Welcome to my blog. Please feel free to roam around and learn a bit more about Portuguese History. To find your interests, please, have a look at the right side of the page, where you can find all the posts arrenged into labels, such as "Society", "Politics", etc. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 19, 2012


For this 2nd monthly post I had something completely different in mind but I'll post it some other time. On the other hand, I also wanted to post one about bottle gourds, after I saw something about that on the Woodsrunner's diary blog and. In the meanwhile, I went to visit the Museum of Oriental art in Lisbon (about what the Portuguese brought back from that part of the world in the 16th to the 18th century) and I saw this gorgeous painting of a Portuguese princess that introduced tea into British life. So, this post will be a quick reference about those two issues.


The bottle gourd is a dried calabash used to store many different things, mostly water, since it keep it clear and cool for a long period of time. The plant is from the same vegetable family as the pumpkin or the cucumber and is also used in cooking and has been used since earlier then the Roman period.
The word calabash come from the Arab and has translated into the Iberian word Cabaça (in Portuguese) or Calabaza (in Spanish).
There are many geographical variations to this plant – like the African calabash or the use they give it in Brazil to make a birimbau – but mostly, in western history, are more familiar with the image of the Santiago of Compostela pilgrims or Iberian peasantry up to the mids of the 20th century.

Calabash beig harvested during the Middle Ages, Tacuinum Sanitatis, 1385.

Painting by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1730, depicting an 18th century pilgrim of St. James with a bottle gourd.

In Portugal, the common knowledge says that it takes up to 2 years for this “pumpkin” to dry and it would be dine so by storing them on top of the houses' roofs to expose them to the sun. Even after dried and used as bottles one shouldn't let them get damp or else it would ruin it's storage purpose. Know, what I don't know is how it gets from the vegetable state to the dried and hollow without rotting.... Beats me!

My bottle gourd hanging in a closed and sunny balcony, with room for cat, dogs and a urban vegetable patch! Picture taken by me.

And if you want to have some extra fun, here's a calabash jam recipe (same used for a common pumpkin jam):

Use a ripe calabash, peel it and remove the seeds.
Cut into little cubes and leave them for a few minutes on a sheet of fabric or kitchen paper to remove a bit of their moisture.
Store the cubes over night covered in sugar in the same amount as the calabash (+ 1/5th of it's weight).
The next day, you can mush or peel into strings the calabash that has rested over night before you take it onto the fire.
Let it cook in a pot in a medium heat with the sugar until desired thickness (it takes about 1 hour) and Bon Apétit!

And onto our next and last subject: tea!
What is the 1st thing you think about when it comes to tea? England? China? India? Any particular brand or flavor?
Yes! That's exactly what I mean: Portugal! It's the most logical and historical accurate assumption to make when speaking about a tea drinking Europe. Here's why:
1st, for all what was exotic and new in Europe, it were the Portuguese that brought it over, followed by the Spaniards, with the maritime discoveries. It's a given fact that everyone should always have in mind. Only a couple of centuries later did the British and the Dutch created a highly successful commercial development in these extra-European regions. Before the Brits moved into Africa and India, it had already belonged to us. Even Australia and New Zealand saw their 1st white man as being Portuguese.
So, it isn't wrong to assume that in Portugal (and Spain) people were exposed to new ideas, people, habits and food sooner then the remaining countries.
Secondly, and this is where I wanted to go, a Portuguese princess:

Dona Catarina de Bragança, Queen consorte of King Charles the 2nd of England. Picture taken by me, Museu do Oriente.

D. Catarina de Bragança, daughter of the Portuguese King Dom João IV, married to the English King Charles the II, in the early 18th century. She wasn't declared Queen or very much loved by the English people because of her Catholic background but there were many things she left behind after she returned to Portugal after the Kings' death. One of those things were the fashionable drinking of tea, while others were the use of cutlery (according t medieval costume, fingers and a knife were still used), smoking tobacco and orange jelly . It is also said that she had an affair with the Earl of Sandwich and he used to make little buttered pieces of bread covered in vegetables, cheeses and cold meats for her. If this is true, I don't know, but it's all looks like a bit of to much romanticism to me.
Now, you might dispute my comment of this Portuguese princess introducing tea in England. Please remember, I haven't' said such a thing! What I said is that she made it fashionable to drink. Tea was already known and sold in England. The difference is that D. Catarina de Bragança introduced her personal tea drinking habit into the English court. It was the Duchess of Bedford that then made it into the 5 o'clock tea.
So, this should be your reference when you think of tea.

Paining by William Hogarth, The Tête-a-tête, scene from the "Marriage a-la-mode", 1743/45. It shows in a humorisitc way this new fashion called tea for 2, where a couple would sit around a small table drinking tea. From here tea sets for 2 are developed.

Another curious fact is that this princess is the one behind the name of the American county Queens. New York was called New Amsterdam and when the British settled in they called the former dutch territory Queens and founded a new borough in 1640. Something that I like to call an interesting Atlantic Triangle.


I hope you enjoyed this quick research of mine. And here's a completely wild idea, why not eat a calabash jam covered slice of bread next time you have your tea?


P.S.: And to answer an old question running in my head about why in most countries it's called tea or something similar sounding and in Portugal “chá”, I'm glad to say I finally researched it. It seems that words like tea, tee, , a.so. come from the Malayan word for this beverage, while chá comes form the Cantonese and Mandarin referring to picking the plant or using it with a spoon. (added Sept.4th 2012)


DeanM said...

Cool period paintings. Growing up in Hawaii, gourds and calabash were also traditionally used. Best, Dean

Sara Seydak said...

Thankyou DeanM!

Le Loup said...

Very interesting, thank you.