Porto celebrates the one-day, 600-year-old tradition of São João with sky lanterns, music, dancing, and young men tossing garlic flowers to women that tickle their fancy. Further south, in Lisbon, the entire month of June is dedicated to Santo António and sardines. Every fourth July (next is scheduled for 2023, make your plans now), Tomar hosts the Festa dos Tabuleiros (trays). The main event (of many) is a procession featuring girls carrying trays (tabuleiros) of bread on their heads, accompanied by young men. Interestingly, the trays must be as tall as the girls and are made of 30 loaves and decorated with flowers, vegetables, and wheat shafts.
But November has its moment in the sun, so to speak, Dia São Martinho. Legend has it that in the 4th century, a Roman soldier came upon a cold, naked beggar (unbeknownst to him, Jesus) during a nasty snowstorm. Martin of Tours removed his cloak, cut it in half, and shared it with the beggar. The clouds parted; the sun began to shine. Today, Saint Martin is celebrated around the world on November 11th (the date of his burial).
In Portugal, families celebrate by making a magusto (a bonfire for roasting chestnuts) drinking new wine, and enjoying freshly-roasted chestnuts. And, as tradition dictates, the sun comes out, giving life to what’s called verão de São Martinho (the summer of Saint Martin).
It’s also possible to roast chestnuts in the oven. Grown from the north to the south of Portugal, you’ll find an abundance of them in the stores this time of year. Select chestnuts that are heavy and glossy. Shake them to make sure they don’t rattle. If they do, they are old. Choose chestnuts that are the same size for a more consistent roasting time. Plan to cook them right away, raw chestnuts don’t keep long.
Carefully cut a slit or an x at the base of the chestnut. This allows steam to escape during cooking, otherwise they might pop! A larger cut makes them easier to peel and eat. Spread them in a single layer on a baking tray and roast at 220°C until they smell delicious and are hot to the touch, around 10 minutes for smaller chestnuts, 20 minutes for large ones. Be careful not to burn them. You’ll find it much easier to peel them while they are as warm as you can handle. Plus, that’s when (I think) they are most delicious.
Chestnuts are a beloved street treat, too. Throughout the winter season, chestnuts roasting on an open fire can be purchased from street vendors, usually sold by the dozen and served in a paper cone. Enjoy!
É dia de São martinho. Comem-se castanhas; prova-se o vinho! (“It is St. Martin’s Day. We’ll eat chestnuts; we’ll taste the wine.”)
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