What do Britain and Tenerife have in common at this time of year? A dunce’s hat to anyone who suggests the weather. Whilst British children are accidentally whacking each other’s knuckles trying to smash their opponent’s vinegar soaked conkers, it’s also chestnut season on the island of eternal spring.
November is the month of the castaña (chestnut) on Tenerife and whereas in Britain chestnut season means epic conker battles and bruised knuckles, on Tenerife activities have more than a hint of a Charles Dickens’ Christmas about them.
Throughout the month, soldierly rows of iron braziers, blackened by years of service, spring up on cobbled streets and town squares across the north of Tenerife. Mini carbon mountains are fired up and chestnuts collected mainly from the Acentejo region are peeled, scored and slowly roasted in heavy pans that become white with the heat. Their locations are impossible to miss as smoky sentinels weave through the streets enticing victims with aromas full of nostalgic promise.
I’d never been much of a fan of eating chestnuts before moving to Tenerife; my one and only experience being chewy when roasted, frozen ones from the supermarket. However, the first time I tried roasted chestnuts beside the harbour at Puerto de la Cruz served in a paper cone, they were a revelation. Soft, savoury sweet and, accompanied by a cup of robust earthy red wine, they were simply heaven in a poke. Now I’m a big fan and look forward to my annual castaña hit.
Although chestnut month on Tenerife mostly consists of the brazier roasted chestnuts adding a touch of seasonal colour, smell and, if you get close enough, heat to plazas across the island, some municipalities really go to town.
La Victoria de Acentejo celebrates the mes de castaña with a series of events including guided walks through the castaña forest, artisan fairs and musical evenings with chestnut themed tapas. Restaurants in La Victoria add chestnut inspired dishes to their menus and at Tasca Garpa (Carretera General, 205) chestnut aficionados can tuck into fillet steak in a chestnut sauce , whilst La Sabina restaurant (TF5 exit 27) has chestnut tempura on a bed of prawns and langoustines in green curry. A seasonal must in the town is to pick up some chestnut bread from PanaderÃa Santo Domingo (Calle Bubaque, 12).
The culmination of chestnut month is the Fiesta of San Andrés (Saint Andrew) on the 29th November. Scotland’s patron saint has an affinity with the island ““ same flag, towns named after him and a party to honour his existence even if on Tenerife it’s celebrated a day earlier than in Scotland.
29th November is the day when traditionally the island’s wine cellars open their doors and the season’s new wine is ready to be launched on a thirsty world. It’s also another one of those Tenerife days when uninformed tourists in Puerto de la Cruz are completely bemused by what’s going on around them. At first, tasting wines from the Orotava Valley at the kiosks around the harbour makes it seem like a genteel and sophisticated fiesta”¦until you step onto the cobbled street and are nearly flattened by runaway washing machines. The arrastre los cacharros are an essential part of proceedings and involves making as much noise as possible with any metal object that comes to hand and if you want to know why read our report from last year.
In the hills celebrations take on a slightly different form. Any town with steep streets will have them commandeered by local youths who careen down them on tiny wooden sleds before crashing spectacularly into a mountain of Dunlops. It’s the modern interpretation of transporting wine barrels from the upper parts of town to the lower on wooden carts. The best place to view this loco tradition is in Icod de los Vino which boasts a number of nose-bleed inducing streets. Few visitors or even ex-pat residents travel to see this arrastre de las tablas, but it’s quite an experience. However, the last few times I’ve been it rained and last year it was so heavy that there was not a lot of careening down the hills going on.
With the night temperatures cooling down as the month progresses, standing around a chestnut brazier sipping wine is quite a magical way of keeping warm that seems more in accordance with bygone days. And when you see the glowing braziers I’m willing to bet that one of the first things that enters your head will be the opening line of a classic Nat King Cole song”¦ well it will if you’re over a certain age.