In December and February, a rather cheeky, gendered treat exchange takes place in Northern Portugal’s city of Vila Real.
This annual tradition begins on December 13, during the feast of Saint Lucia (Santa Luzia). Girls present boys with pumpkin jam–filled pastries folded into square parcels, known as pitos de Santa Luzia. Nuns living in the local Santa Clara convent, established in 1602, are thought to have been behind the treat, blending lots of cinnamon and sugar into the pumpkin filling.
On February 3, the feast of Saint Blaise (São Brás), boys return the favor. They present girls with ganchas. Made of hardened caramelized sugar, these candy cane–shaped sweets are designed to resemble the honored saint’s staff. If the innuendo of exchanging a folded sweet for a long candy staff wasn’t obvious enough, the term pitos, as it happens, is also slang for female genitalia in Portuguese.
Local bakeries make pitos year-round (with a production spike around December 13). This is both because the pastry is synonymous with the area’s culinary heritage, and because it’s undeniably delicious. Ganchas, on the other hand, are made especially for the feast of Saint Blaise.
Where to Try It
Pastelaria GomesR. António de Azevedo 2, Vila Real, 5000-514, Portugal
Pitos filled with pumpkin and with sweet egg are available at this traditional bakery year-round.