When chestnuts appear, it is a sure sign that summer is over and autumn is well underway. In fact, roast chestnuts are the focal point of one of Catalonia's best-loved annual festivals, the Castanyada. Today, the Castanyada festival is a time of fun and celebration and a chance to devour the first chestnuts of the year. However, the festival has its roots in the much more solemn events surrounding All Saints' Day and remembrance of the dead.
While it is common at this time of year to see mobile ovens selling roast chestnuts in twists of paper on the streets, traditionally it was more common for the nut to be dried out and ground up to be used as a flour. This flour could be stored and, in times of scarcity, it would be used to make bread. However, the widespread introduction of the potato from the 16th century led to a gradual decline in the use of chestnuts.
Today, the nuts are more often associated with game cuisine, as an accompaniment for roasts, as a main ingredient of stuffings and for purees. During its short season, the chestnut is used in Catalonia for a variety of dishes, such as peus de porc amb castanyes (pig's trotters with chestnuts) or ànec amb prunes i castanyes (duck with plums and chestnuts). One thing that chefs tend to agree on is that chestnuts require a lot of patience and dedication, as they need to be carefully peeled and the process of cooking them can be delicate if you want them to keep their original shape. Yet, the chance to enjoy chestnuts is short and only comes once a year, reason enough to make the effort to enjoy this charismatic seasonal fruit.