I arrive on the mountain at the beginning of October and within a few weeks its chestnut season. I head to the village of Marmelete, and to a ‘magusto’ (chestnut party) . People from miles around gather to celebrate the harvest and when I arrive I see a row of fires and these are not just to keep the hoards of people warm but for cooking the mounds of nuts. They are hot to touch as people scramble in the ashes to grab their stash and eat them from paper cones. This puts a whole other spin on street food. No trucks, no stalls, food from the earth. There is music, games and lots of baked goods. Its a truly local festival and it wraps it great rural arms around me and welcomes me to mountain living.
Now its important to note, not all chestnuts are for eating. Sweet chestnuts as opposed to the horse chestnuts are good for eating and when they fall from the trees you can enjoy them cooked, not raw, and they make for great autumnal ingredients in recipes. High in fibre, vitamin C, magnesium and fatty acids. BBC Good Food explains what to do with chestnuts at home.
At the end of a row of food stalls serving doughy pastries, cakes and breads I’m drawn to the crowd and wonder what all the commotion is about.
And here it is. Guinea pig gambling. The rodent is masked under a tin can, people place their money on a numbered hutch, the big reveal is made and we wait to see which hole the furry thing runs to for shelter, no doubt to hide from the squealing bystanders. I’m not sure this is particularly kind pastime for the creature but I guess its better than the guinea pigs in Cusco, Peru. I remember walking by a restaurant there stopping to admire the cuddly crew of guinea pigs in a delightful enclosed pen only to realise they were kept for cooking and were on the menu for dinner that evening!
On the way home I munch on a malasadas fresh from baking in the open air and where the dough has been stretched and worked to provide this tasty donut Portuguese style. For the full recipe go to Maria and Lisa’s lovely blog celebrating Portuguese food and heritage. Portuguese Diner.