Italian Chestnut Day

Viva La castagne!

Chestnuts have a special place in Italian culture and are mentioned in the writings of the Roman Pliny (23-79 AD). During and after World War II many people in Italy survived on chestnut flour and chestnuts. The corn and grain fields had all been bombed.

'We used to live on chestnut bread - breakfast, afternoon tea (merenda) was dried figs and chestnut bread. I can't stand it now.' Turo

'Chestnuts evoke such nostalgia for my parents and their friends. Nostalgia for the old days, for the changing seasons, for the lost flavours, and memories of poverty and hard times.' Franca
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I tasted them in my country when I was 10 years old. These people came down from the highest parts, from Piave, with horse and buggy and bags of chestnuts.' Orfeo

'Someone I know had chestnut trees down the coast but they didn't grow - too warm. In Griffith it's cold enough. That's where I'm from.' Lina

Castagne Day is held in May at the Fraternity Club. It began as a family day initiated by Wollongong's Italian community and has been going for 10-15 years. Both northern and southern Italians participate. The children take carnival rides while the parents play bocce, a traditional Italian game like bowls.

'We had a 44-gallon drum, inside was a fire and there was a flat top. The chestnuts were put in there with a lid on top. We have 60-80 ten kilo bags - a couple of thousand people turn up.' Orfeo

'I always make sure I get a bag full from the chestnut roasters at the Fraternity. There is a real sense of enjoying chestnuts with others, getting together around the BBQ at home or at the functions that the various associations hold, roasting, peeling and eating chestnuts. Viva la castagne!' Franca

'At the Fraternity the Alpini cook the chestnuts - they are from the mountains. The Trevisani have Castagne Day at Mt Pleasant Rhododendron Park or ItSoWel (Italian Social Welfare Organisation) if it's raining. Sant' Andrea Irpinia have it at Port Kembla Community Hall.' Turo

The Alpini is a group of Italians who fought in the mountains during WWII. They are recognisable by their hats decorated with feathers.

The Trevisani like Orfeo, all come from the province of Treviso.

The Sant' Andrea Irpinia is group of Italians who all come from Sant' Andrea, a town near Avellino that was devastated by earthquake around 20 years ago.

'Associations such as these are started to enable people from the same province or region to share language, traditions, customs and foods. It's a way to stay in touch and to help others who may be in difficulty.' Fidelia

There are basically two types of Italian chestnuts: castagne (small and flat) and marroni (round, firm and large). Chestnuts are now grown in Australia and are available March-June. There are several varieties: Buffalo Queen, Red Spanish, Aussie Pride and Italian marrone types.