Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chestnut season out of season

My mom has this childhood friend who is an orchid researcher, and has the biggest collection of micro-orchids in the world. I went there a few weeks ago and fell in love with the place. But today we went back there on a different mission: chestnut picking!

Twenty-five years ago, when his elder son was born, he decided to plant a couple of chestnut trees. The result: 2 giant trees that produce more chestnuts than they can eat. And also, out of season, so they can't sell.

chestnut trees

When my mom told me we'd go picking chestnuts I thought, "great, and since it's so hot, I'll wear my yoga pants, a tank top and flip-flops!" But when we were going there, my mom, my grandma and my aunts were all gearing up with gloves, boots, hats and tools - I thought "How the hell are they gonna do it??? Where do they think they're going???"

In my head, we would get to this place with a beautiful tree and the chestnuts - as we know them, how they sell them in the supermarkets - would just be hanging on the tree, and I'd gently pull on them and they would come loose.

The thing is, chestnuts are a bit more complex than that. They actually come inside a very spiky cocoon, and you can't touch them with your bare hands - they're really sharp. So after they fall on the ground, most of them are already half open, we get two metal rods or screwdrivers or whatever tool you have at hand and crack them open so you can retrieve the chestnuts inside the cocoon. Wasn't I so glad I decided to wear flip-flops!...

inside the cocoon

For obvious reasons, I couldn't get my "hands dirty", so I decided to register the moment instead by taking pictures and climbing trees!

And at the end of the picking, a family of 8 monkeys decided to dazzle us with their presence... they were prancing around from branch to branch, 2 of them carrying their babies on their back, and making funny noises.

It was an awesome experience, as my aunt said - living and learning. I've eaten chestnuts my whole life and never had I imagined this is where they came from.
In the end, we had 30kg (66lb) of chestnuts to bring home, and the longing for the trip next year :)

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