Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The traditional way of chestnut drying process (Metato)

The chestnut tree is a plant known and apppreciated since ancient times. Indeed, it is mentioned in the Bible and in Homer's poems, while the Greeks called its fruits "Jupiter's acorns". In Italy it has been widespread since ancient times, above all in the Appennines between 300 and 1000 metres of height. Since the Middle Ages until almost our days the chestnut has been the feeding base for mountain peoples, as it is shown by many legislative acts related to chestnut woods promulgated during the centuries. The Gavinana Statutes in 1540, for example, expected landowners to pick their chestnuts within the month of November. After that, poor people could go without restriction and pick the fruits which had been left. On this subject, ther is a popular belief that the husk holds three chestnuts: one for the landowner, one for the peasant and one for the Poor. In order to be milled, chestnuts must be previously dried.n Tuscany the drying took place in the "metato", a rural building set up in the harvest place. Somewhere, in the Appennines north of Pistoia and in the Garfagnana area for instance, this building was an integral part of the dwelling house: it substituted the kitchen and it was a meeting place where people stayed up late. 

Chestnuts were set to dry on a reed-bed, that is on a structure built up with close boards or reeds whose nearness to the kitchen-fireplace granted an even heating. Pascoli recollects it in one of his poems: "lonely metato in which the sweet wooden bread dried up on a sweet fire: over the reed-bed the chestnuts crack, and the red fire burns in the darkness." (The log, in Castelvecchio Poems) Once dried up, the chestnuts were husked by a strong beating which ground the shells in strong sacks or in a proper container called vat. Today this way of proceeding has been substituted by proper husking machines. Also the metati have almost entirely disappeared. The places once used for that purpose have been changed into dwelling rooms or tool storerooms.

                                                                   Thanks to Margherita Azzari