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Autumn Colours

As the colder weather returns and the rain falls, the mushrooms appear across the woodland floor leaving sots of colour amongst the fallen leaves. Our mountain is not one covered in pine and eucalyptus, we're lucky to have native oak trees growing in the valley.  The oak brings the change of the season to life as the leaves turn a wonderful bright yellow and mushrooms start to spring up underneath. Walks in the hills become a quest to identify the mushrooms.  I can spot them, but not identify them. You need an expert guide like  José Pais from Villa Chanca  to tell you what is tasty and what will kill you!   José organises walks in the Penela and Castanheira de Pera districts.  His walks end with a tasting menu of the edible mushrooms the group picked and it's well worth doing one of his walks to learn more. Here are two I know are edible.  The parasol mushroom (below) grows extensively around here in late October.  The walks behind our house across the fields in Pera are full
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Chestnuts and Saints

St. Martinho or St. Martin of Tours, became the first non-  martyr  saint to receive official church worship and became one of the most popular saints in medieval Europe. (Source wikipedia). His feast day is 11 November, deep into autumn and the chestnut season. In Portugal, as it's chestnut season 'Magustos'are celebrated in St. Martinho's name. A magusto is a group  of friends and/or family who get together and bake and eat chestnuts.  We have our village magusto at the weekend.  Meanwhile at home I've been celebrating the chestnut instead of the saint.  This 'celebration' involves collecting the chestnut harvest, splitting, cooking and shelling hundreds of these shiny brown chestnuts. Well, there's not much else to do on a wet Monday in these hills. Now I've got a bowl full of chestnuts I'm looking for recipes.  Here's what I've tried so far: Chestnut cake.  Made by using blitzed chestnuts instead of regular flo

Is it worth it?

When we moved to the hills of Portugal we thought we'd be growing all our own vegetables, picking grapes, harvesting olives and being just a little more self-sufficient.  But over the last 8 years we've not really embraced this way of life.  The veg patch is more of a place where veg goes to die, we've never picked the grapes and up until this month we've never bothered with the olives. We have about 13 olive trees in our garden.  Each year we watch the olives grow, fall on the ground and rot.   I hack back the grapevines so hard the neighbours come out to laugh at my poor pruning skills.  They tell me each year 'you'll never get grapes if you do that' I reply 'I don't want grapes, I just want leaves'....they shrug and laugh to themselves as the walk away. And as for that poor veg patch...well aphids, rot, bad soil and a whole host of problems mean we only plant peas (which we often forget to harvest until they've gone hard), tomatoes (

A bit fishy

Portugal has a long history of preserving fish, it seems to have started in Peniche with two main ways of preservation recorded.  Either drying on racks in the sun or as Roman remains have shown, they were salting fish and putting it into clay pots. The first modern commercial preservation factory was started in 1853 and put locally caught sardines in olive oil. In fact this company are still doing it today with a wider variety of fish canned -   Tuna from Ramierz As time went on canning factories used new canning technology to preserve the fish for longer, opening up the international market and by the 1980s there were over 150 canning factories in Portugal.   However, c anned fish went out of fashion and as processing costs grew many factories closed down. In fact in the year 2000 there were just 20 factories still canning fish in Portugal.   In recent years canned fish has made a come back in Portugal, it's become a fashion choice, with brands spe

After the fire

June saw Portugal's worst forest fires in living history....174 square miles of central Portugal burned and tragically, 64 deaths and people still in hospital. Area of fire damage We were lucky, the fire reached the top of our village then, as we were evacuated, took a turn and moved upwards...we were lucky. People have lost their land, their home, their family, their life. We were very lucky. We ran, we ran for the coast....away from the fire, away from the smoke, away from the fear.  But in making this trip we drove along the main road out of town passing the burnt-out cars where people died  in their cars, fleeing their homes as the fire moved at over 200 miles an hour, at temperatures which melted glass.  I try not to think too much about what that was like for them. The fear of being surrounded and trapped by fire was very real, friends of ours in other locations were already surrounded in their homes. What I'll never, ever forget is the smell of fire, the ye

Gates and Dates

One thing you do on dog walks is notice things, from the people on the bus (which passes at 8.10am) to visitors staying with family, how the sun is rising a little bit earlier every morning this time of year. One thing that has always intrigued me is the initials and dates on house gates.  Once you start noticing these things then you see dates everywhere....and of course the JF initials on all the benches....who is JF......but more of that later. So as a result of all this noticing, I've been thinking about the dates and what was going on for Portugal when our neighbours installed their gates.  1916 The oldest gates I've found in our village.  The house is now abandoned, but it's a lovely place, with some great stone work.   This gate was installed during the First World War.  In 1916 Germany declared war on Portugal.   Portugal had honoured its old alliance with Great Britain by seizing German ships anchored in Lisbon’s harbour following a request to c


Now we are in February it seems like the right time to write about a Christmas tradition in Portugal.  The Presépio translated in Google as 'The Crib' is firmly routed in the Jesus in the Nativity and not the Pimp my Crib show on MTV. The Presépio is traditionally a representation of the Nativity, from a simple Mary, Joseph and Jesus ornament arrangement at home on the mantle to a full on live procession  with donkey, cattle and shepherds. This year I spotted more representations of the Presépio around the district.  It seemed to me that each town had two or three interpretations of this traditional celebration of the Nativity. Presépio made from recycled materials seems to be the big hit this year, here are some that have caught my eye. All smiles and used car tyres... Tradition in a town church... Entrance to the Penela Presepio which included two iron cow statues humping (sadly not photographed) Very traditional interpretation outside the main ch