The smallest town in Slovakia has 1526 inhabitants, a medieval castle and a splendid chestnut festival that takes place on the first weekend in October. But how did Modrý Kameň become the Slovak capital of the chestnut? To find the answer, we have to go back to the 16th century, when Modrý Kameň (Blue Stone) Castle was an important Hungarian stronghold against the Ottoman hordes.
The Ottomans broke through the castle’s defences in 1575 and stayed there for over 17 years. It was at this time that the chestnut grove was planted around the castle. The invaders also brought rice to the fields in nearby villages, but the damage they’d left behind after their departure was so immense that it outweighed all the gains.
Nevertheless, the chestnut has remained as much a symbol of Modrý Kameň town, as has its castle. The annual chestnut festival (Gaštanové slávnosti) is a place for local bakers to showcase their culinary skills and creative ideas. Around 30 cakes and gateaus are enrolled for The Best Chestnut Dessert Competition every year, but only those using freshly made chestnut purée have a chance to win.
The panel of judges is made up of local elders who know very well what a good chestnut gateau tastes like. They grew up on simple chestnut dishes and desserts you won’t find anywhere else in Slovakia, like the traditional Modrý Kameň‘s Chestnut Roulade (Modrokamenská gaštanová roláda).
The chestnut grove in Modrý Kameň is not the only one in Slovakia, but it had yielded the best crops until a few years ago. Like in other parts of Europe, Slovak chestnut trees have been affected by a blight that significantly reduced their numbers. Scientists and chestnut growers around the country are doing their best to protect the remaining trees, and after the quarantine imposed by the EU they have started planting new chestnut cultivars resistant to the disease.
The chestnut festival in Modrý Kameň is not only about desserts, although they surely attract the most visitors. Chestnut honey, bread, pancakes or savoury podpecníky are also available for tasting and sale.
Edible chestnuts (or sweet chestnuts) are high in carbohydrates, but low in fat and protein. They contain no gluten, which makes them a good alternative for celiac disease sufferers.
Read more about Slovak chestnuts and find a recipe for Modrý Kameň‘s Chestnut Roulade in the autumnal book of A Taste of Slovakia series.