Catalan Autumn Traditions: Mushrooms, Chestnuts and Sweet Wine
As the season begins to change in Barcelona, workers are getting ready to trim the normally lush trees that line the city streets. Although it may not be very cold yet, it’s autumn in Catalonia. As with every season, there are special cultural traditions that are about to be underway and of course, they all involve food!
Here are a few of the Catalan autumn traditions you can take part in:
Mushroom picking…and eating
Autumn in Catalonia is synonymous with bolets, mushrooms, and they are my absolute favorite! From around September until early December, locals don their wicker baskets and head to their secret spots in the forest to collect various fungi. The spores fall through the cracks in the basket, so mushrooms hopefully resurface the following season. Hunting for mushrooms is done throughout Spain, but none are more passionate than the Catalans, who have truly made it a cherished part of their culture and cuisine.
When going out to eat, make sure to look for the seasonal dish of bolets on the menu. I can never control myself during mushroom season. My favorite types to eat are the rovelló, rossinyol and trompeta dels morts. Umami lovers should try the surtido de bolets, a plate of assorted mushrooms sautéed with garlic, parsley and olive oil. This simple and classic dish really lets the different mushroom flavors shine through. If you want to go mushroom hunting yourself, make sure to go with an experienced local since there are often fatalities from touching and consuming toxic mushrooms.
All Saints’ Day is a Christian festivity, and therefore isn’t specifically Catalan. I mention it because the following Catalan traditions all revolve around this day. September 1 is a public holiday throughout Spain. On this day, locals go to the graveyard to honor their deceased relatives and continue the annual tradition into the evening by eating specific food and wine. Every single holiday in Catalonia is accompanied by a special type of food.
Panellets are a typical Catalan sweet eaten on All Saints’ Day, but can be found in grocery stores and bakeries throughout the month of October. They’re hard to miss! Panellets are also really easy to make at home and are similar to marzipan. Almond meal, sugar, eggs and lemon zest are combined to make up the base. Some variations of the recipe include adding mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes to the dough as well. The dough is then rolled into balls and covered with coconut flakes, candied fruits or most commonly, with pine nuts.
Roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes
When smoke fills the streets in autumn, you know there is a castanyera nearby. Mobile barbecues are set up on the busy street corners offering castanyas and moniato, roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes. Street vendors sell the nuts and sweet potatoes wrapped in newspaper so they can easily be eaten on the spot. Other parts of Spain hold roasted chestnut festivals, known as magosto, but it is a typical Catalan custom to eat roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes together, accompanied by sweet wine on the eve of Tots Sants. This is why Tots Sants is also sometimes called Castanyada.
Sadly, there are fewer and fewer castanyera’s in Barcelona, but they are still very popular in the rest of Catalonia, especially in the smaller towns. During the three years I’ve lived in Barcelona, I’ve seen a drastic decline in the number of street vendors. It took me days to find one this year! Have locals stopped buying castanyas? Is the city of Barcelona cracking down on sellers? I’m not sure, but eating a roasted sweet potato on the street in autumn still brings a smile to my face.
Moscatell is produced throughout the Mediterranean and other parts of the world, but is not exactly the same as its more viscous Catalan counterpart. Moscatell is predominately from the Empordá wine-growing region in Catalonia and is the drink of choice on Tots Sants. Although not my favorite, a little shot of the sweet dessert wine does pair nicely with the panellets and chestnuts.