources are rare. It’s a tad more difficult to find a (good) spring in a village, much easier to just tank up at the camp grounds or buy bottled water. That’s why, those mountain springs found in Trypi or in Parori (near Sparta) are special. It was so good we filled our water canister each time we pass by those springs and even exchanged it with the waters from the tap at the camp grounds. The locals would come and fill up crates and gallons into their tiny cars. It was amusing to see groups of racing cyclists stopping, to fill their bottles before carrying on. The waiters at the local Tavernas would fill up your table water directly from the springs. All this confirmed that the water is good! (However, I have no idea if those springs are tested regularly for contamination or microorganisms. So please use at your own risk. )
So while you are in the outskirts of Sparta visiting Mystras, or climbing in the fascinating LAGADA, take a break to fill up a bottle or day-dream under the shady trees next to these springs. It’s almost a tradition and it’s free.
A few chestnuts you collected yourself can be very appetizing. They are ripe when they have fallen to the ground. Never pluck them from the tree! Those aren’t ripe yet and may inhibit the next years harvest. You can roast it on an open fire or make a meal out of it with some pasta and a dash of the local greek Rosé. The local Rosé (found often in a plastic bottle, duuuh) in this region is different. It tastes almost like a sherry and is strong, not like the ones you would know out of the shelfs. The first time I tried it, I thought that it was tipped. A second sip after having some food gives a different impression. But note, that there are good ones, and some totally undrinkable. Nemea and Vastistas from the Monemvasia region are perhaps two wine-cellars we saw often in the shelfs apart from the vast list of winery found in the Peloponnese. Winery here? Oh yes! We used the trofie pasta (a pasta speciality from liguria) in this recipe, as this has a nice twisted form to catch the sauce in between. Try it out:
- 250 Pasta Trofie
- handful of chestnut, roasted and peeled
- 1 cup rosé wine
- Water 1/2 cup
- 1 onion
- 4 garlic
- Olive oil
- Cayenne powder
- Salt, pepper to taste
- Roast the fresh chestnut, let cool, then peel off the skin. Or if you’re making this at home, you can buy them cooked and peeled from the supermarkets. This cuts the cooking time in half and tastes a tad different.
- Prepare the pasta according to instructions. To save fuel while cooking outdoors, I usually take the pot off the fire before its done and let it soak for the rest the minutes before draining the water.
- Slice the onion in thin strips, chop the garlic.
- Heat a pan with some olive oil. Brown the onions, then add garlic. Stir till brown and fragrant. Add in the chestnut followed by the pasta. Stir gently on medium heat. Then lower it and simmer.
- Add Rosé and a little water on low heat. Simmer till most of the liquid has vaporized and starts to get creamy. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Serve hot with a nice cool rosé and green salads.
There are many things to do with chestnuts. Roast them and eat it hot, cook it, let it fall on your car so you can get that nice bumped design or use them as a natural washing detergent – a tip from Kathrin (in german) from the blog Fräulein Draußen. Walnuts are similar. Once dried and cracked, I love to put them in my cereals in the morning or add in the salads for dinner.
Have you taken a minute and see what your environment is giving you?