Coler on Chestnuts in Alsace

Chestnuts are a winter delight in Germany, sold on Christmas markets fresh off the coals. They were never as plentiful here as they were in the Mediterranean, but Coler writes about them being common food in Alsace. That is indeed one of the few parts of Germany where they would grow well:

image courtesy of wikimedia commons

(marginalia: there are entire forests full of chestnuts in Alsace)

In Alsatia, the county of Alsace that has its name from the water of Alsaß, the capital is Strasbourg. In the same county, there are great forests entirely full of chestnut trees so that they fatten the pigs on chestnuts there like the Mecklenburgers do it with their acorns and beechnuts. Whoever likes to eat chestnuts should thus go to that place and eat while he can, emptying several pans full of chestnuts every day, for the peasants most like to eat them roasted (gebraten).

This is not something you would likely find in a cookbook since it involves no recipe as such, but it is interesting from a historical perspective and suggests that chestnuts played an important role in feeding the people of the Rhine valley at least seasonally. Roasting them over the fire seems to already have been the favoured way. There is no suggestion they would be boiled as was the custom in Northern Italy earlier.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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