Between late September and throughout the month of October, chestnuts are all around the woods, the valleys, the cities, and still are regarded by grandmas as true allies to human health. «A couple of chestnuts in your pocket during the whole winter, and you’ll be protected against seasonal ailments», a popular commercial would tell when I was young.
An ancient myth says that Ancient Greeks used to consider chestnuts as the “acorns of Jupiter”. Another belief tells that the thistle contains up to three chestnuts, as one goes to the landlord, one to the peasant, and the third one to the servant. It’s been the Romans, however, who first spread the ancient chestnut tree, originally from Asia, from the Mediterranean coast all across Northern Europe. The history of chestnuts seems to be pretty old, and their preparation, ever since, has been part of a very much complex and meticulous tradition which still survives today.
Chestnut flour, also known as sweet flour, for centuries has been the primary food to Tuscan inhabitants. To get the flour, chestnuts were pre-dried: when harvested, in fact, the fruits themselves are quite full in water. That’s why it’s very important to dry them slowly and to do so in a specifically designated structure, very much Tuscan, called “metato”. And here we go with this week’s story. The cooperative Le Tre Terre, located in Garfagnana, Tuscany, still uses the metato for drying up their chestnuts. They produce and sell chestnut flour, which is, among others very interesting qualities, naturally gluten-free and completely organic, beyond completely good.
The metato is a small room on two floors, accessible only by a small door from the outside. The upper floor is occupied by the chestnuts, crowded up to a meter height, while in the small room, located at the lower level, a fire drying up the overlying chestnuts is placed. The peculiarity of the structure is the floor separating the two planes (‘Caniccio’, in Italian), made of rods resting on beams that allow the heat to reach the top floor.
Chestnuts are periodically stirred in order to allow a uniform drying. The fire has to be constant but not too intense, to avoid cooking the fruits and ruining them: a possible consequence of this mistake might be in fact a reddish-looking flour. To check the level of the drying process, sort of spy-chestnuts are set at sticks brooms on the fringe of the room.
The size of the metato ranges according to the extension of the chestnut field or to the amount of fruits to be dried.
Not seldom, and especially in the Garfagnana area, the metato was an integral and essential part of the house, replacing the kitchen and turning into a meeting place dedicated especially to vigil nights. The heat produced by the fire, in fact, makes the environment pleasant on chilly autumn evenings.
Getting back to our guys from Le Tre Terre and what exactly they are up to, their dream is to keep the tradition of flour production alive and, to do so, they need to keep the flame lit into their metato. Their campaign has recently been launched on WOOP food’s platform, sooooo… why don’t you give it a look? They need more help and resources to be able to spread this particular product to a wider public. Let’s all join their metato!