Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chá

Chá, pronounced “sha” in Portuguese, is the name for tea. Believe it or not, but the Azores is the only place in Europe that produces it. Apparently, varieties were brought to the islands when Portuguese ships would return from China, Macau (a former Portuguese colony) and India. Tea growing has been part of the island's history since the end of the 18th century. The plants have now thrived in the accommodating Azorean climate.

The Gorreana factory is the largest tea producer on the island of São Miguel.


When visiting the plantation, the sight of rows and rows of tea plants is breathtaking. Not only are your eyes stimulated, but your sense of smell will be mesmerized with the sweet odour being released from the plants.


The leaves from these plants are harvested...

...and ultimately processed into a dried form, as seen below.


When added to boiling water, the tea takes on a light colour and a familiar sweet aroma. The taste is surprisingly mild.

There is something calming about tea, and I can definitely see why it is such a popular drink in that part of the world (and others, of course).

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Best Thing since Sliced Bread

I think Islanders, no matter where they're from, have got it right. People from islands tend to do things just a little bit differently from us mainlanders.

One of the everyday things I saw, on the island of São Miguel, Azores, was a service for bread delivery. Those of you who know me well, will know that bread is one of my favourite foods. However, having the bread come to your door, brings it to another level altogether!


On São Miguel, bread is a very important part of one's diet. It is eaten with almost every meal. That being said, it is not unusual to see bread vans with signs reading "Transport and Sale of Bread" in any given neighbourhood.

These companies also don't expect cash on delivery. The vendors will simply leave a package of bread for you on your front door.

Now, rather than the paper, wouldn't you like to see this first thing in the morning?

What a great idea; a bakery that comes to you! (It's the small things that make me happy.)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Furnas

This is a familiar sign that is seen in and around the town of Furnas in São Miguel. Furnas is somewhat centrally located on the island and is home to many "calderas" or hot springs. The hot springs can be either sulfur or iron based.

You know you are approaching the town when you start to see misty clouds, steam coming out of the ground and when you sniff the somewhat familiar smell of slightly rotten eggs in the air (from the sulfur).

Viewing the calderas, you can see why they are quite the phenomenon.  Since São Miguel is a volcanic island, there are areas where water is heated by the Earth's core.

Since the pictures don't really do it much justice, please enjoy this video clip.
video

You're probably asking, "Why is this post on a food blog?" Well, to answer your question, the calderas are also used to cook on. Think of the word "caldera" having the same root as the word "cauldron". Pots of meat and vegetable stews are placed either in the hot boiling water or in the surrounding ground/mud. The high temperatures of the environment make it possible for the ground to be used as natural elements and ovens. Talk about living green!


Also, exclusive to the area, is a bread known as "bolos lêvedos". The name literally translates to "leavened cakes", but the product is really known as a bread.


The bread is made with very simple ingredients including: flour, eggs, sugar, milk, butter, salt and yeast. It is cooked on a flat surface, similar to the process used when making pancakes.


The result is a bread that is somewhere in between a bread and a cake. It has many nooks and crannies similar to English muffins, with a slightly sweet flavour.

This bread is fantastic with any meal or as snack. I'm currently reviewing some recipes to see if I can make this delight at home.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

São Moo-guel

The Azores is a grouping of nine islands located, pretty much, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Together, they are an autonomous region of Portugal and make the western-most part of Europe.

I was lucky enough to visit São Miguel, the largest of the islands, nicknamed "The Green Island", because of its steady, moderate climate and green landscape. I use of the word "large" only in comparison to the other islands. São Miguel, at its furthest points, is approximately 65 km long and 14 km wide. On some points of the island, you can actually stand and see both North and South sides at the same time!

Also an interesting fact: all mammals, with the exception of bats, were introduced to the island by humans. One of the animals you cannot go without seeing everywhere are black and white jersey cows. With a human population of approximately 240,000, I think I actually saw more cows than people!


These specific type of cows were brought to the island because of their ability to cope with/live in the climate and for their milk production. Dairy production is one of the main industries of the island.

I personally think the reason the Islanders brought these particular cows to São Miguel was because the Azoreans like the look of "black and white" against the backdrop of their land.


Do you think I'm joking? If so, here are a few random pictures that I think prove my theory.







I think that gives the expression "Holy Cow" a whole new meaning!

In any case, it is not unusual to see people milking their cows on their land.

As you can see, pumping can occur quite casually as the animal feeds comfortably off a trough.

The rich cow's milk is used to produce butter and many varieties of cheese.

One of the more memorable cheeses, for me, was "queijo fresco" or fresh cheese. The Azoroean version was a little different from the Spanish and Italian versions, of fresh cheese, I have tried. Their version is a bit saltier and is normally eaten with a red pepper sauce called, "molho de pimenta".


The milk itself is also used on São Miguel, like here at the "Festa do Espírito Santo" or Feast of the Holy Spirit. The feast, or more correctly feasts, take place over a number of weeks with activities including processions, crowns of the Holy Spirit and, of course, food. (There will be more to come regarding the Festa do Espírito Santo.)

On this particular day, milk was being distributed after a Catholic mass.

The milk was served alongside a sweetbread called "massa" or "massa sovada". This type of bread is also served during other holidays, including Christmas and Easter.


The bread is slightly dense, with a light crust and an eggy-sweet flavour.

What a pair!