Chestnuts…

There is no view today, nor is there likely to be one as storms lash the mountain, rain turns the streets into rivers, and thunder peals so closely that doors and windows shake. The only place to weather the storm is in front of the wood-burning stove, with the hatches battened down and a good book on your knee.

As always, the rain is most welcome although it comes a little too late to benefit this year’s walnut and chestnut harvests.

Seams of gold and orange autumnal colour run through the mainly evergreen mountainside, glowing coppery against slate blue pines. It’s chestnut season and on dryer days the edges of the roads leading to and from the village are littered with villagers foraging for wild chestnuts. Local cuisine is still very much shaped by seasonal produce and old family recipes are dusted off as the women prepare hearty chestnut dishes for their families. A vendor sets up his brazier in the centre of the village selling steaming bags of roasted chestnuts.

Towards the top end of the Genal Valley, 3,500 hectares of chestnut woods cover the slopes and organised cultivation sends millions of kilos of chestnuts overseas; many ending up in the UK where they are sold – roasted – on street corners throughout London. The chestnuts this year are a little on the small side I’m told, thanks to the weather, and the impact of this will eventually trickle down until it reaches the most far-flung of pockets. Crucially, here on this mountain a poor harvest means less food on the table; its as simple as that.

As winter sets in and tourism all but disappears from the mountain, life contracts. The villages and their people draw in upon themselves, work becomes scarcer and some establishments close down completely until the spring. A good chestnut harvest certainly helps during leaner times but these communities have endured centuries of mountain life and have tightened their belts still tighter in the past.

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