The apple of paradise

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The best apple we’ve ever tried is a Portuguese variety called Bravo de Esmolfe. It was discovered two centuries ago in a small Beira-Alta village called Esmolfe.

You can find prettier apples, but don’t be fooled by the unassuming look of Bravo de Esmolfe. Its taste is a revelation, the perfect combination of sweetness and tartness. And its inside is so full of antioxidants that it makes us feel immortal.

Biting into a Bravo de Esmolfe helps us understand Adam’s temptation and makes us wonder whether the village of Esmolfe was once the Garden of Eden.

If you visit Portugal in Fall or Winter, don’t miss the chance to try Bravo de Esmolfe, an apple that belongs in paradise.

Convent delights

Composit Ovos Moles

Ovos Moles is the name of a store in Lisbon that sells traditional sweets made from recipes created in Portuguese convents. These wonderful desserts are procured from small producers who often kept the original recipes in their family for several generations. They are indescribable delights made of eggs, sugar, flour, fruits, and nuts.

It is a privilege to be able try and compare so many of these exceptional desserts. After all, in times gone by, we would have had to commit to a monastic life to enjoy the heavenly concoctions that Ovos Moles offers.

Ovos Moles is located at Calçada da Estrela, 140-142, tel. 919303788. Click here for their website.

 

 

Ruby, Vintage or Tawny?

2 Port winesPeople in the Douro valley say that babies and port wines are often born at night. Port producers let the grape juice ferment for about three days. They choose the perfect moment to add a neutral grape spirit (aguardente) that stops the fermentation before the yeast eats all the grape sugar. This moment often comes in the middle of the third night.

Most of the Douro grapes are used to produce ruby ports. These inexpensive ports are first stored in cement or stainless steel vats to prevent oxidation and then bottled. The result is a wine that retains a dark ruby color and fresh fruit flavors.

When the quality of the grapes is exceptional, port-wine producers declare a vintage year. These ports are stored in wood casks for one or two years and then bottled. With little exposure to air, the wine is dark red. Aging brings out complex flavors, such as notes of vanilla, chocolate, and blackberry.

The best grapes are also used to produce tawnies. These ports are aged for many years in casks made of Portuguese chestnut and oak. This aging process creates complex flavors and gives the wine a silky mouthfeel. The small amount of air that circulates through the tiny pores of the wood oxidizes the wine slightly, changing its color from red to amber.

It is wonderful to share a glass of ruby port with new friends. But there’s nothing like drinking old vintages and tawnies with old friends.

A monarchic cake

Dona AméliaIn 1901, the Portuguese royal family embarked on a visit to the island of Madeira and Azores. The event was a great honor for the local populations but presented them with a difficult problem: how do you choose a gift for monarchs who have everything?

The Azores Terceira island offered queen Dona Amélia a new cake made with local ingredients: corn flower, raisins, sugar cane molasses, and cinnamon. The queen enjoyed it so much that the new creation became known as the Dona Amélia cake.

More than a century later, the cake continues to be popular in the Terceira island and for a good reason. We loved the Donas Amélias we tried at O Forno, a great pastry store in downtown Angra do Heroism.

The ability of royalty to inspire the delicious Donas Amélias makes us wonder whether we should restore the monarchy.

O Forno is located on Rua São João in Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores, tel. 295 213 729.

Memorable pastries from Vila Real

Crista de GaloMore than a century ago, a baker from Vila Real was given four secret recipes from the local Santa Clara convent. The pastries she made with these recipes were so extraordinary that she decided to turn her bakery into a pastry store.

Today, her great grandchildren continue to use the same prized recipes at Casa Lapão, a pastry store in Vila Real. Their most popular pastry is called “Crista de Galo,” which means rooster comb.  We recommend that you try them with your eyes closed so you can better appreciate the heavenly combination of the flaky dough with the egg and almond filling.

If you’re near Vila Real, a stop at Casa Lapão can turn an ordinary day into a memorable one.

Casa Lapão is located at Rua da Misericórdia 53/55, Vila Real, tel 259 324 146, email casalapao@gmail.com. Click here for their website. 

We hope it rains in August

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When friends who visit Portugal tell us they tasted some amazing mushrooms, we always worry they are mistaken. During hard times, Portuguese cooks found ways to make tasty dishes out of many animal parts to make sure nothing went to waste. So those delicious “mushrooms” were probably pig ears in coriander sauce or sautéed veal kidneys.

But Portugal does have amazing wild mushrooms. They’re called “míscaros” (pronounced “meescaros”) and grow in the pine forests of the Beira region.  You can stew them, cook them with meat, or combine them with rice. Míscaros are one of the crown jewels of Portuguese cuisine.

One of our grandfathers loved eating míscaros. He was always happy when it rained in August because that meant that míscaros would be abundant in the Fall. We remember him very fondly for many things, big and small. And we always like it when it rains in August.

You can often find míscaros in the Fall at Salsa & Coentros, one of our favorite restaurants in Lisbon. Click here for more information about the restaurant.

The past and future of Portuguese wine

AmphorasCrato

The Flor da Rosa Pousada in Crato has a beautiful collection of “talhas” (clay amphoras) made by potters in Alentejo.  The small amphoras were used to store olives or olive oil. The large ones were used to produce wine, a tradition that goes back to Roman times.

Several Portuguese wine makers are rediscovering the lost art of producing wine in amphoras. One of them is Dirk Niepoort, a great producer from the Douro region. We can’t wait to try these wines which bring the past into the future!

Click here for the Pousadas’ website and here for more photos of Flor da Rosa.