Irreverence and recreation of Bacalhau, the Portuguese faithful friend. Maria José Pires - PDF

Maria José Pires Irreverence and recreation of Bacalhau, the Portuguese faithful friend Maria José Pires In the old kitchen, around the table and the glow of the fireplace, the family groups. The old men

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Maria José Pires Irreverence and recreation of Bacalhau, the Portuguese faithful friend Maria José Pires In the old kitchen, around the table and the glow of the fireplace, the family groups. The old men and women, remote sculptures blackened and decayed by time; the children who were absent and managed to come and those still in dippers growing. The faithful friend, with cabbages and potatoes, is the tradition; the wealthier also fries his rabanada. The wine flows, pink, transparent, especially at the time of magus to when the chestnuts pop in the fire. i If rabanadas, the fried bread soaked in milk sugar and cinnamon also known as Douradas or Fidalgas due to their golden colour and their connotation with gentry have always been related to the celebration of Christmas in Portugal, so does bacalhau, the faithful friend. This is a designation, current even today, that clearly illustrates the association of bacalhau and the Portuguese culture and consumption. Even if we have to bear in mind distinguished culinary patterns around the country, bacalhau is guaranteed. ii Still, its consumption in Portugal does not limit itself to festivities, but to daily practices, likewise though the major consumption of fish has been in the areas of the major seaports historically involved in the fishing and commercialization of bacalhau (Porto, Viana, Aveiro, Lisboa). iii It is, thus, clear the religious weight in this tradition, as Christmas Eve was a period of abstinence when meat was forbidden and it was the perfect food for Lent, as well. iv Nevertheless, whereas in Porto, the second most important city, the main meal was before the Christmas Eve Mass, with the most rigorous demand for fish, bacalhau, in the capital city, Lisbon, it was Christmas lunch when turkey ruled. v All the same, it was the northern choice of bacalhau that ended up forming the main representation of the most important celebrating meal [ ] in Portugal. vi This reflection is just an example of how we question authenticity and the power of heritage when it comes to seeing the interdisciplinary facets of food as cultural aspects in the project on Literary and Cultural Tourism being developed by the University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies (ULICES/CEAUL), since it brings together multidisciplinary fields including the food-cultural studies. As Sobral and Rodrigues (2013) recently reminded us when analysing cookbooks, whereas the first books addressed the elite, were dominated by a cosmopolitan cuisine rooted in the French hegemony since the eighteen century, vii in the following century, these books were meant for a somewhat wider audience (with the middle class) who could read, as they reserve[d] an ever bigger space for a culinary that claim[ed] the national qualifier and bacalhau brands in the nationalizing effort. viii However, when one considers the case of cod in terms of the national-culinary canon of Portugal, one comes to see it as part of the international tendency as is the case of Japan, Mexico or Russia since it reflects a reaction against the dominant French rooted cuisine, served specially in the most relevant social events. ix In fact, according to cod historian Mark Kurlansly, by the middle of the sixteenth century 60 percent of all fish eaten in Europe was cod. x Even though the practices are not exclusive from Portugal, what is defined as national has included for many centuries the Mediterranean triade of bread, olive oil and wine, sardine, the use of garlic, and sweets. xi Because we are referring to the Portuguese cuisine as an historical product, we are implicitly dealing with changes, with the invention of tradition. xii From early times, food had in its preparation and consumption, a breath of creation and art, because food is not just raw matter, but processed material. In terms of consumption, each Portuguese consumes an average of 60kg of fish a year, from which 7kg is bacalhau. Although Portuguese cuisine is recognized by fresh fish and shellfish, mainly because of its privileged geographical location, the national dish Bacalhau is dried and salted codfish. xiii More precisely, the large cod is a member of the order Gadiformes and of the Gadidae family and it is a sub-brachian malacopterygian a fish with an elongated powerful body, bony skeleton, very pronounced ventral fins beneath the pectoral fins, and a large head. Because cod is as prolific as it is greedy [and every] female lays just under ten million eggs and until the nineteenth century it was more usually sold salted and dried, cod can be described as a universal food with eighty percent protein. xiv Nowadays, salted cod is most popular in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and in Latin American and African countries that were under colonial influence. xv Indeed, the presence of salted and dried fish in the cuisines of several ex-colonies of the Portuguese empire is a proof of the continuity of the association between bacalhau and the Portuguese culture xvi even though there are cases, like the cod from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, north of Newfoundland and Labrador: the best grade was sent to Spain; the worst fed the slaves in the west Indies. xvii In the Iberia Peninsula the specialist shops that offer a large choice of salted cod (bacalao in Spanish), sell it by the cut usually labeled with the dish it might be used and European cod is much preferred to the Newfoundland one. xviii That was not the case when the Portuguese fishing boats reached Newfoundland in 1497 and were then responsible for introducing the bacalhau first in terms of diet. In fact, history refers the Basques whalers as the first who noticed the extraordinary abundance of cod making for the St. Lawrence Estuary around the year 1000, turning themselves in the first to set eyes on the new world but they actually kept it a secret to protect their source of profit! The contemporaneous authors who argue this supremacy, after a Viking establishment, xix Maria José Pires also mention the Portuguese nation as mainly fishing and a school for the fearless sailors of its discoveries and conquests. xx No wonder Jules Michelet states that The cod alone has created colonies and founded trading stations and towns. xxi Besides, the historical relation between Portugal and bacalhau made the former a worldwide reference in terms of its consumption and business. Besides the ever common policy of protection of the species, along the diverse proposals to develop the fishing by the Portuguese, it was only during the nineteenth century (particularly in the last decades) that private business owners promoted fishing for cod. xxii Moreover, even if it has never been enough to supply the demand and there was always a need for imports, the height of the fishing took place under the Estado Novo ( ), the dictatorship period. In fact, as Moutinho states, since in the mid 1920s the national production of dried salted cod represented only about ten percent of what was consumed xxiii and it was considered an important source of proteinfor the population, there was an investment at the end of the decade that helped to create structures dedicated to the development of their fisheries. xxiv This was the policy that managed to reduce the weight of imported fish, since it encouraged the fishing industry, although it did not manage to substitute imports. xxv Still, from the mid twentieth century, Portugal was the first world producer of dried salted cod, with 59,826 tonnes, even though it was necessary to import 25,370. xxvi At this time, it became the second import value, after cereals (the basis of the main food, bread), xxvii and today what the Portuguese fleet captures does not exceed 4% of national consumption as a consequence of the exhaustion of the Newfoundland Banks and the protective measures taken by countries with cod. xxviii In other words, since the 1990s the country went through a changing process and the reduction of its fleet lead to the import of most of the fish consumed. On the other hand, the beginning of that decade also witnessed a growth on the industry of transformation of bacalhau as companies perfected methods like the rented drying places to increase their productive capacity. Yet, if modern tunnels to dry the fish came to replace the image of the past when it was done naturally outdoors, there is still an attempt to preserve this heritage. Being durable, affordable and having a flavor more enjoyable than the other salted fish, bacalhau immediately became part of the Portuguese culture and beingtheworld largest consumer, Portugal claims to know 1001 ways of preparing it, xxix for it was incorporated into people s cooking habits and consecrated as the faithful friend ( fiel amigo ). As also seen above, religion came to play a relevant part in the way bacalhau went on to have a close connection with the Portuguese culture and the Christian tradition. Actually, Sobral and Rodrigues highlight the way the relation between the consumption of cod and the Christian precepts of penance and purification is well documented in Portugal. On the other hand, the heritage in terms of cookbooks show that for a long time there were only scant references to bacalhau and these were intended for the elite. Following the research on these references by Consiglieri and Abel xxx, and more recently by Sobral and Rodrigues, it is easy to see how codfish is missing from, for example, the manuscript Livro de Cozinha da Infanta D. Maria xxxi and the first cooking book printed in Portuguese Arte de Cozinha, by Domingos Rodrigues, the cook of the royal house (2001 [1680]). There is finally a reference in the manuscript of Francis Henriques Borges (1715) Receitas de milhores doces e de alguns guizados to the preparation entitled pans cod, which apparently resembles the current Bacalhau à Braz, and a sauce cod. It was only another royalcook from the following century, Rigaud Lucas, in Cozinheiro Moderno ou Nova Arte de Cozinha (1999 [1780]), who presented three recipes for cod, the Provençal, the béchamel and grilled in charcoal. xxxii By the end of the next century one can find only a little more than a dozen dishes of bacalhau in the Arte de Cosinha by João da Mata (1876). xxxiii Still, at the beginning of the twentieth century, whereas Cosinheiro Popular dos Pobres e Ricos (Carneiro, 1901) already presented twenty-two recipes of bacalhau, Tratado Completo de Cozinha e Copa (Carlos Bento da Maia, 1904) offered twentysix which recipes, and Cosinha Portugueza ou Arte Culinária Nacional (the first book in which a cuisine is explicitly linked to nationality, from 1902 by a group of ladies) found more than three dozen recipes, most, if not all, of the fifteen recipes with bacalhau presented by Paulo Plantier in the 1905 edition of the important cookbook Cozinheiro dos Cozinheiros (first published in 1870) had a French source. Moreover, the preferences of the author went for fresh cod, since he felt the salted one, which was more affordable, difficult to digest. As Sobral and Rodrigues well point out this author was meant to be, without a doubt, the authority that defined the dominant canon in matters of culinary taste due to the collaboration of influential writers like Fialho de Almeida, João da Câmara, aristocrats and artists, like Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro. Such emphasis of the superiority of French cuisine comes later with the seventeen dishes of bacalhau in Arte de Bem Comer (1929). It was in the already mentioned period of the Estado Novo, a period when nationalism was consolidated, that we witnessed the consecration of bacalhau in the literature of this area, mainly with Culinária Portuguesa (1936) by António de Oliveira Maria Bello better known as Olleboma, a major industrial man connected to tourism, one of the founders of the Society of Propaganda of Portugal in the early twentieth century, and Chair of the Portuguese Society of Gastronomy. xxxiv Afterwards, with greater intensity after the establishment of a democratic regime in 1974 an exampleof success was Cozinha Tradicional Portuguesa (1999 [1981]) by Maria de Lourdes Modesto, who emphasizes the relevance of bacalhau. After this we reached more recently 500 ways of cooking bacalhau by Vítor Sobral (As Minhas Receitas de Bacalhau: 500 Receitas). Maria José Pires Cooking methods are equally relevant and have been further developed in this century by some of Lisbon Chefs irreverence. The case presented refers to the traditional expression à Brás from the original Portuguese specialty Bacalhau à Brás shredded bacalhau fried in olive oil with onion, thinly sliced garlic cloves, bay leaf, fried straw potato, beaten eggs, chopped parsley and decorated with black olives from the sea-washed province in which Lisbon is located. It is a dish widely consumed in Portugal and also in Macau and its unique taste depends on the ratio of the components of the recipe, mainly the amount of onions in relation to cod and olive oil used to make this dish. Besides the bacalhau and the black olives, the combination of garlic, olive oil, and bay leaves is recognizably present in the Portuguese cuisine. Let us not forget that the identification of these food products has also passed through their incorporation by taste, by evoking memories of smells and flavors. xxxv Albeit the origin of the recipe of Bacalhau à Brás is still uncertain, it is believed to have been created by a landlord of the Bairro Alto named Brás (or Braz, since it was written this way at the time). Bairro Alto is an old and picturesque quarter in central Lisbon, built in an orthogonal plane from the early sixteenth century, with narrow cobbled streets, centuries-old houses, small traditional shopping places, traditional restaurants and intense nightlife. Nonetheless, the growing popularity led that landlord to cross the border into Spain and it is often possible to find this dish also in Spanish menus under headings such as revuelto de bacalao a la Portuguese or bacalao dorado. Historically, there had been strong reasons for some of the products used in Bacalhau à Brás, as Tannahill explains in his chapter On the expanding world , for example: The foods of both Spain and Portugal were mirrors of trade and conquest. The cooking medium, olive oil, had been introduced from the eastern Mediterranean during the first millennium B-C. Production of salt and dried fish had been greatly expanded to meet the demands of Rome. xxxvi In view of that, as mentioned above, it was with the assertion of national identities in the nineteenth century that the construction of a Portuguese national cuisine had its beginnings. Moreover, this creation and encoding of recipes obtained a considerable strengthening with the Estado Novo, widening up now under the democratic regime and such ideologies and political initiative found a deep echo in the repeated consumption of food, which, according to Sobral and Rodrigues, contributed to the making of the Portuguese, corporate and national culinary habitus. But clearly the culinary status of cod changed and it became a sophisticated dish, subjected to very elaborate preparations and cosmopolitan inspiration. xxxvii To value the role of bacalhau in the Portuguese identity one has to understand the way its consumption is part of what Mark Swislocki termed culinary nostalgia: the recollection or purposive evocation of another time and place through food [taking many forms]. xxxviii Accordingly, we would reformulate the well known axiom that we are what we eat xxxix to ask whether we are not what we ate. xl Thus, when we try one of the many à Brás dishes that share the cooking method, are we just witnessing the irreverence of recreation by using unrelated main ingredients like chicken or vegetables or are these recreations that highlight the gargantuan power of food when it comes to confer symbolic power, as a national metaphor. Food is indeed a powerful symbol of the collective self. xli As such, do we have to understand the origin of the recipe to truly appreciate these new à Brás dishes? In other words, we have to take into account the way bacalhau became a symbol of Portuguese national belonging: may it be essentially due to its role in everyday life for centuries, because it guarantees what Skey termed ontological security in a constantly varying transnational framework, xlii and also due to being seen as something festive the longed animal protein that allowed a poor diet based on agricultural products to vary. Moreover, we should also bear in mind the effects of all the discursive production already mentioned, along with the ideological and figurative construction that has celebrated bacalhau as a national symbol. xliii Considering that a language is an object of transmission, so are recipes and practices which mirror that same language, despite the latter s propensity for recreation. Similarly, human behaviour has evolved partly as interplay between eating behavior and cultural institutions and cultural traits, social institutions, national histories and individual attitudes cannot be entirely understood without an understanding also of how these have meshed our varied and peculiar modes of eating. xliv As producers and consumers we have become more knowledgeable, experienced, and sophisticated in our tastes. Experiencing implies here tasting both food and emotions and, consequently, food is considered here a particular genre of material culture, a vibrant matter. xlv But one can ask, as Melissa Caldwell, what is the taste of a nation? xlvi What does a nation taste like? Moreover, where does that taste exist? In the soil, palate, gut, imagination, relationships, or could taste exist in something else? It is a difficult task to answer these questions, since the irreverence and recreation of food, like bacalhau, may be considered less about eating enough to survive, and more about social meanings Bourdieu s reflection on food as a means of expressing distinction, for instance, is a way of studying the evolution of both the production and the consumption of bacalhau. xlvii Therefore, if production needs to secure a social reproductive sphere (with the implied notion that we eat with our normative cultural DNA and acceptance is related to our cultural heritage) dishes, and not solely raw products, should be at the centre of reshaping our food systems and local food networks. Maria José Pires i Noteso Nas velhas cozinhas, em redor da mesa e ao fulgor da lareira, agrupa-se a família. Os velhos e as velhas, remotas esculturas enegrecidas e cariadas pelo tempo; os filhos que estavam ausentes e que puderam vir e os que ainda andam fraldiqueiros a crescer. O fiel amigo, com couves e batatas, é da tradição; quem tem mais posses, frita, também, a sua rabanada. O vinho corre, rosado, transparente, sobretudo à hora do magusto, quando as castanhas estalam no fogo. Ferreira de Castro, Os Fragmentos (Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 1985), iii Since at least the mid nineteenth century, bacalhau garnished with potatoes and cabbages is described as a central ingredient at Christmas Eve dinner in the north, the family feast. Ferraz Júnior, Recordações do Minho Festas Populares: O Natal, as Janeiras, os Reis, in Archivo Pittoresco (IX, 1866), iiii Álvaro Garrido, O Estado Novo e a Campanha do Bacalhau (Lisboa: Círculo de Leitores, 2004), ivi Linda Civitello, Cuisine & Culture: A History of Food and People (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 158. v Francisco Viterbo, Cem Artigos de Jornal (Lisboa: Typografia Universal, 1912), viv José Sobral, Patrícia Rodrigues, O fiel amigo : o bacalhau e a identidade portuguesa, in Etnográfica ([Online], vol. 17 (3) 2013), viewed 22 February 2014, ; DOI : /etnografica.3252 . viiv Priscilla Fergunson, Accounting for Taste: The Triumph of French Cuisine (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004). viiiv Sobral and Rodrigues, O fiel amigo.
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