Centeio das Brandas de Arco de Valdevez
The rye has been grown in the Iberian Peninsula since the Bronze Age, and, after wheat and barley, was considered the first to be cultivated. Thanks to its high rusticity and tolerance to cold and snow, this cereal was the perfect cultivation for the mountainous areas.
Until the 16th – 17th centuries, various bread types were made out of different flour proportions, obtained in different types of mills from the grains of different cereals, stored and dried under different conditions, then kneaded and baked in ovens, pottery or clay.
The territory has an abundance and high quality of water resources, in the aspects and characteristics of the traditional systems of capture, conduction and supply of water, where the situation of conducting water for irrigation of crops was distinguished from the conduction of water for the mill or wheel of the watermill, in the historical value of the water and in the medicinal value of it, of which there are examples of places of medicinal water, historical and cultural heritage to disseminate, associated with the history of bread in the region.
Also, from the historical and archaeological point of view, the traditional systems of drying, storage and conservation of cereals accompany the history of bread in the municipality. There are records of different types of threshing floor for threshing grains (rocky outcrops, stone, clay), storage in reeds and granaries – dry land (since medieval times), balconies and granaries.
The importance of rye in the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez has continued over the centuries, and this is reported in the “Portuguese Corology” of 1706, in the parish surveys of 1758, and in the Portuguese Pharmaceutical and Food Flora of 1825.
Several works carried out on the municipality of Arcos de Valdevez in the late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium demonstrate that rye is very reduced to the lands of brandas, being cultivated mainly by straw for the pigs.
The brandas, usually located at levels above 600 meters, were areas that were historically used for grazing, but due to the demographic growth resulting from the corn crop, the cultivated area grew, and new areas started to be cultivated. This change appeared in 1758.
There are a couple of indicators that show the sharp general decline in agriculture in Arcos de Valdevez in the last decades of the last century, a rapid evolution in the structure of agricultural holdings and a marked decrease in the importance of traditional crops. The municipality of Arcos de Valdevez suffered, in the 80s and 90s, a strong population emptying in rural parishes, with a special focus on its mountain area. The decrease of traditional temporary crops – maize and bean intercropping, streak beans, rye, temporary meadows and forage crops – was very drastic, with the sown areas becoming smaller and smaller.
The cultivation of rye, which traditionally had several uses declined to half the area in the ‘90s, and is now registered in a small number of farms. As a result of the decline in traditional agricultural activities, it is possible to see a progressive degradation of granaries, mills, and support walls of cultivated fields that have always been significant marks of the built agricultural heritage.
The rye is seed in October/November and harvested in June. After the harvest the rye, with the grains still in the ears, is left on the field for some days to dry, collected in sheaves (the espigueiros), then it is necessary to separate the heads from the stalks by rubbing the seed heads hitting them with a wooden stick.
This ancient rye is cultived in a mountain area of the Alto Minho region in the north of Portugal – alongside the Spanish border of Galicia. The area is inside the Peneda Gerês National Park.
The gastronomic use of rye has three main purposes.
– Production of rye bread, a type of bread produced solely with rye flour, characteristic of the mountain areas and cooler territories.
– Production of flour for the preparation of the so-called “mixture” that associated with corn flour to produce the Traditional Corn Bread from Arcos de Valdevez. Rye flour provides higher nutritional and flavor richness than corn flour alone.
This bread is made with natural leaven and it is heaten in firewood hoven; it has a circular or elliptic shape; the crust is toasted and yellow in color and the weight is around 1,5 kg.
– Production of broth (soup), which was very popular in the region in its origins, is nothing more than the old porridge from the Castre era or the olas of the Medieval Period, resulting from the mixture of rye flour, cabbages and the meat loaves, especially pork. They continued to be produced by the fireplace until recently, when they are produced in a black three-foot iron pot.
The straw is still good for the beds of animals or to scorch the skin of the pig in the moment of traditional killing. In early days it was also used for the covering of houses and livestock’s buildings.
These products have important qualitative and nutritional characteristics in human food, as a supplier of fibers and minerals. In addition, the familiarity of this product is still present in the younger generations and in emigrant communities around the world.