Saturday, November 21, 2009

Strawberry tree

This is the arbutus bush, also known as the strawberry tree. It produces small fruit which you can eat but I don't think it particularly tastes of anything, and even the birds don't tend to bother!

The fruit are used in Portugal to produce medronho (pronounced meh-dron-yoo) which as far as I can tell is supposed to be a sort of brandy but to me tastes & smells like paint-stripper. I'm no judge though, and making medronho is a traditional thing which I'm sure is appreciated by many. The livelihoods of many medronho producers has been affected recently, not least by fires, and I believe there are efforts by local authorities to help them re-establish their businesses so they don't lose this tradition.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

When it rains..

Boy does it rain! It really means it too, and even though I'm British and used to seeing clouds and rain, I find it fascinating to watch as it rolls in over the hills. Sadly, they desperately need the rain now as it's been a very dry summer and autumn, and boreholes for water are starting to get low. Fingers crossed.
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Friday, August 14, 2009

Lady of the Night

Lady of the Night or Dama da Noite is night-blooming jasmine. It's a really unassuming plant and not much to look at all during the day. At night though...... well, you either love her or hate her. The tiny flowers give off the most amazing fragrance (as a soapmaking addict I'd love to find an accurate fragrance oil to use but so far have failed miserably) and it can be so strong it can actually give you a headache at times. We thought our 2 plants had died off this winter as they were badly burnt by the wind/cold, so they were cut right back. You had to look down over the wall to see them - what a lovely surprise to find they'd both grown back and were doing really well this summer.

Not much to look at during the day.....

No scent at all when the flowers are closed, but when they open up at night, it's a different story

The flowers are tiny and you wouldn't believe the fragrance that comes off such a tiny thing
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There's a massive tree overhanging one corner of our garden which fascinates me. It took us a couple of years to work out why on earth the old lady who owns the tree (and quite a few others on the land around) would suddenly appear and start walloping the branches with the longest pole you've ever seen. It dawned on us eventually that she and her friend were trying to make these strange brown pods fall so they could be collected and put into sacks.

It turned out to be a carob tree, know locally as an "alfarrobeira" (pronounced al-fuh-roe-bay-ruh) and the pods are "alfarrobas" (al-fuh-roe-bush) or carobs, also known as locust beans. It is used as animal feed; made into flour; as a chocolate substitute and a lot more besides as far as I can tell. There was some very good information on it at a fair last year but I can't for the life of me find a link to the site (or remember the name of it). I've found a link to some information on Wikipedia if anybody's interested.

Anyway, this lovely old tree - and nobody seems to know just how old she is - creaks and groans and large branches occasionally drop off but she's lovely to listen to! I know I'm considered fairly lala by some of my friends but this old girl (the tree, not me) makes the most amazing noise when the wind rushes down the valley and gets tangled up in her branches. The noise is incredible sometimes but the old girl takes it full on and stands there defiantly. I used to sit in her shade sometimes but since an enormous branch fell off into our garden I'm a bit wary! This year we were lucky enough to be there for a couple of months and I took pics of the pods changing as they ripened. They should be falling now in August - pity I'm not there. I enjoyed helping the old lady collect them last year even though my back was killing me at the end of it and I only helped for an hour or so! She must be a very fit lady as she does it day in, day out for hours on end! You wouldn't know it to look at her which just proves looks can be deceiving sometimes.

The last pic is a carob bean, honest, despite what you may think it looks like :-)
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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Castro Marim Craft Fair

We went to Castro Marim craft fair over by the Spanish border - expecting it to be a small affair as it's not all that big a place. How wrong we were! It was a large, well-organised fair crammed with traditional crafts and produce as well as 2 big stages with free entertainment. Entry was free as were the stalls for stallholders. It was a really good fair with a wide range of things to see as well as a funfair for kids, food stalls - not that I'm interested being a vegetarian but the hot food stalls were catered by the local hunting clubs and apparently the meat was delicious! I went mad and had a glass of wine (not supposed to drink it) and when I asked the guy what he had he said "fresca ou natural". Basically rough red wine and either out of the fridge or not :-) It tickled me because that's such a typical reaction, accompanied by the obligatory backwards shoulder shrug which can mean '' Take it or leave it', 'I don't know' or 'Yes' or 'No, and I'm not bothered' etc.

I found this link to Castro Marim which gives some good info - I really should read it myself and maybe do a bit more exploring of the area next time we go!

You can just about see the castle in the background on this one, where they hold medieval fairs, which I'd love to go to.

These ladies were making traditional lace and when I asked the one on the right if I could take a picture, the others shuffled along so they could get in on the act :-)

You can't really see it but these 2 were making traditional chair seats and made it look very easy

This lovely lady was working at a huge loom making small rugs. I asked her how old the loom was and she said she didn't know but she'd bought it second-hand over 50 years ago. I then got a tour of which bits she'd had repaired, which bits she'd bought off a gypsy etc. I struggled a bit to understand her as she had a very thick accent and spoke very fast, not helped by her only having about 3 teeth, but I did my best and she thanked me for stopping to ask about what she was doing. She was so sweet.

To start off the entertainment, there was a traditional dance group (I think they were from a small place called Luz de Tavira a few kilometres away). They were really good but how on earth they danced about at that speed in the heat still baffles me. There were a lot of purple faces when they finished!

This singer is Romana who as far as I can find out was one of Portugal's finalists for 2009's Eurovision. She has an amazingly powerful voice and a really strong stage presence. I hope she does well - she deserves it! She seemed quite popular and alot of the audience were singing along so maybe it's just me and I've been unaware of her before.

And, for me, here's the star of the fair. This lovely little lady (she was even shorter than me and I'm only about 5'5") had her homemade cakes set out on a very low little table. They looked delicious and she'd made pure carob cake; chocolate cake; carrot cake (she very proudly informed me that just as the fair opened at 7pm, she sold 3 WHOLE carrot cakes to a Spanish family and had had to send her hubby home to get some more); apple cake and one made with black plums from her own garden. She'd made 6 cakes that day and when the fair finished at midnight she was going home to make another 6 for the following day. When I went back to buy 2 enormous slices from her she was chattering away and wouldn't let me go without giving her "beijos" (pronounced bay-zhoosh) which is a kiss on both cheeks. When I went back again to tell her her cakes were delicious and asked if I could take her picture she blushed. Awww, I could have brought her home - she was one of the loveliest people I've met in a very long time.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Loulé craft fair

Summer in the Algarve is a time for some wonderful fairs and festivals. We went to two craft fairs this year, one in Loulé and the other in Castro Marim over towards the Spanish border. The set-up for the fairs is great - lots of individual cubicle-type stalls, all with electricity and lighting and a sign made for the name of the stallholder. I can't for the life of me remember the proper name for these cubicles but I think it's something like "cantinhos" (somebody correct me if I'm wrong please). Some fairs don't charge stallholders, whilst others do but for a very reasonable price. Most don't charge an entry fee and there is pretty much always free entertainment. UK councils could take a VERY big lesson from this in my opinion - it not only promotes local communities, but handicrafts and local products too as well as traditional music. The atmosphere at these fairs is lovely - nearly always held in an evening when it's cooler they get busier as the evening goes on and they're well supported by the local population and tourists.

I love Loulé - it's an historic countryside town with a really nice atmosphere. People are friendly and although it's a lively, bustling place it still has a traditional feel to it. There's a big gypsy market on a Saturday (I warn you now, everything is €5 and not necessarily a bargain!) which, if you like being in a crowd and jostled about is fun, or you can time it right and go when the crowds have thinned out a bit for some people-watching. The main market in town is also a great place to go for fresh, local produce - when we went in March, there were local little old ladies selling freesias from their own gardens and the smell was incredible as we wandered about. The Portuguese people like to support their local produce, and they don't bang on about it being organic like they do here in the UK. It's just honest, home-grown produce which tastes wonderful, and you don't get ripped off just because it's got the word "organic" somewhere on the label. Grrrrrr - can you tell this really gets my goat? :-).

I found this website which gives some good information about Loulé, and this is a link to a traditional group (Ventos da Líria) we watched at the craft fair. I never knew playing the accordion was so physically demanding! The guy in this group was puffing hard at the end of each song. They were really good and I'd love to see them again - the website is in Portuguese, but there are other links around to information about them.

Here are a few pics of the fair - not many for some reason, sorry!

This is my good friend Isabel who makes lovely glycerine soaps. She shared the stall this year with a lovely lady making felted purses and other goodies. It was 10 nights of hard work but she says she enjoyed it.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Mum says do you need......."

We have 2 wonderful families either side of the house - the mums are sisters - and they have their own smallholdings. Very often the kids will come and say "Mum says is there anything you need" or they'll just turn up bearing goodies. These were "a few" eggs they sent - I think there 30 odd, and they were followed a few weeks later by another enormous bagful.

Then it was a bowlful of the most delicious peaches ever - all just picked for us

Followed by freshly picked strawberries, which tasted like strawberries, not like the watery tasteless rubbish you get in the UK

"Mum says do you need any carrots" - this pic doesn't show it but they were HUGE

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