FoupanaYou may recall me briefly mentioning on our walk with nightingales the farming methods used on the banks of the Ribeira da Foupana. Well today thanks to Jude’s inspiring all things edible I’m finally going to fulfil my promise and tell you a little bit more about the valley.

Apart from the high plains where wheat, oats and barley are grown the mountain land is difficult to farm. Consequently most of the villagers and farmers still working and living here have garden plots of varying sizes in the canyons or beside the few rivers that can be found in the Caldeirão. This approach to farming has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years. Some of the plots we passed were lying fallow and others seemed to be abandoned. There are probably two reasons for the latter a) many villagers have moved into the lowlands for work  and/or b) inheritance splitting up the plots into such tiny areas they had become unsustainable. Even in the 1960s Dan Stanislawski in ‘Portugal’s Other Kingdom’ mentions one fig tree belonging to five heirs.

There are though many plots still worked hence including this post in Jude’s challenge.Riverside allotment Under fig and almond trees, and in open areas we spotted everything from potatoes to sweet potatoes, to lettuces, cabbages, broad beans and grape vines. There were even oranges as the Foupana has water year round unlike many of the riberias in the Caldeirão. On other walks in the limestone zone we have seen tomatoes, chillies, peas and even maize around the trees. Inter-planting with the olive and carob trees is less common because these trees demand more of the soil, the shade however under a carob tree we found is perfect on hot days. Large scale farming equipment won’t be seen in the Algarvian hills as the plots are too small and the terrain too mountainous, however we did spot the occasional small tractor on some of the larger ‘garden’ plots. Despite the age of the tractors we saw they are a new introduction here. In the 196os tractors were unheard of in this part of the Algarve; then work animals accounted for 90% of power used on farms, humans the remaining 10%. These days seems mostly human power.

Figs are believed to be one of the earliest domesticated plants introduced to the Algarve, probably by the Phoenicians. OlivesOlives seem to have been much later, and according to Dan Stanislawki Algarvian olives had a poor reputation, however the locally produced ones we have eaten have been superb. Some of, if not, the best olives we have eaten so either tastebuds have changed or olive production has improved immensely. Almonds another staple in the Algarve were also a late introduction, and like the olives we can’t eat enough of them in the Algarve. CarobCarob is likely to be native, and was an essential fodder for cattle. It doesn’t seem to be eaten much by people these days except in the form of tasty cakes. If you see carob cake on the menu do try, or even better look out for the cakes which have all three – fig, almonds and carob. I can’t resist those.

I’ve realised by focusing on edible gardening for Jude’s challenge I’ve mentioned nothing about the fauna and wild flora of this valley. Sorry Georgina as I suspect from your comment on the original walk this is what you were hoping to see, I’ll have to cover this for you in another post. Soon I promise! For now though here’s a glimpse of the wild flora on one of the tracks to the riverside allotments.Walking through the canyons