Portuguese Culture

A unique spin on a Christmas tradition

The main ingredient in Castro Marim's presépio was once Portugal's 'white gold'

Hope you don’t mind but it is another presépio post today. We cannot resist them, and will always stop if we see a sign for one. Presépio gigante de Vila Real de Santo António is extraordinary because of its size and the lovely way in which they have presented the history. However the one at Castro Marim is pretty special too as it is reflects the main industry in this lovely village.um presépio de sal

For those who know the area I’m sure you will have immediately realised what the white base is. They used over 3 tons of it to create this presépio. But everyone else can you work it out too? Taker a closer look by clicking on the gallery below, and try not to be distracted by the rather large pants!

It is salt of course, and as well as being the main ingredient in Castro Marim’s presépio it is going to be the main focus of today’s post. Salt is part of Portuguese life, just think of bacalhau (salted cod) the staple of Portuguese cuisine and the traditional meal across most of Portugal on Christmas Eve. Olhão, is one of the few places where they have something different. They eat litão on Christmas Eve, another type of dried fish and equally delicious. Like Portugal’s fiel amigo (loyal friend) Litão uses salt as part of the drying process.

In England everyone raves about Maldon sea salt flakes, and I acknowledge they are good however Portugal was once one of the main producers of salt in the world, and their salt is really special. Salt production methods in Maldon and the Algarve date back to the Romans. The initial process of collecting seawater in salt pans (ponds in the marshes) is the same, but then the methodologies differ. In the Algarve they don’t need to boil the water for the evaporation process, here through careful water management over the summer months it evaporates. Most of the salt precipitates out on the bottom of the marsh or pan and is later collected using rakes to become Sal Tradicional or machines to become Sal do Mar. 

Some salt crystals though float on the water surface, forming a delicate crust of intricate pyramidal crystals. This is flor de sal or as you may know from the French fleur de sel. It is considered to be the best of the best. It is so delicate it can only be collected using a traditional tool called a borboleta. According to wikipedia the tool is best described as a butterfly-shaped sieve. The salt is then carefully collected in packing boxes and left to partially dry. The numerous salt mountains you see around the east Algarve are ordinary sea salt, still good just not as good as ‘flor de sal’. I suspect it was from one of these mountains that the salt for this wonderful presépio came from.

For more on Castro Marim’s salt click here, and if you want to see Presépio de Sal it is located in the Casa do Natal in Castro Marim. Open until January 6, Monday to Saturday all day except over the lunch period. Also open on Sundays in the afternoons, again after lunch. You can easily combine a visit to this one and the one in Vila Real de Santo António and have time for a leisurely Portuguese lunch.

Feliz Natal!

10 comments on “A unique spin on a Christmas tradition

  1. Merry Christmas, Becky! Hope it’s a good one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the details of the nativity scene, and the salt really does well as snow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used before, but it really does work well. Happy Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a lovely scene – but I did get a bit distracted by the pants (and bra) which would probably have contained about three of the figures!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can see why you love these scenes, they’re wonderful. Any idea what happens to the salt in January?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh no….suspect they throw it away. If we go back I’ll ask. Or might ask Jo to ask am sure she’ll be visiting next week.

      Like

  5. Lovely nativity scene.
    Have you seen the nativity scenes in Catalonia and Eastern Spain? They always have a man sitting on a toilet! It is called “El Caganer” and I always look for him now in any nativity scene.
    I like the salt story. I was in Alicante in November and was stunned by the volume of salt production by the same methods as you describe.
    Happy Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah is that where the tradition comes from as yes they do! And usually as well as one on a toilet there is one going behind a building or tree. Hilarious!

      Liked by 1 person

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