On the subject of traditional sweets, here is another example of family ingenuity and festive food. Let me begin by saying that I like the name, merendeira (picnic basket). It reminds me of the ongoing preparations for "picnics". Everything was a pretext for these things: a journey (whether long or short), possible delays, being hungry... This is because I was lucky to grow up in the country where life involved small pleasures, and a more cautious outlook.

But let’s get back to our "pumpkin merendeiras", which is one of the sweet buns prepared from the Saints festival, on 1st November, and traditionally eaten until Epiphany, on 6th January, but mostly during Christmas period. They were normally homemade, only eaten during these festivities, and shared among family and friends. It wasn’t a rich or convent sweet, but rather a popular one. It was often referred to as ‘the poor people’s cake’. I was told about this tradition by my friend Cassilda Correia, who makes some of the best desserts in her region. This sweet then began to be made in the region of Tentúgal, Montemor-o-Velho and even Coimbra, where similar maize buns (broínhas) are also found.

For these "pumpkin buns", boil pumpkin in salt water, then leave it to drain. Mix the pumpkin with a little sugar, ground cinnamon, fennel and lightly crushed nuts. When there was enough money, crystallised fruit, cut into small pieces, was also added. Mix everything together, gradually adding flour until the dough is more consistent and can be moulded. In this type of recipe, often the expression "add whatever flour necessary" is used, as it depends on how much water the pumpkin still contains. One thing is certain: it takes more flour than sugar. And also a bit of ‘sour’ dough was added to make sure the yeast worked.

Leave the dough to rest for a while, while you grease and dust a baking tray with flour. Then mould the dough into balls and put them in a hot oven. When they are ready, the "buns" will last a few days, preferably stored in a tin.

These merendeiras taste even better with a cup of tea or good fortified wine.

© Virgílio Nogueiro Gomes


The merendeiras in the photo were made at:


Estrada Nacional 111

3140-563 Tentúgal - Portugal

TL 00 351 239 951 158