The “Castanyada:” a Barcelona Celebration on October 31st

Panellets (little bread) are one of the most popular desserts in Catalonia. They are traditionally served on the night of October 31st and on All Saints Day, November 1. These sweet pastries have an almond, egg and sugar base. They are small and tasty and come in different shapes and colors. The most popular ones are those coated with pine nuts, crushed hazelnuts or almonds, coconut powder and there are also ones with a quince jelly filling. However, cake shops are continually coming up with very novel ideas so you can now get: chocolate, lemon, strawberry and orange, to mention only a few. Some of the best cake shops in Barcelona produce more than 20 different types of Panellets. Looking through the windows of these cake shops is really an attraction the week before “Tots Sants” (All Saints Day).

In ancient times, Panellets were created to remember the loaves of bread that were traditionally offered to ancestors as they journeyed to the afterlife. Since Panellets were made out of substances that did not perish, such as honey, almonds, pine nuts and sugar, it was thought that they could resist the long trip to eternity. It is not a coincidence that Panellets are eaten in autumn. This is the best time to collect dried fruits, which are the main ingredients of this dessert.

The origin of ‘Tots Sants’, as well as venerating the deceased with funerary meals, dates back to Roman times. Romans thought that spirits protected their homes. They celebrated funerary meals with special food to worship their ancestors. In the 9th century, Pope Gregory IV adopted the tradition of honoring “all saints” to the Christian religion.

Nowadays, this sweet is eaten at home when families gather to celebrate this festivity, but, for many years, it was eaten inside churches. They were consecrated and after distributed to the faithful.

However, the night of October 31st would not be “authentically” Catalan without a basic product: chestnuts. So important is this product that this specific night is called the night of the “Castanyada”. Roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes are the highlights of this night together with the Panallets. For all those living in the country, in “masies” (country houses), roasting chestnuts and cooking sweet potatoes on ashes of a fire is a typical thing to do. Unfortunately, apartments in Barcelona do not offer this possibility. The solution is given by the Castanyer o Castanyera (chestnut salesperson) that can be found on many street corners. He/She sells chestnuts and sweet potatoes ready to eat so one might start eating some in the street (and warm one’s hands) and save the rest of the festivities for home.