George Castañas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 11 2010

Today, the elementary school I work at celebrated “the foods of autumn”.  School closed an hour early, and about 75 Spanish children invaded the nearby park with some parents to get their snack on.  And snack they did.  Typical Spanish autumn fare is not what I expected; roasted chestnuts, walnuts, dried figs, and pomegranates.  While American kids are still gorging themselves on Halloween candy, these Spaniards are being oddly healthy.

Castanas

Newspaper: Spanish for cup

By far the most interesting of these foods are the roasted chestnuts. This is the Spanish variety though, and they are called castañas, and they are everywhere.  The grocery stores carry barrels of them you can buy per kilo.  Today, the Spanish mothers took castañas, roasted them over a fire, and wrapped some in newspaper for personal portions.  Eating a castaña is like eating a peanut; you have to peel back the hard outer shell and a second inner skin to reveal the treasure inside.  The actual nut looks like a big walnut, but with a saltier taste.  The castañas are hot, and they fall apart in your mouth when you are eating.   Walnut + hot boiled peanut + a Pringle = hot roasted castaña.   By the end of our celebration, the park resembled a massacre. Kids were passed out on benches surrounded by castaña shells and torn-up newspaper, the only remains of this fall feeding frenzy.

There are also vendors in my town that sell castañas on the street corners.  Their carts are surrounded by a wet steam smell of barbequed nuts, and if you look closely, you can see that most of the salesmen are missing at least one finger.

The second unique Spanish food I learned about is a little walnut and fig sandwich called a casera.  Rip the fig in half, put the walnut inside, close the fig, and eat.  It gives you the crunchy texture the fig lacks that, after eating, you realize you always wanted in figs but had never known it.  Best of all, it can be eaten in one bite.

Pomegranates are ripped apart and the seeds are eaten straight from the fleshy cobwebbed part of the fruit.  Sprinkle some sugar on top, but don’t let them stain your clothes.  (Also, if you are a beautiful girl in Ancient Greece, watch out if the God of the Underworld tries to convince you to eat one.)

These traditional fall foods have a mysterious earthy feel to them, like they came out of the depths of some lost forest, covered in dirt.  They are healthy and savory, but in the end, there was still some nagging part of my memory that kept reminding me of the sweet corn-syrupy and sugar-crashing goodness we all associate with this time of the year.  These kids are really missing out.

Side Note: The image used in this post is not Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.

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