The autumn is full of many celebrations throughout the world. When you’re in Portugal the smell of castanhas assadas or chestnuts roasting on an open fire means that the Magusto of São Martinho is underway. The festivities held on November 11th celebrate many things. The wine harvest season, the return of a small patch of warmer weather, and most importantly the story of São Martinho (Saint Martin).
The Story of São Martinho
As the story goes São Martinho was a baptized Roman soldier. During one particularly cold and snowy day, he came upon a cold beggar along the side of the road. São Martinho cut his own cloak in half and gave it to the man to protect him from the snow. Instantly, the snow stopped and the sun came out and the story of Saint Martin became legend. In fact, this day is also called the “summer of São Martinho” and celebrates the milder temperatures of fall similar to “Indian summer” in the United States. In Portugal, since there’s no snow they celebrate the stop of the rain as a gift from above.
The patron saint and protector of sommeliers and wine barrel makers São Martinho Day is truly an autumnal celebration.
Castanhas Assadas (Roasted Chestnuts)
Typical Portuguese saying you’ll hear on São Martinho Day:
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.
Chestnuts or castanhas are in season and you will find them in every grocery store in Portugal. Here in Cascais, and throughout Portugal you will find them at Pingo Doce, Aldi, Lidl, and all the local markets as well. You’ll find them whole in the shell, unshelled, frozen, and about any other way you may want them. In fact, Diana is planning on adding freshly roasted chestnuts to our Portuguese Thanksgiving stuffing, I can’t wait!
On St. Martins Day the smell of roasted chestnuts permeates the air. You can’t miss it. Corner vendors roast them and sell them in little paper bags. Most Portuguese families will roast their own castanhas at home or at bonfires. Special pans are available in all the stores and we now have added one to our kitchenware, too.
We’ve been eating roasted chestnuts for years. Diana usually makes them for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are always a treat. Having them here in our new home in Portugal is even better.
Magusto on St Martins Day
Friends and families typically gather for a Majusto (or bonfire) roasting their chestnuts and sipping the new wine created from the recent harvest. Alcoholic drinks like the Jeropiga wine and Aguardente brandy are also enjoyed.
Jeropiga is made by adding Aguardente or “firewater” to grape must. Grape must is the new grape juice that contains seeds, stems, and skins of the fruit. This very strong wine is often home-brewed but can be widely found in local grocery and liquor stores.
In Portugal, you can find a Magusto or celebration in many town squares (follow your nose to the bonfire with roasting chestnuts). You can also find St. Martin Day festivities at local restaurants and parks too.
Kids Have Some Fun Too
While the roasting of the chestnuts is a fun family part of the São Martinho tradition the children found a way to have some fun too. I heard from a local that children would peel a few roasted chestnuts, and hide them in their little hands. Then, turn to someone and say:”Arrebiana!” The other person must reply: “Sobre saltana!” And you answer back: “Sobre quantos?” (how many?). Then the other person must try to guess how many peeled roasted chestnuts you have inside your hands. If the person correctly guesses, then you give them all chestnuts. If not, they must give you the difference between the guess and the correct amount. What a fun game!
We’ll Eat The Chestnuts and Drink The Wine
On November 11th as we embrace more Portuguese traditions in our new home, we will be roasting our chestnuts, sipping our Jeropiga and thanking São Martinho for the few last sunny days of autumn.
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