Local Taste

In Scala, harvesting chestnuts is a chance for a social gathering

During the autumnal festival, the “marroni scalesi” (Scala’s type of chestnuts) are the main event

By Francesca Faratro

When we think about autumn, it’s easy to associate the season with the image of a dark brown chestnut, wrapped up in its spiny cupule. This little fruit is full of nutrients and ideal for keeping a healthy body: it is mainly composed of carbohydrates, but it’s also rich in proteins, vitamins, fats, and minerals. Thanks to the nutritional characteristics, it has been used to treat anemia and debilitation, while its decoction, full of tannins, can be helpful in case of lung inflammation and diarrhea. If we look back in time, low-income families would prefer them over bread. There are different ways of cooking chestnuts, even if the roasted version is still the most popular: they can be boiled in water with added spices or used as chestnut flour to create different types of baked goods, the benefit of being gluten-free.

Scala’s marrons

Scala is the oldest municipality of the Amalfi Coast and chestnuts, known as marroni scalesi, are the main town’s product.  Harvesting chestnut is a significant activity, and it’s not just because of the economic value for the families that own these lands.«Harvesting season is something that all of us cherish because it is an occasion to bring families together while helping our economy at the same time. In the Amalfi Coast, we usually have 6-7 months of really intense work, but everything slows down during the rest of the year, so thanks to the marrons, we can increase revenues even during the winter months. Everyone from children to elders wants to be a part of this magical experience: usually, we harvest in the chestnut grove, and then we share meals up in the hills altogether. It is important to have this chance to eat, drink, and reconnect after being caught up with work in the previous months. We love eating and drinking some wine while we enjoy each other company,» says Lorenzo, resident, while pulling out of his pocket a couple of them.

Chestnuts in Scala, photo by Michele Inserra, @cartotrekking

Local festival

Chestnuts are so crucial for Scala that every year the community hosts a dedicated festival in October. The long-awaited event seeks to promote the local fruit and support all the phases involved, like harvest, conservation, and production. During two weekends of October, people from all around the coastal area can participate in cultural moments, such as conferences and round tables, and enjoy local food and attend concerts. A fun occasion for everyone to taste different local specialties, savory and sweet, made with chestnuts: not to be missed are the gnocchi made with chestnut flour, the meatloaf with the fruit pulp, and real sweet treats like cannolitronchetti, and warm bread served with butter and jam. «For us, the chestnut is like royalty, so we respect it as such. We usually sell the majority of the chestnuts we harvest, but we also keep a good portion for our community so we can stock it and prepare our favorite dishes all year long,» says Lorenzo.

Fun and games

During these two weekends, the Palio del Contrade also occurs, a popular local tournament where six Scala’s neighborhoods (aka Contrade) compete to win: Campidoglio, Minuta, San Pietro, Santa Caterina, Pontone e Scala-Centro. The younger residents are always excited to have the chance to challenge themselves with popular games like the sack race, tug of war, the greasy pole, and, the most-awaited, the donkey race. A race that has become the Palio image and that draws more and more visitors every passing year. However, these days are not only filled with games as the schedule is also full of musical entertainment thanks to famous singers who come from Napoli and the surrounding area.

Chestnuts harvest, photo by Michele Inserra, @cartotrekking

Preserving the heritage

In recent years though, the chestnut gall wasp, an insect that is considered one of the world’s most dangerous pests, is treating to ruin the fruit and the production. Even though the local population keeps trying to fight the problem by coming up with new solutions, the issue is severe. The results are a decline in production and a consequent economic collapse. «As the mayor of Scala and President of the Montana community – says Luigi Mansi- I pride myself for the work we have been doing during these years to fight the chestnut gall wasp. We see some improvements, and we recently registered a modest increase in production. Sadly, I have to announce that the chestnut festival will not take place this year to follow the Covid-19 protocol. However, we are hopeful that we will keep interested in our traditions and our land alive».

 (Translation by Michela Pandolfi)

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