Monday, October 31, 2011

In celebration of the chestnut

In October the chestnuts start to fall (mind your head they are spiky buggers), but the whole village and beyond start collecting chestnuts, young and old alike, everyone is carrying buckets of them around.   As with all gluts, you do start to tire of them after having baked chestnuts the 4th night running!  But we’ve been collecting with the best of them, as the proud owners of one of the best chestnut trees in the village, we’ve been out there every day clearing up, throwing some on the bonfire (which has smoked away for several days now) and hearing them pop, preparing 100s of them for freezing.  I even made a chestnut flour cake (recipe below if you want to try it).

So, what better time to have a chestnut festival!   The village of Coentral hosts an annual chestnut festival, with music, dancing, food, drink and you guessed it...chestnuts.  Normally held inside due to poor weather, this year the sun shone and almost all the surrounding villages came out to celebrate this humble (but staple part of the autumn diet) nut.   Well, maybe it’s just an excuse for a party, but who cares!

Folk dancing in these parts is a big thing, at almost every event (before the modern keyboard players come on with their leggy dancers – remember Nuno and the Nunetts from last years blog?) the crowd are always treated to a display of local dancing.  Each region has their own style unique to their heritage, from the snowmen of Coentral to the fishermen of the west, folk dancing has its place at every festa.   

 Now, some of these characters may look like a local production of Bugsy Malone (check out the hats), but it’s a great tradition and something kept alive in rural Portugal.   Having said that, the music is OK, the dancing great, but the singing....oh god, the’s not all it should be in my opinion.  Have a listen

See what I mean?  After an hour or so, you just WANT IT TO STOP!   Now I love tradition and heritage but COME ON!

As the evening draws in the bonfire is lit and the chestnuts placed on dried grass to cook.  It’s a lovely site, especially with a glass on red in hand, tummy filled from roasted pork and sopa de pedra (soup with large chunks in).  

In celebration of the chestnut – long may it continue, but next year I might wear some ear muffs!

Chocolate, ginger and chestnut flour cake
5 oz of cooked chestnuts (without shells)
2 oz plain flour
1 large teaspoon baking powder
6 oz brown sugar
3 eggs
6 oz butter (salted)
2 oz chocolate chunks
1 oz stem ginger
Vanilla essence
Prepare the chestnuts
Score the chestnut shells and place your chestnuts into boiling water, bring to the boil on the hob then leave for 10 mins.  Drain then with asbestos fingers remove the chestnuts from the shells (easier to do when they are hot, but you do need to have asbestos fingers).  Leave to cool.
In a food processor shred the chestnuts until they are lumpy flour.
Make the cake
Mix the sugar and butter until it is well combined, add a drop or two of vanilla essence.  While still mixing add the three eggs and combine.  Add the flour and chestnut flour and baking powder and combine until it is nice a light but still a little runny (you can add more flour and a dash more baking powder if the mixture is too runny).
Add in the chopped chocolate and the chopped stem ginger (if you don’t like ginger then just leave it out) and mix until it is combined.
Pour the mixture into a prepared cake tin/loaf tin. Put in the oven for about 25/30 mins until the top is golden and when you insert a skewer into the centre it comes out clean.  Leave to rest for 15 mins then turn out onto a rack to cool.

Serve large slices with Crème fraîche!

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