From Alentejo, with love

There’s something about the simple traditional Portuguese foods that I find fascinating. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re not so simple.
Don’t get me wrong: These days there are wonderful new approaches to some of the more traditional Portuguese recipes. I can’t help but be amazed, however, at recipes that come from times when you couldn’t afford to waste. Sure, things like conventual sweets used leftover egg yolks (and a lot of white sugar), but they were only for a few rich people. The poor had to adapt to what they could afford: much less sugar, unrefined flour and a lot more cheap flavouring ingredients, like lemon peel, a dash of cinnamon or fennel seeds.

Today, most of these “poor people’s recipes” have either disappeared or have been “modernised”, i.e., are being made with things like artificial flavourings and colourings. There are hundreds of such traditional recipes all over the country, sometimes with small variations whithin a region, and finding them is almost like stumbling upon a small treasure.

A few weeks ago, while in Vila Nova de Milfontes, I accidently came across the round-shaped fellas in the photo above. They are called popias and are typical of the Alentejo. Like so many other similar traditional Portuguese “hard cookies” they are not very sweet and are flavoured with cinnamon, including lard and olive oil in the dough. Maybe you think that using lard in a cookie is odd, but remember that butter was something not everyone could afford and olive oil doesn’t suit all types of recipes.

Hold on to your hats, though, because next we have… bolo de torresmos, aka, scratchings/pork rind cake!

To me, it sounds like the kind of cake a true bad ass would eat. I can imagine Chuck Norris having a pork rind cake for breakfast! What does it taste like? It’s great, actually! Not very sweet, dense, a bit crumbly and with lots of crispy bits. These were usually baked once a week, while making bread for the whole family: you took a portion of the bread dough and just added a few ingredients!

Tha’s all for now! Stay tuned for more delicious Alentejo food on the next post! 😉 Enjoy!

*I’d like to thank Cristina Silva, of Pão, Café & Companhia for helping this blog post come to life by staying true to the original recipes, by having provided me with so many delicious products and for her infinite patience in answering my questions.

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