I am fascinated by the old Portuguese granaries known as ‘canastros’, ‘espigueiros’ or ‘caniços’ which can still be seen in the Minho region throughout the north of Portugal. I have always known them as canastros and driving along country roads or through some small towns, that have old farmhouse style homes with a piece of land around them, one will undisputedly see a canastro there.
These magnificent buildings were, and sometimes still are, used for drying corn cobs after picking, which are then ground into flour to make the typical Portuguese bread called ‘broa de milho‘.
When I first came to Portugal many years ago, the old family home had a magnificent canastro, standing tall to the side of the corn field. The whole ritual of picking the corn cobs and stripping the corn husk (‘desfolhada’) was a huge event in a village. The desfolhada was carried out in the evenings with entire families and friends from the village. The corn would be sitting in big baskets where everyone would sit around the side of the ‘eira’ (outside cemented area also used for drying the corn) stripping the husk and silk from the cob, all accompanied by singing and laughter. Young people would participate enthusiastically to see if anyone would find the ‘milho rei’ or ‘rainha’ (king and queen cobs, so called, because the king would have beautiful deep red wine coloured kernels and the queen, lighter reddish pink kernels) to be able to give a kiss or a hug to a girlfriend/boyfriend. In the old days, this was one of the only ways that girls had a unique opportunity of physical contact with a boyfriend, as meetings between couples would always be strictly chaperoned by a family member. The evening would always finish with food and wine to the sound of accordian music!
It is not known exactly when canastros emerged, but it would seem that they existed back in the Middle Ages in the Iberian Peninsular. The concept of building them was to protect the grain from rodents and for storage during the long severe winter months.
They would typically be composed of four or more granite pillars on top of which each had a large circular stone. These stones were thought to be an insurmountable obstacle for mice that would attempt to climb inside them. Walls, doors and floors were made from slatted wood allowing good air circulation for prolonging storage. On older canastros, smaller granite pillars were used for the walls each with a space in between them. Swinging hinged doors at each end also allowed for easy storage and removal. The roof would be granite or tiled. Some additionally had stone crosses at each end of the roof, said to be protective symbols of Solomon.
Canastros or espigueiros make up part of Portugal’s heritage and in the towns of Soajo and Lindoso, there exists the largest concentration of entirely granite ones in the country, dating back to the early 1700’s! Soajo has 24 of them whilst Lindoso has an amazing group of 64!
From time to time I will add photos of these beautiful buildings to this blog and hope that you will enjoy seeing them as much as I enjoy photographing them.