A Traditional Way to Dry Chestnuts

Katy Runacres
Friday, 8th November 2013

Katy Runacres is researching traditional smallholding methods in Europe. This week she has been exploring drying chestnuts to preserve a valuable crop well into the winter.

Chestnut Production is another smallholding activity which is key to the Swiss region of Ticino and Italy is chestnut harvesting. The Ticino area of Switzerland is heavily influenced from Italy over the border and has more cultural and farming similarities to Italy rather than the rest of Switzerland.

The houses follow the Italian design but I also found it interesting how the smallholding history is so different to other parts of Switzerland. It is known that the poor farmers and smallholders often had to rely on eating vast amounts of produce featuring chestnuts (Castanea sativa) during the winter months as there was not an abundance of other foods.

I have taken some pictures of the chestnut drying shed to explain more. This was a simple design which had a ground fire that produced heat and smoke. This in turn dried chestnuts which were spread on a wooden grate above the fire.

This simple device was vital and would help families store the precious food stuff for longer. Often people would use the dried chestnuts to make bread using chestnut flour mixed with rye flour.

The need for chestnuts as a food supply was also emphasized by the importance placed on each family owning as many chestnut trees as possible. Nowadays, Ticino and Italian dwellers do not have to be as reliant on chestnuts as a commodity, but certain local dining specialities reflect its hard but important smallholding history. 

If you would like to discover more about different smallholding methods go to http://thegoodlifeinpractice.wordpress.com/

Katy is a 24 year old smallholder, blogger and cook. She currently smallholds in Switzerland including keeping chickens, but will return to her native Suffolk, UK later in the year. Katy is a member of the Suffolk and Essex Poultry Club and has a diploma in Countryside Management. 

Further resources

Fruit Drying

Drying Squash - the resilient gardener 

How To Dry and Store Oyster Mushrooms

The Diet of a Forest Dweller

Build with sweet chestnut trees: Roundwood timber framing with Ben Law

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