In this strange year we are living, the Castanyada (Chestnut party) 2020 is presented as a slightly different celebration. However, to the memory of those who have left us, we will add, as always, a touch of sweetness and color to All Saints’ Day by eating chestnuts, panellets and sweet potatoes.
All Saints ‘Day and the Day of the Dead: two celebrations that are mixed in a single party
The developing of our lifes has made these two celebrations in one and the same, but as we have just said, in fact they are two different celebration.
All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1. The next day, the 2nd, is the Day of the Dead. And what is the difference? So the difference is basically in the origin of the celebrations, which by the way is very old. So let’s start from the beginning.
Remind the dead. A pagan tradition recycled by Christianity.
Indeed, the custom of remembering the dead is, like all Christian celebrations, much older than Christianity. In fact, this one in particular, comes from the Celts.
The Celtic culture considered the annual cycle divided into 2 periods, one of light and another one of darkness. The light, corresponding to spring and summer, was the moment of splendor of life. The one of darkness, autumn and winter, was the time when the day had less and less light, and the harvests were over; therefore, they regarded it as a kind of hibernation time, almost the death of nature. At the time of transition between the two periods they remembered their dead during the Samhain. They believed that this was the time when the two worlds, those of life and death, were closer than ever.
But this memory of the dead is not what is commemorated on All Saints’ Day
In fact, veneration of All Saints (martyrs) was instituted by Pope Boniface IV in the seventh century. It was him who decided to transform the Temple of All the Gods in Rome (the Pantheon of Agrippa in Rome) into a church. And since the closest to all the gods were all the saints he put this dedication on him. In addition, he added the cult of Mary, and thus arose the oldest church dedicated to All the Holy Martyrs in existence.
It seems that at first, the day that commemorated the feast of All Saints was towards spring, for the sake of relating it to Easter and the death and resurrection of Jesus.
But they realized that people continued to hold the rituals of remembrance of the dead until the fall, it was another pope, now Gregory IV in the mid-ninth century, who decided that the celebration of All Saints should be the 1st. of November. He also ordered it to be one of the main festivals of the liturgical year. Probably because there were already a lot of people celebrating it.
And to top it off, in 988 the monks of the French Monastery of Cluny decided to establish that on the first Eucharist on November 2 had to be in memory of all the dead, not just the saints. Also, from the evening of November 1st until the time of this celebration, the bells would ring non-stop all night.
In short, even though we mix both celebrations into one day, actually day 1 is All Saints Day and day 2 is All Dead Day.
The chestnuts and panellets, protagonists of All Saints
Now that we’ve clarified the origins of the tradition, let’s see how we celebrate it.
Going to the cemetery to bring flowers is a custom we inherited from the Romans.
They also did so, but not only did they bring flowers, to keep the dead happy, they also brought them food and wine. Have you ever noticed that in many tombs in the Roman necropolises that are preserved there is a small hole? Why do you think it should be? Well, yes, it was to be able to introduce the meal shared with the deceased. It was believed that if this tradition was not followed, the spirit of the deceased would wander relentlessly and be a bad influence on the living. It was a matter of keeping the deceased calm and happy, so they would ensure the safety and prosperity of their families.
In fact, in Catalonia this tradition of bringing food to the dead continued for a long time, until it was banned in the 15th century.
Who knows if panellets, sweet potatoes, chestnuts and muscatel are not a transformation of those breads and fruits that were part of Roman funeral meals.
Panellets and chestnuts for everybody
However, the most widespread custom of eating panellets, chestnuts and sweet potatoes for All Saints’ Day dates back to the 18th century. Until then, sugar was a very expensive product, but with the opening of Catalan ports to trade with America, sugar began to arrive more easily and at a better price. So, it was starting to get cheaper and mixing it with the local almond, which was a local product, to make marzipan, was less and less expensive.
Raffles were often held to make them known and some stalls were also set up at All Saints’ Day fairs where they were sold, along with the chestnuts, which the chestnut sellers went down to sell in the city, toasted and hot, freshly made.
Until then, roasted chestnuts were likely to be just a subsistence meal for bell ringers. Because they had to play with the dead all night, people brought them seasonal, cooked and hot products. Chestnuts, almonds, sweet potatoes and sweet wine were the most sustainable way to get over the cold, sleep and hunger.
The fact is that little by little the panellets became more popular and became the protagonists of the day. They have even achieved international recognition because the European Union considers them one of the 4 traditional guaranteed specialties produced in Spain.
Now it’s time to make panellets at home !!!
Today, panellets can be bought in all pastry shops in Catalonia from a few days before 1st November. But there are also a lot of people who do them at home. They are easy to make, better priced and they also make children also help and therefore learn the tradition.
Do you want to try to make them? We explain how we do them at home. It’s very easy
How to make panellets at home
- 500 g of raw and fine almonds
- 400 g of sugar
- 200 g of potatoes or sweet potatoes
- the skin of a lemon
- First of all, boil the potatoes (or sweet potato) with skin. When they are soft, drain them and before they cool a lot, peel them and smash them with a fork. When we have this texture, we reserve it until it cools down.
- Add the sugar, ground almonds and grated lemon zest.
- With a fork, or with clean hands, as you prefer, mix everything, without stirring too much so that the dough does not soften too much, but until all the ingredients are well bound. This is the most important.
- This will be the basis of any kind of panellets. Now all we have to do is make the balls and then decorate them according to what we want to make them.
Pine nut panellets
These are the ones we like the most, and they are very easy to make.
The first thing we need to do is spread the pine nuts on a tray. Then we separate the yolk from the egg white and pass the balls through the white. The next step is to pass these balls through the pine nut tray so that they stick to it. At the end, we paint them with the egg yolk and they will turn golden when we put them in the oven.
If you want to make them with almond, cherry or quince, just decorate the ball with a piece of what we have chosen.
And after that, they only need to be put in the oven for 8 or 10 minutes at a temperature of 225/250º
We hope you like them and enjoy celebrating the Castanyada 2020