When my aunt still lived in Innsbruck, I remember my family and I visiting and taking day-trips over the Brenner Pass into Italy to eat and to shop for Italian foods, such as prosciutto and cheese, and of course to shop for wine. During the fall, such a trip was made to go Toerggelen, a common custom in South Tyrol. From late September through early December, the tradition is to drink the new wine, still naturally cloudy, and eat roasted sweet chestnuts, also called Maroni. Since moving to the West Coast, I have noticed that Austrians and South-Tyroleans (as well as many other European cultures) eat a lot more chestnuts in all forms than Americans ever do. Here, chestnuts are associated with Christmas traditions on the East Coast while roasted chestnuts would actually fit in perfectly with the climate and wine culture of Northern California.
In the southern Alps, sweet chestnut trees have been cultivated even before the Roman era; in California, chestnut trees are rare. The few farms that I could find via an online search are small and relatively new; many of them started out as nut farms and added chestnuts around 2007 or later. I was baffled – red wine and chestnuts just go together; it is a natural combination. Some more research found that the U.S. was hit by a devastating chestnut blight, caused by a fungal spore at the turn of the last century. Between three and four billion trees died according to an article in the LA Times. However, sales for chestnuts seem to be looking up as all the farms I found in the Central Valley quickly had sold out of this year’s crops in early fall. This year, I had to make do with imported chestnuts that usually do not survive the trip too well and too many are moldy. But I am looking forward to next year’s chestnut harvest, and I actually already put my name on a few mailing lists of farmers, so I will be notified when the harvest of 2015 is ready to be shipped. Maybe I can get some fresh local chestnuts, so it is worth to organize Toerggelen for friends next year.
For more information on Toerggelen and recipe ideas, check out this website: South Tyrol Tourist Info.
Here is the link to the article in the LA Times about chestnut farms in California: Article.