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São Martinho, castanhas e Água-pé

São Martinho, castanhas e Água-pé

In Portugal, as in many countries, November 11th, Saint Martin's Day, is the day when families gather to celebrate the last rays of sunshine and the arrival of the cold. This tradition has given rise to popular customs around the feast, chestnuts, wine and brandy.


The legend of St. Martin.

Martinho, a Roman soldier, who became a monk, then a bishop and finally a Catholic saint, was born in 316 and died in 397. His legend tells that on his way home, in very cold weather, he was stopped by a beggar in a cold spell who asked him for alms. Martinho tore his cape and gave part of it to the beggar. At that moment, the sun appeared, warming the atmosphere. Since then, God, as a reward, grants a few days of good weather every year to celebrate St. Martin's Day.

In fact, beyond the legend, Saint Martin is a historical figure, born in the Roman Empire, more precisely in present-day Hungary in 316 and died in Candes, Gaul, in 397. He is one of the principal Saints of Christendom and the most famous of the bishops of Tours (France).

Son of a military commander of the Roman Empire, he was enlisted in the Roman army as a simple soldier at the age of 15. His religious convictions forbid him to shed blood, so he proposes himself as a human shield. It is then that, for an unexplained reason, the barbarians ask for peace.

In 356, freed from his military obligations, he went to Poitiers (France) to join the bishop of the city, but his status as a former man of war prevented him from becoming a priest as he wished. It was only in 361 that he created a hermitage where, joined by his disciples, he created the first community of monks in Gaul.

In 371, the inhabitants of Tours chose him as their new bishop, but he spent little time in his bishopric, preferring to travel the Gaul with his disciples to evangelize the farmers.

His cult then spread throughout Western Europe, from Italy, then especially in Gaul where he became the patron saint of the Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties.


The celebration of Saint Martin's Day in Portugal.

Saint Martin is celebrated all over Europe. In Germany, bonfires are lit and the road is open for processions. In Spain, the custom is to kill pigs and in the United Kingdom there is the expression "summer of St. Martin".

In Portugal, these few days of good weather also correspond to the time when one can pick the chestnuts that have fallen in the forests and start drinking the new wine, produced with the harvest of the previous summer.

It is therefore traditional to make a "Magusto" (chestnut festival) in which the first chestnuts are roasted, the new wine produced with the summer harvest is tasted and Água-pe made of grape marc and brandy to which water is added. (Photo credit: Correio do Minho)

The popular sayings attached to this celebration are numerous:

  • "No São Martinho, vai à adega e abre o vinho" - On St. Martin's Day, go to the cellar and open the wine.
  • "Pelo São Martinho, prova o teu vinho" - For Saint Martin's Day, taste your wine
  • "No Dia de São Martinho, lume, castanhas e vinho"  - On Saint Martin's Day, stove, chestnuts and wine.


Grilled chestnuts.

Chestnuts were for a long time the basis of human nutrition. The chestnut tree was also called "the bread tree". They are eaten raw, dried, boiled, roasted, roasted in the oven, under ashes or in perforated pans. They can also be candied with sugar and crystallized, put in alcohol, cooked in jam or puree. One even makes flour out of it which makes it possible to cook pancakes.

In Portugal, it is rather traditional to consume them roasted in a "Assador de castanhas" which makes it possible to obtain chestnuts both flame-roasted and steamed.

The recipe is as follows

    1. Split the skin of each chestnut on the rounded side by making a cross and soak them for a good hour.
    2. Light the barbecue to prepare good embers.
    3. Put the chestnuts in the grid chestnuts "Assador de castanhas" and place it in the center of the grid.
    4. Leave to cook for 20 to 25 minutes, the chestnuts are cooked when the split skin comes apart and the tip of a knife penetrates easily.

Of course, there are other ways to cook chestnuts : in the frying pan, in the oven, there are even microwave recipes !

Only the chestnut grill "Assador de castanhas" makes it possible to obtain chestnuts that are both roasted and soft at the same time because the cooking process uses the intense heat of the embers and the steam that is generated in the utensil.

Find this unusual utensil and not found outside Portugal in our store by clicking on this link.



The Água-pé is a typical Portuguese drink, close to wine, which is traditionally served, together with chestnuts, on São Martinho day. Very popular in the north of the country, the Água-pé contains is the result of adding water to grape pomace and brandy. Hence its name: translated literally, it means "foot of water", because the water has been added to the bottom of the must.

Once considered the wine of the poor, água-pé was cheap, widespread and often distributed to workers by their employers. Today, the Água-pé has almost disappeared and only a few producers are still dedicated to perpetuating the tradition.

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