Autumn is all about chestnuts!

Autumn brings castanhas to Portuguese tables and I just love it. It's part of the Mediterranean diet at this time of the year. In Portugal, Greece, and Italy they are called a derivative of the Latin, Castanea. Portuguese make soups, desserts, and cakes with it. It's used in roasted meat plates as trimming. Do you know that they are low in calories and rich in vitamins? Roasted chestnuts are my favorite way to eat it! (Check how to do it later in this post!) Roasting requires cutting the fruit first with a knife or it will explode in the oven. The best ones are those we buy from street vendors. If you visit Portugal this time of the year don't miss it.

Check this photo from a chestnut street vendor in 1966 - today it's still just the same.

Sernancelhe. Chestnut from this region is said to be of great quality, very expensive, more than 3 euros/kg sometimes. Some advice if you're planning to buy it: skins should have a beautiful brown shine. They should also be firm and check for holes because that means bugs!

Sernancelhe has a typical chestnut soup receipt that goes like this:


1 kg of nuts
2 onions
1.5 liters of water
1.5 dl of olive oil


Peel the chestnuts and put them to bake in the water. Once cooked, get half of them and triturate. Add it to the boiling water. Then peel onions cut them into pieces and saute them in olive oil. Add to this stew both the remaining nuts still whole and the other. Serve with pieces of toasted bread.

And what about some Portuguese music?

It's O homem das castanhas. Once again I translated it for you. It's a shame because I can't do it better. Lyrics are from a great Portuguese poet called Ary dos Santos. The fado singer is Carlos do Carmo and the music was composed by another well-known musician, Paulo de Carvalho, in the 80´s. It's almost impossible not to remember this music when we find a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts in their typical stoves with wheels.

The chestnut man

At Figueira Square,
or at Estrela Garden,
it burns in a lit stove.
At autumn’s side, in the corner of Winter,
the chestnuts man is eternal.

Does not have a penny or shelter,
and shouts as a challenge.
His life is a grey package,
and, if not killing hunger, kills the cold.

A car that he pushes,
a holed hat,
in the chest a chestnut that does not burn.
He has the rain in the eyes and a tired look the man who shouts in the evening.

He ends the day near a lamp
Hoarse voice with the tang of poverty.
He shouts pieces of joy,

and at night he sleeps with sadness.

Who wants it hot and tasty, so warm?
Cracking in grey in the fire.
Who wants it hot and tasty, so warm?
Who buys it takes more warmth home.

The hurt that misery vendor carries,
roams the city all day.
It’s like pushing the autumn ahead;
it's like pushing the fog.
Who knows the misfortune of his fate?
Who looks to the chestnut man?
Nobody ever thought that beside him
Great pains are burning in the stove.

Who wants it hot and tasty, so warm?
Cracking in grey in the fire.
Who wants it hot and tasty, so warm?
Who buys it takes more warmth home.

Saint Martin’s Day Tradition

In Portugal, we eat chestnuts on Saint Martin’s Day which is on the 11th of November. Saint Martin was a soldier in the Roman army. The legend is that he saw a beggar (in France) and he tore his military cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. Then the sun came out. We say that in November we always get some good weather and we call it St. Martin's summer. My mother always says that women celebrate it on the 10th and men on the 11th of November...this is great as I always eat castanhas at least twice! In Portugal, St. Martin's Day is associated with the maturation of the year's wine, it's the first day to taste the new wine. Traditionally people would celebrate around a bonfire, eating roasted chestnuts and drinking  lightly alcoholic beverage called água-pé (water is added to the pomace left after the grapes juice is pressed out to make wine), or the jeropiga ( sweet liquor made with aguardente - brandy or spirit, not sure for the right word - added to the water).

How to prepare roasted chestnuts! (How I do it)

You can do it a home. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a slit on the chestnut shell with a knife. Place the chestnuts on a baking tray. Pour salt over the chestnuts and sprinkle with water. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes. If you're not sure about the result pick one out of the oven and try it to check if castanhas are already roasted. Some people eat chestnuts with butter. I prefer not to ruin my diet!


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