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Winter in the air

Umbrellas swell up on the streets during day while show windows display their winter collection of trendy clothes, writes Annie Datta in her column.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2005 18:48 IST
Annie Datta
Annie Datta

Cold stormy wind knocks persistently at my apartment window throughout the night as if re-enacting an eerie scene from Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. More than a coincidence that one had seen a programme on the Brontë sisters on television a few hours before.

Coimbra shows signs of approaching winter accompanied by rain. Umbrellas swell up on the streets during day while show windows display their winter collection of trendy clothes. Margaridas in bloom ornate a florist’s shop.

My rain-soaked spirit is woken by the cheerful sight of road-side carts selling roasted chestnuts (castanhas assadas) around the campus. For a euro one partakes of the warmth of a handful of nuts: fiery hot straight from special tambors of clay placed on coals. There seems a compulsion in buying these as the sooty face of the vendor releases a charitable impulse.

Conkers from huge chestnut trees appear on garden paths around the end of September. These spiked cases contain shiny brown nuts that are available till the beginning of spring. These are most visible during the celebration of the festival of São Martinho that falls on the eleventh of November.

There is a legend linked to the festival. It recalls the close bond between man and God. It is said that in the midst of cold weather the sun shines for about three days in confirmation of the same. Jeropiga (a sweet wine) or água pé is traditionally taken alongside the chestnuts.

Roasted, baked or confected in sweets, chestnuts form an integral part of Portuguese food habit that goes far back in time when shepherds and woodcutters partook of the same around bonfires on cold winter nights. Even today the habit persists. Chestnuts are said to have been part of Roman and Greek banquets.

An easy and popular way of preparing chestnuts is to roast them with coarse salt. Added to mushrooms and meat, chestnuts provide a rich add-on to a dish. One could also use these to garnish soups.

First Published: Nov 05, 2005 00:00 IST