Tag Archive: medronho


Smashed in Rustic Portugal

The last ride had been exhilarating, in fact it had been downright scary, more like living in a clip from Easy Rider.

We were sitting at the edge of a cork oak forest, some of the trees half naked-red where the bark had been removed. We sat with our backs to the trees having just walked gingerly away from the last ride. We were shaken and not sure if we should go back to the last hamlet  and wait for a bus to the Algarve. Carole suggested we pack up and go home, we had been travelling for 3 weeks, hitching down from the North of England, sleeping wherever we found ourselves come evening and just letting the rides take us to any destination.

Out of Lisbon we had been picked up with a really nice guy, who spoke terrific English, treated us to lunch and provided me with an expression that I would use over again. An hour after the lunch stop we were cruising through some hills when the guy pulled off the road and said he was ‘Going to pick some flowers.’ We hashed over why he needed to wander into the forest to collect flowers when he clearly had enough dosh to buy some at a flower shop. Hitching his trousers up as he returned to the car he sighed and said, ‘Feeling much better now.’ We looked at each other with raised eyebrows as he continued the journey, chattering away like a good ‘un. He had to turn off in a rural location so we decided to get out and head more directly south toward the sea.

In no time at all some Hell’s Angels on gut crunching Harleys came down the road and stopped. Now I am not a chicken but a dozen Hell’s Angels looking like agents from Hell were beyond my capacity to defend the fair maiden standing beside me. I was ready to sacrifice her without a fight as long as they left me with at least one arm.

Picture credit crunkish.com

The leader with flowing black curly hair, a white silk bandana, aviator specs and a ZZ Top style beard kicked the bike stand out and pointed to fair maiden and told her to get on the back of his bike. Carole was stammering, ‘NNnnnnNo thanks’ So I picked up her rucksack, smiled at ZZ and walked over to his bike, my mind screaming in panic. Carole, bless her cotton socks, straddled the bike, took her pack and ZZ was off with a great spray of gravel. The other 11 looked at me and my gut sank, none of them spoke. Were they going to shoot me? Rape me? Tie a rope around my ankle and drag me until dead along the rough road?

One of the smaller riders, wearing a helmet with horns on top waived me over. Shizzle, shizzle what is happening. I could barely move but scutched across and an arm indicated I should get on the back…yes yes YES, incredible relief. Almost before my leg was over the back the bike was gunned and we roared away, I was thrown back so far that I thought I was going to land in the road so I did the ‘sissy’ thing and put my arms around the waist of the lunatic rider. Yeeehaar Felicitas was a Nicole Scherzinger look-a-like! So I clung on with increasing delight.

Picture credit posh24.com

The delight turned to fear and the fear to abject horror as the ride unfolded. Nothing was going to slow these loonies, corners, goats, trucks and my need to go and ‘pick some flowers’ went unheeded. Flippin past like a reel of fractured celluloid, little made sense. I couldn’t see for the wind and muck hitting my face so I buried my head into Felicitas’s hair, she became my Angel from Hell.

Thankfully the ride did end quite quickly, after 45 minutes we slid to a stop because ambulances and traffic cops were dealing with an accident and the road had been temporarily closed. I noticed Carole nervously chumming up to ZZ and wobbled over to receive a great slap on the back. We were stars of the highway! The riders decided they were going back to Lisbon, once the tribe had powered away we were left sitting by the cork oaks and thinking it a good idea to find somewhere to pitch a tent when Pascoal turned up. Obviously the local farmer Pascoal had driven across his land on a curious rudimentary tractor to see what the hold up was. He wore rough work clothes and had a tough looking stubble that seemed to cover most of his face.

It was late in the day and we needed to find somewhere to crash so we asked Pascoal, using sign language, if he had somewhere we could sleep for the night. His pouchy dark eyes showed a disturbing glint, but he nodded and made the universal sign for sleeping and got us to sit in his little trailer. The day was cooling, the earthy smell of the farmland and comfy hay filled trailer imbued us with a cosy feel, we allowed our bodies to bobble around gently as the tractor negotiated the fields, gazing up into the indigo sky.

It was clear that we were pulling into a farmyard so we both sat up to find a courtyard filled with ubiquitous chickens and a couple of grubby farm dogs. Pascoal motioned us to follow him and he went over to the door, crashed a filthy paw onto it and walked in shouting greetings in Portuguese. Members of the family turned up from different areas and we were introduced without understanding a word. With nodding head one of the older women dressed in black crossed to the kitchen and came back with tumblers and a big plastic bottle. She poured great slugs of a clear liquid into the glasses and we all skulled it Salud…POW! This stuff was surely made as bleach for the toilets, not as a drink to salute strangers. (Medronho from Arbutus unedo)

After another glass each we went back outside with Pascoal and got into the trailer again. Giggling, with fire in our bellies, we had no clue where we were going, and didn’t care. Pascoal visited another 2 farms with the same ritual drinking session, at one we were also given slabs of bread, sheeps milk cheese and olives. By now evening was beginning to fall, we were well soaked with the grog and just wanted to crash. Pascoal clearly had the same idea and walked us around the building to a barn, making the universal sleep sign. Our mouths were numb from the drink and our heads felt a little swollen with the buzz, at least we were going to get some sleep.

Through a doorless arch he showed us piles of sweet hay and motioned for us to use this as our bed.  Taking his calloused hands I thanked him for his generosity and we wasted no time in getting out our sleeping bags. Following years of sleeping on the ground I have never found it difficult to fall asleep, we both snuggled down, used our clothes as pillows and I fell into sleep instantly.

With great difficulty I woke up as Carole was whispering that Pascoal had come back with a blanket and was snuggled up behind her and was trying to have a little grope. We discussed it for a while and decided he probably just needed to be told ‘Thanks but no thanks.’ Carole had a brief cameo with him and she seemed satisfied things were ok. I dropped off immediately.

Once again Carole woke me up, ‘He is still trying his luck. You have to do something.’

Cough…’OK’

Shaking off my torpor, arms flailing a bit, doing the universal sign for you will get a slap if you don’t stop I told him, ‘Pascoal. Stop messing with Carole. She doesn’t want you to touch her! Not now, not ever. She is my wife and you need to respect that. Gorrit?’

Pascoal appeared to get the message because he flubbered his lips, turned away and settled down without another sound. To make sure he didn’t bother her again I switched places with Carole. From the new position my burning eyes took cooling comfort from a view through the window arch of the starry sky, with the peaceful sounds of sleeping heads and the calm of the world in the countryside, I drifted off once more.

‘Alright Pascoal, that’s it!’ yelling I bounced up and threatened to do battle with the Portuguese pest. Poor guy must have been desperate. I awoke to find him snuggled up behind ME and gently stroking my back and hair. The fire in his belly had clearly moved indiscriminately south.

At this point he did abandon his amorous tilt and left the barn, we slept on without further incident. Early the following morning Pascoal reappeared with hot coffee, bread, olives and figs cheio. As Jimmy Greaves used to say, ‘It’s a fanny owd wewld.’ Pascoal loaded us up again in the trailer and drove us back to the road. Before he left he shook our hands and, with a ridiculous grin, gave me a luscious smacking kiss on my lips!

For info on Medronho preparation read

Medronho or Portuguese Bleach

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With its cinnamon-red bark the strawberry tree Arbutus unedo makes an attractive garden bush or small tree, it’s seedlings need considerable protection until they are established. Though able to withstand the sea winds of the Irish coast, the tree quickly succumbs to cold northerly and easterly winds.

Named for the similarity of its fruits to the edible garden variety, the strawberry tree is a native to Ireland. However nowadays it rarely grows wild or produces fruit outside of the warmer Mediterranean regions.

The distribution of the strawberry tree is oddly patchy. In the British Isles it grows naturally in western Ireland. It occurs again in western France, and on the Mediterranean coast; but, whereas in Ireland it grows to tree size, in continental Europe it normally develops only into a shrub. One theory is that the strawberry tree has survived mainly in areas left untouched by glaciers in the Ice Age. Within historical times it certainly grew more widely than it does today, and its disappearance may well be accounted for by the fact that it makes a good charcoal and burns well. Its reddish brown wood is hard and close-grained, though liable to splitting, and is used for inlay and marquetry.

Arbutus unedo is generally a short tree, rarely more than 10m (30 ft) in height and often it is no more than a large shrub. This effect is exaggerated by the fact that the branches of the tree tend to grow from near the base of the trunk, often leaning and twisted, giving it a low sprawling appearance.

As well as its dark, waxy evergreen leaves and unusual winter fruits, the strawberry tree has attractive reddish-brown wood. This dark bark peels off in strips quite regularly to reveal brighter wood beneath. The wood burns well as charcoal and the wholesale felling of the tree for this purpose has contributed to its demise.

However birds readily consume the fruits raw and these are especially welcome as the flowering period is between October and December when there is little else on offer in the way of food. It is also assumed that the erratic behaviour of some birds when feeding on the fruits is due to consuming soft fruit that has gone over, giving the birds a natural shot of medronho. The white flowers take about a year to ripen and so there are often blooms and berries on the tree at the same time. This late flowering time, while helpful to birds, is probably one reason why the tree is so rare in the British Isles now – there simply aren’t enough insects to carry out pollination at this time of year.

Medronho is a strong spirit made from distilled berries from the strawberry tree, the fruit itself is a bit bitter but generally doesn’t taste of much. When turned into alcohol though, it produces a fiery spirit. The drink often known as “Aguardente do Medronho” is the cause of many a zig zagging old man on a motorbike! Aguardente – meaning literally Teeth water.

Traditionally homebrewed it can reach up to 84% but the commercial versions which you will be able to buy in the shop are most likely between 40% and 50%, in some of the smaller bars in the Monchique and Silves region, you will see it being poured from a plastic bottle, this is the real stuff not the weakened commercial stuff!

Aquardente is the actual liqueur much like vodka, and Medronho is the fruit that gives it a special flavour. Similar to the strawberry, the Medronho fruit has its seeds on the outside and a soft flesh on the inside, with a small delicate pit in the center. The fruit is small and round, with an orange and deep red colour, biting into the fruit one feels its graininess, but when bitten through it’s soft and delicate center collapses with a mellow meaty sweetness. When ideally ripened, the bumpy exterior turns an almost black in colour, this is when these little strawberry balls are ideal for harvesting and making of Aguardente de Medornho.

Aguardente is normally served as an after dinner drink and is well known as “Um Chierinho”, if asked at a restaurant this is what the server is referring to, and you have the option of having it on the side or directly in your coffee. Aguardente is also a potent drink and not for the timid, but you only live once so give it a go! It’s also a fantastic sipping drink for dry desserts like chocolate salame and morgado, but for a truly “inside” taste of the Algarve try Aquardente de Medronho with a good “Figo Cheio”, a dried fig stuffed with almonds and spices.

Happy Daze