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Sunday, April 8, 2012



(Taken from the book “”A mesa dos reis de Portugal” (The Portuguese kings table) by Maria Helena da Cruz Coelho; “A América à mesa do rei” (The Americas at the king's table) by Isabel Drumond Braga)

It were the maritime discoveries by the Portuguese and Spaniards during and after the 15th century that revolutionized the food habits of modern Europe. That's a given fact. Firstly by the Portuguese and soon (more or less a hundred years later but who's counting...) followed by the Spaniards.

From all that was brought from East and West of the European continent we can divide the new food products into 2 categories: the ones that came from the Far East, like China, India, Japan and today's Indonesia and which were brought over by the Portuguese, and the ones that came from the Americas, and that had the Spaniards as their “exporters”.

The 1st category, mostly spices, where immediately introduced into European food habits and seen as an exciting novelty, specially in the Portuguese cuisine But the American produces not as much. They were unknown fruits and vegetables and were seen with high suspicion. The explanation is easy: Exotic spices were traded in Europe since before the Middle Ages, brought by Arab and Moorish caravans and so, therefore, part of the European palate already. Now that the Portuguese sailors had taken the “middle man” out of the equation, spices became more affordable then before. Potatoes, mandioca (cassava), maize and others had nothing to compare to. In fact, between the discovery of a new food item and it's usage in daily food took it's time (see the history of the potato).

And as such, these American products can too be divided into 2 categories: the ones eaten mostly by colonials and the other ones that became fashionable and luxury. Another factor that hindered it's immediate consuming was their difficulty in being cultivated on European soil, unlike oriental spices, and the transportation to the Empire meant the rottenness of them all. The people who mostly ate these new items of the 1st category where the white colonials, as said, that tried to substitute their know food by the exotic ones in times of hunger and peril. Their consuming was a way out of starvation but not as a mean of gain in productivity. Whilst, the ones of the 2nd category were linked to social status.

"The adoration of the three Wise Men", detail of an Amerindian offering cocoa beans, altarpiece in the Cathedral of Viseu by Vasco Fernandes and Francisco Henriques, 1501/1506. Putting the origins of chocolate at the same level as holyness.

The ones that had more impact where the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.), the tomato (Lycopersicum esceletum Mill), the sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas L.) and the maize corn (Zea mays L.) which belonged to the “lower ranks” of society and pineapple (Ananaz sativus-Lindl-schult) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao L.) which immediately had the support of the higher classes such as nobility, clergy and the rich bourgeoisie. Still today, exotic fruits like the pineapple are still a presence at the Portuguese festive table; for Christmas or Easter these fruits are displayed as a sign of good taste and richness.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the introduction of these new food items in the European food habits was the same. It had geographical differences: the countries that saw these produces more were the ones that had more contact to the native countries where they naturally grew.

And talking about the Americas, let's not forget about turkeys!

Cocoa and turkey meat always got a luxury representation at Portuguese regal tables during the 17th and 18th centuries. Corn bread, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes not at all. To see some recipes which include these, please have a look at the previous post of Portuguese food habits of December 2011.

The 1st document found with the usage of turkeys in Portuguese food habits is a recipes book called “A Arte de Cozinha” (The Art of Cookery) by Domingos Rodrigues in 1680 which had 24 turkey recipes.

In 1787, Beckford, wrote about a luncheon served to the Portuguese queen D. Maria the 1st and to her family that was made out of stuffed turkeys.

This was the time when turkey meat became part of the Christmas traditions in Europe. In Portugal, since the Middle Ages, stocked cod.

But let us go back to cocoa!

Chocolate, was strictly bound to elitism and fashion during the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries until it's mass production after the mid 20th century. The mixture with cane sugar and vanilla to the cocoa powder was the original idea of the Spanish Carmelite Monks of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Mayas were the 1st ones to cultivate cocoa, then the Toltec, the Aztecs, a.s.o. It was considered a nutritional and healthy beverage but also used as an aphrodisiac by these people and the 1st whites to taste it were the Spaniards and they brought it to Europe on the 1st shipment arriving in Seville in 1585. One century later and it became an obsession.

!8th Century tiles in the Dining room of the Palace of the Marquês de Pombal, in Oeiras, depicting the preparation of chocolate. An example of the social exclusiveness of chocolate.

(tiles restored by Isabel Cardoso, who kindly gave me this picture, and by Maria da Ajuda)

From Central to South America the cocoa trees were found but while in Central America it was already cultivated, in Brazil it grew spontaneously, being planted only in the 17th century, having had some success after 1677, date of the regal declaration for it's cultivation. In 1750 it represented 90% of the cargo coming from the Maranhão region in Brazil and the exports of the Companhia Geral do Grão-Pará e Maranhão represented 82% of it's monopoly. With the inclusion of other countries in the colonization process, like England and the Netherlands, chocolate spread as wild fire across Europe.

18th century chocolate house in London. Again, the link between social status and chocolate.

As variations of chocolate we have hot cocoa as a beverage but also cookies, puddings, ice-cream, cold beverages, cremes, cakes and so many other examples. And not only in sweet dishes. Savory dishes were also famous, following the tradition on the Central American natives. Soon experts on the preparation of chocolate appeared called chocoltiers, found mainly in the big cities like Lisbon and Porto. All across Europe tea houses, chocolate houses, coffee houses were the places to be and all sorts of intellectual gatherings and discussion grew around them. As did new objects to prepare and serve it. Just like teapots chocolate pots were now in use, a bit taller and thought to have been “invented” in the convents of the Vice royalty of New Spain.

The presence of chocolate caught the attention of all the foreigners visiting us, like Arthur William Costigan that in 1778 had some chocolate to drink at breakfast and told about it in a letter he sent from the town of Tavira and that in the same year for Lent he had tea and chocolate. Similar descriptions made by William Beckford in 1787in his diary when having breakfast in the house of the Marquis of Penalva.

The Portuguese King D. João V having chocolate at the house of the Duke of Lafões, 1720 by A. Castrioto. An example of demonstration of power.

It was after the introduction of the beverage that solid chocolate came to exists. A more solid paste was made that then would solidify and used in all sorts of delicacies we can imagine. In the 18th century the book “Arte Nova e Curiosa para Conserveiros, e Copeiros e mais Pessoas que se ocupam em fazer Doces e outras muitas Receitas particulares da mesma Arte” (New Art and Curious for Preservers, Butlers and other People that dedicate themselves in making sweets and other more particular Recipes of the same Art) was written and had a recipe which used chocolate as a powder for icing cakes. In the 19th century the idea of chocolate being something healthy (like Central America natives believed) was part of many dietetic lines of thought. I wish!

There you go. A small insight of chocolate in the day and incidentally (NOT!!!) in relation to Easter. So...


For more about chocolate during the Regency period, please have a look at this blog post:


For savory chocolate dishes(why not try one out?):


And if you like to suffer and see how chocolate was made in the old days go to Youtube:





Le Loup said...

Excellent post, well done Sara.
Regards, Keith.

Sara Seydak said...

Thankyou for you kind words. Always nice to get some feedback. :)