Autumn is here and it’s time for hot roasted chestnuts, or castanhas. On a recent trip to the village, Filipa’s brother bought 10 kilograms of chestnuts. We have been eating a lot of chestnuts, late at night after dinner. It’s easy to do at home. You place the chestnuts on a baking tray and throw over a generous handful of sea salt. Make sure you make a small slit in each chestnut shell before roasting or they will explode in the oven. You then roast them for about 20 minutes at 200 degrees and then a further 10 minutes under the grill. Take them out of the oven and peel and eat them while still warm. Delicious!
As we were leaving the village with chestnuts in hand, Filipa’s great-uncle Pedro saw us and took off back home to grab us a bottle of his home-made wine called Jeropiga. This is the traditional drink to have when eating castanhas. Jeropiga is a sweet alcoholic drink made from fresh grape juice. Decant some juice from your already fermenting wine around day 2. At this stage it’s still sweet and has taken on some red colour. So add to this some aguardente (see previous post). Three parts juice, 1 part aguardente. Then you cork it and leave it in a cool dark place to settle for a few days or up to a few years. The aguardente inhibits the fermentation process and stops it spoiling.
Autumn is the season when Portuguese wine makers open up their barrels to taste the seasons vintage. Some of the wine is decanted and turned in to jeropiga to drink with the castanhas. It’s rarely found commercially and usually only produced locally by the likes of great-uncle Pedro. It’s the perfect combination on a chilly autumn night.
Up in Filipa’s village I saw many chestnut trees which had been ‘de-nuded’ of their nuts. Two or three nuts grow inside these prickly burrs.
While we were up in the village Filipa’s mum made a fantastic dinner of roast pork in her traditional wood fire oven (left). Along side the pork in the roasting dish she had added chestnuts which were so delicious. The nutty flavour had permeated throughout the meat and was so good.
A few days ago (11 November) it was St Martin’s Day here in Portugal and across most of Europe. St Martin started out as a Roman soldier and he apparently cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a blizzard to save the beggars life. That night he dreamt that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak that he had given to the beggar and Jesus said to some angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised. He has clothed me.” He was later baptised as an adult and became a monk. Around Europe it is known as the Feast of St Martin. In Portugal the focus is more on the maturation of the years wine.
On the streets of Portugal you see many vendors selling their hot roasted chestnuts at this time of year, especially on St Martin’s Day. The smoke from all the carts can be seen in the night air across the city.
A typical saying in Portugal is;
É dia de São Martinho; comem-se castanhas, prova-se o vinho.
It’s Saint Martin’s Day; we’ll eat chestnuts, we’ll taste the wine.