Tuesday, November 16, 2021


What a lovely surprise today when a friend brought me these fruits from the Etna area, where she had been over the weekend.

I knew that the small Etna apples are special, as there is something in the soil that makes them very sweet, and the clementines are delightful too. But the chestnuts - ah, the chestnuts, for therein lies a tale:

My friend told me that on the eastern slope of Mount Etna, a very special chestnut tree can be found. It is called the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli  - "The Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree" and it derives its name from the legend that a certain queen, travelling with her ladies and one hundred knights, took shelter from a storm under the tree's ample branches. (Oh, dear - I hope it wasn't a thunderstorm!) The tree must have provided excellent camouflage, for it is said that the storm lasted all night and the queen was able to lie with several of her lovers among the knights. Who was this queen? For a long time it was thought that she was Giovanna I of Anjou, Queen of Naples, but history proved a bad sport and revealed that she had never visited Sicily. Never mind, then - perhaps it was another queen conveniently named Giovanna, Giovanna of Aragon, also Queen of Naples. But others say it was Isabella of England, third wife of King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Well, it was a medieval queen, anyhow.

Apart from (possibly) sheltering amorous queens, the tree, first documented in the 16th century, is the oldest in Europe. It has multiple trunks, which is perhaps why there is some dispute over its age, but it seems it is at least 2,500 years old. Both its circumference and height are 22 metres and its crown spreads for over 100 metres, making it also the largest chestnut tree in the world.

The tree is protected as an Italian Heritage Green Site and is in the Etna Regional Park, parts of which, along with Mount Etna itself, enjoy various levels of protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The tree is, of necessity, surrounded by a fence which you cannot go beyond, but my friend assures me the chestnuts come from nearby and have a very distinctive taste.

Late note: Tonight I learned that the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli has won Italy's "Tree of the Year" competition and will be representing Italy in the European competition in February. Well deserved.


Sackerson said...

I bet they go well with Christmas Brussels sprouts.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I'll bet they do!


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