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The history of the chestnut

and chestnut

The breadfruit tree, symbol of the Cevennes and of our greed…

The chestnut is an integral part of the collective imagination when one thinks of the Cevennes. It is one of the strong symbols of our beautiful region. Its history in our region is thousands of years old. And the work undertaken these last decades to develop the local chestnut groves makes it possible to put forward a unique inheritance, in particular in terms of varieties of chestnuts present here and which one does not find elsewhere in France.

The chestnut tree, king in the Cevennes

Bread and tannin tree

If the chestnut is part of the collective imagination in the Cevennes, it is because its history in our region is thousands of years old.

It was already consumed in the Middle Ages in the valleys of Gard and Lozère. Rich in vitamins, minerals and especially carbohydrates, this fruit has enabled the Cevennes to avoid many periods of dearth that have affected the neighboring regions. Hence its nickname, “the breadfruit tree”!

The chestnut was cooked in soup, it was reduced to flour, it was used to feed the livestock … The cultivation of chestnut trees thus allowed many families to live, especially during hard times!”

The chestnut boom was in full swing in the nineteenth century when two events precipitated its downfall: the appearance of the Ink disease on chestnut groves, which killed huge numbers of trees in a short period of time, and the massive opening of coal mines, which coincided with the industrial revolution and led to a gradual disinterest in chestnuts and chestnut trees.

While the ink disease had clear consequences, it nevertheless benefited the tannin factories that then bought the dead trees at low prices to process them.

And the opening of the mines had a more hidden effect: the massive appearance of the potato on the plates, no doubt brought by miners freshly landed in the region, progressively supplanted the chestnut because it was simpler and quicker to cultivate, while allowing the whole family to be fed always at low cost.

Cevennes landscape

And chestnut groves

Chestnut groves shaped the Cevennes landscape as we know it today, with “bancels”, these terraces to facilitate cultivation on the sometimes steep slopes, and the “clèdes”, small dry-stone buildings that were used to dry the harvested chestnuts in order to preserve them longer.

This type of construction continued in the 19th century with the appearance of numerous tannin factories that used chestnut wood, rich in tannin, to extract the precious molecule, useful both in the leather industry and in pharmacology or the manufacture of certain inks.

An AOC label

Rewarding the know-how and the Cévennes region

Despite the fall of chestnuts in the daily life of the Cevennes, we observe, for about fifty years, a strong desire on the part of the locals to bring back to the taste of the day this thousand-year-old culture in its cradle territory: the Cevennes.

Many actors: inhabitants, farmers, communities or even association, highlight a unique heritage, whether in the varieties present in the Cevennes or in the nutritional qualities of this forgotten fruit: vitamin B, magnesium, potassium, manganese, copper, fiber … Thus was born the Association Chestnuts and Chestnuts of the Cevennes and Upper Languedoc, which aims to recognize the production and specificities of the cultivation of chestnuts in the Cevennes and Upper Languedoc.

It is in September 2020 that the AOC label is awarded to the Cévennes chestnut. The products involved are for now three: Fresh chestnuts, dried and peeled fruit, and finally, the flour.

There remains today a great work of renovation of orchards to produce to grow the family of Chestnuts of the Cevennes AOC which also welcomes the products derived from the chestnut that can make the claim “Based on Chestnuts of the Cevennes AOC”!


Gourmandise and traditions

Over the past few decades, the Chestnuts and Chestnut Association of the Cevennes and Upper Languedoc and the various actors of the territory have succeeded in a bet: that of putting the chestnut back into the center of the customs and spirits of the Cevennes.

Thus, the traditional chestnut festivals, which used to take place at the end of the harvest and held a fair where the fruits of the harvest were sold, have made their great return to the villages of the region.

Today these fall festivals are an opportunity to highlight this fruit and all its derivatives, among the local population but also visitors passing through. And they are also, and always, a pretext for joyful, convivial and gourmet moments, which bring together young and old alike!

On our beautiful Alesian territory, it is without a doubt the Chestnut Festival of Anduze that has best managed to anchor itself in the calendar of traditional annual festivals. This day of celebration marks the installation of autumn and its shimmering colors (we advise you to come and enjoy the golden colors of the chestnut groves at this time of year) and the end of the year’s harvest for the chestnut farmers.

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