Dear readers. Sorry for my somewhat long absence, but I haven't got the time to even scratch myself, as we say it in Portuguese.
I have had the time to read an interesting book though about cuisine references in Portuguese literature, more so about this 18th century Portuguese writer called Almeida Garrett. The book is called “Almeida Garrett – Viagens na Cozinha Portuguesa” (Travels in the Portuguese Cuisine) by Paulo Mota Tavares.
About this man you can google yourselves, all I can say is that he was a man of his time and a critique about the state of Portugal and that he commented on it profusely in his books and writings. And I decided to tell you about this book because as it says: «because frequently the petite histoire broadens the horizons.»
As I said, Garrett criticized the national politics, society and finance, firstly because we had a long blood connection with the French nobility and a long diplomatic alliance with England, both of which, in the eye of the writer, worsened our living conditions in mid 18th century. And he is right about some of his views: We cannot forget that it were the French who invades us (even if it was the Republican France) and the British government ruled over Portugal until 1820 (even if with permission of the Portuguese Crown).
On the other side of his critiques, the author becomes a nationalist when it comes to, as the subject of the book states, Portuguese cuisine. Here are a few of Garrett's opinions:
- Portuguese wine was better then the French, which he called «the anarchic acids of the French vinaigrette». But he doesn't forget the Brits: «What is an Englishmen without our Port or Madeira, without our Carcavelos or Cartaxo?» I could go on on his view of England, but I wont...
In his memories about the Peninsular War he remembers that famous generals have had gotten drunk on our wine, saying that at least then they had drunken it and after the Invasions don't even buy it.
- He also criticizes that in a time of steam machinery and industrial revolution we still plant potatoes. In fact, in 1798 a lady called D. Theresa Luiza de Sousa Maciel got a prize from the Royal Science Academy of Lisbon for having been the person who had the biggest crop of potatos and for having found a way for storing them for a year long without them loosing their qualities and not forgetting to document the whole process. (meaning that the potato had been incorporated successfully in our diet back then)
- Several times Garrett enhances the beauty of our fields and orchards, being sad that so many have been destroyed or abandoned because of the war and easy money making in colonies such as Brazil, like in the region of his beloved Santarém.
- Last but not least, he compares the British cuisine with the Portuguese, specially in a poem he wrote in England on December 25th, 1823, during his exile, which he called “A Christmas in London”, stating that at least Portugal has several festive days to enjoy good food and wines and has a big gastronomic tradition, while in the United Kingdom they only drink ale and eat raw and insipid beef.
About the wine called “carcavelos” I will write more on in a later post, since it has an interesting story that not only involves the place where I live (Oeiras) but also the History of Portugal.
And now,I will translate a recipe of the of the time, which can give a good view of how we ate back then (and perhaps even today).
SOPA MAGRA (slim soup – slim as in simple)
Take carrots, onions and vegetables and after being conveniently cut and washed, brown them in veal fat for half an hour. Add the right amount of water, season it and leave it on the fire until it reduces into a broth. Add rice, or ragout, tapioca or bread and, before serving it, a spoon of veal fat.