Autumn is a beautiful season for many reasons. The leaves turn brown and red, fall down and cover the pavements. Warm jumpers and fuzzy coats finally get to parade on the streets. The coffee and tea consumption increases and keeps us warm. And in the cities the air starts smelling of roasted chestnuts.
Our beloved chestnuts are picked in Autumn, usually between October and November. Chestnut trees fill hectares of land, offer shade during summer time and shelter during the colder months. They’re also valuable because of the mushrooms that grow around their trunk and the great quality wood they supply. But what's considered gold are the shiny chestnuts that fall to the ground during this time of the year.
Some of the types that are produced nationwide have the D.O.P. stamp, meaning they only exist in that particular location and are grown in a sustainable way. Most of the soutos - the fields of chestnut trees - are located in the northeast of the country due to the climate and soil characteristics in the region.
Back in the days chestnuts were considered a cheap eat and were mainly consumed by rural people or even fed to the animals. Their high content in carbs and vitamins sustained the farmers during their demanding physical tasks and the domestic animals, particularly the pigs, were fed chestnuts because they enriched the meat. Nowadays their value has been recognised, not only in Portugal but also abroad, where almost 80% of the national production ends up.
Chestnuts are quite versatile. They can be boiled, roasted, pureed… They can be tasted as appetisers, side dishes or desserts and even used to make liqueurs. There are endless variations and recipes that highlight this ingredient. Our favourites are the ones roasted on charcoal, which we buy from street vendors. They’re so delicious nobody minds burning their fingers trying to peel them.
It is a typical image, particularly in the historical centres or pedestrian areas of the bigger cities, to find chestnut sellers and also street vendors pushing trolleys were the chestnuts are roasted on charcoal. It is an old custom and people anticipate the arrival of Autumn to taste them every year. According to tradition, they should be eaten alongside a glass of “new wine” - the wine produced that same year - or homemade alcoholic drinks such as água-pé or jeropiga.
Magusto and São Martinho
Magusto is a celebration that happens in the beginning of November and highlights the chestnuts. Toddlers prepare great works of art with chestnuts and their spiky shells, street vendors boost their sales and people rush home to their families to sit in front of the fire and eat some chestnuts while sipping a drink.
This all started with the ceremony after the All Saints Day, when families mourned the dead. Nowadays it happens more frequently on the 11th of November, the day we celebrate São Martinho.
Legend has it in the year 337 a roman soldier and knight from Gaul called Martinho crossed paths with a homeless guy. The day was cold and wet and Martinho felt for the poor man and split his cape in two to offer him some protection. Suddenly the skies cleared and a bright sun appeared. That’s why there’s a common saying that links São Martinho, Autumn and Summer. Let's hope this year the sun shows up to greet us too!
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