In her regular column, Sarah Hendrickx shares with us what it’s like living part-time in Portugal. This month, it’s raining, it’s pouring and the old man might be turning into a broad bean.
Autumn has arrived in the Algarve. Mostly that means the first rain for about five months. Lots of it: like five months’ worth all falling in one day. I can tell that it’s raining hard by how quickly the bowls that catch the rain dripping through the kitchen ceiling fill up enough to make a cup of tea. Currently, that’s quicker than I can drink the tea.
The cooler temperatures that accompany the end of summer also mean that moving does not equate to sweating, which is a welcome relief.
The summer months are excruciatingly hot, which sounds like a dream come true, but is actually as restrictive as a soggy day, with the added bonus of the touch of madness that four months of extreme heat and two solitary people on a remote hillside can bring. The fact that both of us are still alive and not the subject of a ‘couples see who will kill each other first’ documentary on Channel 5 is frankly a miracle.
This rekindled love and the ability to move without perspiring means that it’s time to start planting food again. The Algarve has no frost and so year-round growing is easy-peasy. Our neighbours are eating their own lettuces in November and strawberries grow in January.
One of our most successful crops is our broad beans. Popping them out of their skins always feels like being a midwife, releasing a newborn out of its egg/amniotic sac. It’s giving birth without the subsequent sleepless nights and annoying people on aeroplanes.
I don’t name them or anything – or hug them very often, honest. You will never look at a broad bean the same way again, especially not Charlie, he’s my favourite. Sorry about that.
It’s fair to say that eating the 43kg of broad beans we grew in May has required fairly frequent consumption and, despite these efforts, the freezer remains full of the little lovelies. Perhaps they are breeding in there. This week, I planted 73 more seeds which will be ready around February, so broad bean muesli/ice cream/meringues remain on the menu for a while yet.
Another good thing about off-season Portugal is the food festivals that occur, mainly over the non-summer months. The interesting thing about these festivals is that they tend to focus on a single food stuff.
Let’s take the International Snail Festival. Not just any old snail festival, but one which gathers snail aficionados and chefs from around the globe. (Well, from Portugal, France, Italy and Morocco, anyway.) Maybe every other country in the world has realised that snails don’t taste of anything and are a poor substitute for cake. Or maybe these four countries have an unfeasibly large snail population they’re trying to keep at bay.
Amid three days of entertainment and festivities, you can eat snails served from a multitude of stalls. Just snails. Vegetarians and non-snail lovers stay clear, for you will remain with hunger. Having wandered at length around all of the vendors, it was difficult to see how Portuguese snail cuisine differs from that of Morocco, but I guess that’s just ignorance on my part. Or maybe it’s not.
“Popping broad beans out of their skins always feels like being a midwife, releasing a newborn out of its amniotic sac. It’s giving birth without the subsequent sleepless nights and annoying people on aeroplanes.”
The snails are not the only ones to be granted their own annual knees-up. One of the largest food festivals around here takes place in Aljezur on the west coast every November and is dedicated to the sweet potato. It’s a huge affair packed with hundreds of people all worshipping at the knobbly, purpley feet of the batata doce.
Judging by the imaginative menus served by numerous vans to packed tables of diners, the sweet potato conjures more creative cooking than the humble snail, because they actually taste of something. Anyone who thought they were only good for baking in a microwave and serving with a dollop of hummus has only touched the tip of the sweet potato iceberg.
Other foods that merit their very own day or weekend include chorizo, ham, pigeon and parsnip. These tend to be in villages and towns where the foodstuff is grown or produced to a particularly high standard and the quantity is plentiful. There must be an element of ‘my parsnips are better than your parsnips’, as well as that of getting the community together for a party, which in rural communities rarely appears to need a vegetable for an excuse.
But I have not seen a broad bean festival (fava as they are known here). This needs to change. There’d be a Who Looks Most Like A Fava Bean? competition where portly gents with beer-induced extended abdomens adopt the shape of a fava bean, or perhaps there are some who have the face of one. Beyoncé could be the judge – she’s headlining obvs. It would be like Glastonbury, but for beans. It is certainly raining enough.
Read all of Sarah’s ex-pat dispatches here.
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Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.