roasted chestnuts

November 11th is St Martin’s Day, and is eagerly awaited by many Portuguese people, especially those who make their own wine as this is the first day that the new batch of wine is ready for tasting. Happily, it coincides with the chestnut harvest and the date conjures up images of hot, roasted chestnuts with a glass of wine in many a mind.

In the town of Lousã, there’s an extra ingredient thrown into the mix; the locally produced honey. Take a walk through the forested mountains that loom over this central Portugese town and you’ll spot the beehives dotted amongst the eucalyptus and chestnut trees.

jars of honey from the Serra do Lousã, Portugal
Honey from the Serra do Lousã in Portugal

To celebrate these local treats, Lousã holds an annual honey and chestnut festival which spans the weekend closest to St Martin’s Day.

People queue up to buy kilos of chestnuts and walnuts and to choose from the row upon row of jars of honey and pollen. There are cure-all creams, soaps and hand moisturisers made from honey and decorative beeswax candles on sale.

The exhibition hall hosts stalls from local schools, scouts, organic and community organisations, most of whom have a mouthwatering range of home made cakes on sale.

I tried a chestnut tart, enjoying the crunchiness of the pastry and firm, sliced chestnuts set in syrup. I washed this down with a glass of jeropiga, a home made, fortified wine made from fresh grape pulp and juice mixed with grape spirit, aguardente. It’s lighter and less syrupy than port and more refreshing; sweet but not sickly.

Very moreish.

chestnut tart and jeropiga
Chestnut tart and jeropiga

To my surprise, the temporary restaurants set up in the tented area behind the exhibition hall weren’t serving any chestnut or honey based dishes. If that’s what you’re after, you need to check out one of the dozen or so participating restaurants which have added special dishes to their menus in the two week run up to the festival.

Otherwise, like me, you’ll have to wander outside, with another glass of jeropiga, and wait in line for a bag of freshly-roasted chestnuts.

The waiting is almost as much fun as the tasting.

I find it mesmerising to watch the old man manage his cart. He slits each chestnut near the base and pops them into a container, stopping from time to time to check the conical roasting jar. He picks it up, shakes it, lifts the lid and inspects the contents then replaces it on the white hot embers, giving it a twist before returning to his slicing.

bagging roasted chestnuts
Bagging roasted chestnuts

When his container is almost full, the current batch is cooked. Holding his face away from the sweet-smelling smoke, he empties the roasting jar onto a tea towel in a basket then covers them up. He throws a couple of handfuls of salt into the jar then adds the fresh chestnuts, swirls them around then puts them over the heat.

Finally, the moment I and the others in the queue have been waiting for; he folds back the cloth to reveal the blackened shells of the chestnuts coated with a grey film and the ridged creamy chestnut flesh that shows through the split skins. Washed down with a glass of jeropiga, this is a treat well worth waiting for.

Practicalities for visiting the Feira do Mel e de Castanha in Lousã

Lousã’s honey and chestnut fair is usually held on the weekend closest to St Martin’s Day, November 11th. Check the Eventos section of the municipal website and look for Feira do Mel e do Castanha for exact dates and details.

If you don’t have a car, you can get to Lousã from Coimbra by bus.

Read about other Portuguese celebrations and festivities

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17 Comments

  1. There are also other Chestnut festivals worth visiting:
    Festa do Castanheiro e da Castanha” in Marvão, where you can also be a witness of the biggest “Magusto” of our planet.
    “Rural Castanea” in Vinhais, with the “Biggest Chestnut-roasting Oven in the World”.
    “Feira da Castanha” in Carrazedo de Montenegro, capital of the sweet chesnut in Tras-os-Montes region.
    We create a list of most of the festivals in Portugal, dedicated to this magnificente fruit. Take a look at the website: http://www.filipe.com
    It is all about sweet chestnuts and sweet Chestnut trees.

    1. Author

      That’s great to know. Thanks for the info – I’ll have to check them out next year.

  2. oh can’t wait for the chestnut fair here – I love the roasting smell and the wood smoke – fantastic – and then juggling them whilst they’re still too hot but wanting to eat them! thanks for a lovely post to remind me of one of the reasons for colder evenings and dark nights!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Alyson. I haven’t had any chestnuts yet this autumn but plan to make up for that at the weekend.

  3. Author

    It was as good as it looks!

    I know what you mean about Spanish puds, although I’ve still got a soft spot for a crunchy-topped Crema Catalana after my two years in Barcelona.

  4. That chestnut tart looks delicious! Portuguese puddings are so much nicer than the ones here in Spain. Love these seasonal food fiestas!

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