Many years ago, perhaps 20, we learned of the Preggio Chestnut Festival from one of my students.
His grandparents lived in this hilltop hamlet and were actively involved in its organization...as well as its founding. The actual festival lived up grandly to his enthusiastic description of small taverns with excellent homecooked food completely focused on the creative and original use of chestnuts.
In the years of extreme poverty through the centuries, chestnuts...and not much else, were abundant and were the mainstay: finding original and varied uses of chestnuts was thus fundamental.
Our first visit years ago to the weekend festival was a delight: each little tavern served one specialty. The idea was that of a village stroll, enjoying a small portion of local specialties in several taverns. The taverns were little more than an-opened-for-the-occasion-ground-floor-room, or a garage, very simply set up with a few tables covered with the family's own checkered tablecloths and their own unmatched dishes and silverware. It was one of those geniune experiences, one of those sagre with minimum "form" but outstanding food and an extremely friendly atmosphere.
We remembered remarkable bean soups with chestnuts, wild boar with ginepro and chestnuts, unforgettable sweets made from chestnuts, even a chestnut flour pizza with local apples and local honey.
For three years we looked forward to that weekend in Ocotber and had equally pleasant experiences.
Yesterday we returned with the same anticipation and romantic notion: what a disappointment!
Our dismay began when after we parked in the huge parking lot a mile or so below the hamlet to take the shuttle bus service up, we were told that the bus drivers hadn't showed up yet, that they were 30 minutes late. So even when they finally arrived, it took many trips of the 4 busses to handle the gathered crowd, making for a long wait of standing.
We found that while the flux of people had greatly incresed, the eating spaces and options had not. So for any plate of any food, there were 40 minute lines to order and then 40 minute lines (yes, two different lines for each dish) to pick up the food before attempting a balancing act searching the narrow lanes to find a wall to lean against to eat.
the narrow entry for the fried vegetables
And this for each dish. The format was still the same, a format which was charming years ago and worked so well was now a disaster and totally inadequate.
The locals hardly participate any more in any way: the help, including the cooks, is hired from a make-shift consortium of people who travel the peninsula for this type of work, often totally unaware of the local culinary traditions. The food was anonymous, poorly prepared, and at best, mediocre!
Not even the sacks of chestnuts on sale were local: they are left to rot since all attempts at forming a cooperative for the harvest (as is common in so many regions) with some immigrant workers has failed.
sacks of Tuscan chestnuts
The weather was the saving grace, along with the large chestnut roasting device in the main square, always a glorious sight and smell!
the small machine which slits the chestnuts before roasting
a majestic chestnut tree
late afternoon light on Lake Trasimeno