Portuguese trivia (VII)

magustoNext Monday, November 11th, is St Martin’s Day. What does that mean? In Portugal, that means chestnuts and booze.

In case you don’t know, St Martin was a Roman soldier who, legend has it, was riding his horse and minding his own business – except it was a really stormy weather. Seeing a beggar who had almost no clothes on him and who would probably die of cold, St Martin cut off his red cloak to give it to the man. God liked this gesture so much that he let the sun shine through the stormy clouds in what we, in Portugal, call Verão de São Martinho (St. Martin’s Summer). That means that, despite being rainy and cloudy as it usually is in November, on St Martin’s day the sun will show up even if only for a couple of hours.

All over Portugal you’ll a find a few religious celebrations linked to this saint, but for most people St Martin’s day is all about eating and drinking – the Portuguese word for it is magusto. Traditionally on this day, and this is something that also happens in other European countries, pigs are slaughtered and their meat gets to be used in dozens of ways in order to prepare for the Winter. Most people who still do this today don’t really do it for the economical need and in some places it’s kind of a social event… Sweet potatoes, dried figs, chestnuts and walnuts are also a tradition at this time of the year.

Anyway, besides pork and roast chestnuts St Martin’s day is also when people traditionally taste the new wine that they started producing in September. However, wine is not what is usually drank at this time. There are two kinds of alcohol for magusto: jeropiga and água-pé. Long story short, when wine is produced (especially in the traditional method, by stomping on the grapes) you’re left with a kind of residue called pomace, which is the pulp from all the grapes that were used. If you add water to that and let it ferment for a few days you get água-pé; if you add some aguardente you get jeropiga. You can get jeropiga pretty much all year round but that does not apply to água-pé , which was forbidden several years ago by Government legislation. However, in the good Portuguese spirit of things, you can still get it if you know where to go.

If you happen to be in Portugal at this time of the year, particularly near a city, you’re likely to find street vendors of roast chestnuts. You can buy half a dozen or a dozen and they’re really really good on cold days, shared with a friend/significant other sitting on a park bench. 🙂

I bet your country also has a few traditions for St Martin’s day. I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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  1. I am off to my first Magusot festival on Monday in Alvares. . Although I have been chomping on chestnuts the last few weeks , it will be lovely to be trying them with jeropiga and lots of Portuguese people celebrating . Looking forward to it !

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