A Fruitful Harvest.


During our stay in Algarve, one thing we were never short of was fresh fruit. Situated as they were between orange and lemon groves our workshops had a most beautiful setting and these fruits were readily available. But we made a rule that we would not touch them without consent. However, we need not have worried as, regularly each month we were handed a sack of oranges and lemons by the old Portuguese chap who managed the site and pickers, so we had a plentiful supply.

A few old olive trees grew on the boundary that separated the orchards from the railway and often, particularly on sweltering summer days, we would find our carpenter lads beneath their welcoming shade eating lunch as they sat on upturned orange boxes.

The olive trees yielded yet another source of pleasure; a rampant flourishing, grape vine threaded its way through the gnarled old branches and be weighed down by heavy bunches of the luscious black fruit. They were there, free for us all to pick at our leisure. We were often asked to join the site manager, fruit pickers and our own lads in an alfresco meal of sardinhas, salad and wine, finishing with local cheese and those wonderful grapes!

I had to find a way of using the oranges and lemons while they were still fresh. One of our favourite desserts is lemon meringue pie, so this was a regular treat and I varied it by combining the oranges and lemons which made it slightly richer. We had a good supply of homemade marmalade and always oranges or their juice for breakfast.

I quickly found that the fresh daily bread actually didn't stay fresh for more than a day, so I would often end up with large pieces of stale bread. So being someone who does not like to waste food, I decided to make bread-pudding, a favourite of many Brits.

There was no large super Mercado to shop at then but there was a corner grocery store opposite Lagoa's drogeria and by searching the shelves I would often find what I needed. I bought mixed spice, currants and sultanas and after soaking the stale bread I added these ingredients, plus a little butter and brown sugar, put mixture into two tins and baked in hot oven. The first day I made this Maria came round for afternoon tea (she really did like an English cuppa!).
As we sat talking she suddenly sniffed the air and asked,
"What is that lovely smell?"
When I told her she looked puzzled, never having heard of such a pudding. I took the tins from the oven and sprinkled puds with castor sugar at the same time asking her if she would like one. With her ready answer of "Sim, Obrigada" I wrapped one in a clean teacloth for her to take home. When I met her while shopping the following afternoon I asked if she'd enjoyed the pudding, which she had. But on asking if Carlos had she blushed and said
"No. I eat it all before he come home !"
Needless to say after that, I always kept her well supplied; even found myself baking it in temps. of 30c at times.

It was mid-December and our first Algarve Christmas. My thoughts turned to food for the festive season. Our tradition is to have homemade mince-pies but I hadn't seen a jar of sweet-mince anywhere. While shopping in the corner store I found the tin of custard powder I was searching for and as I picked it up, what should I find but a single dust-covered jar of Robinsons mince-meat. I was overjoyed and in that moment realised how spoilt we were in England with everything we needed in our large supermarkets. That jar symbolised it all for me and I promised myself that day never to take food for granted again. Those mince pies were the best we ever had.

Maria informed me that she really liked English Christmas cake; one with lots of marzipan (almond paste) and sugary white icing. She wanted to try making one so I offered to write down the recipe but, I'd completely forgotten that though she spoke very good English she didn't read or write it ! She had also asked for the recipe for "sage&onion stuffing" to go with her turkey.
Translating all the ingredients and cooking methods for both recipes took me over two hours as I kept having to refer to my cookbook and then to Portuguese dictionary!

The following Saturday we went for drinks at Carlos and Maria's; Maria's cousin was staying and we were having really nice time. I handed Maria the typed recipes and she sat there going through it all and showing them to her cousin. She said she understood it all and thanked me. But as she studied the recipes she suddenly burst out laughing. I looked puzzled and asked what was wrong? She pointed to the "stuffing" recipe and tapped her hair. When I looked, instead of typing cebolas (for onions) I'd put cabelos, meaning hair! But I would make many mistakes like this in the time ahead!

In hot summer days, particularly after hard days work we would treat ourselves to a take-away supper and this would always be from the "O'Casarao" restaurant near entrance to Lagoa. Hub and son usually had "chicken piri piri" but I liked fish. One night they didn't have any "cavala" (mackeral) so I asked what they had. The Portuguese lady pulled out a long tray which held numerous fish of all shapes and sizes. I didn't recognise them but she was very helpful and pointed at some plump fish steaks,
"You like this, it's Sofia, very nice and tasty !"
Well it looked nice and she was very persuasive. It was delicious, especially with the "batatas fritas", salad (which they always prepared fresh for us) along with bottles of cold Sagres beer and some pieces of "Amendoa tarte", a superb meal that was never expensive.

On telling Maria and Carlos of our meal and the new fish Id tried, they frowned, not understanding me. Maria kept saying,
Then suddenly gave a wide grin,
"Ah sim. No no not Sofia Ellie, it was "Swordfish!"
I went a bit red faced, then joined in with their laughter.
Being a gardener I took packets of seeds out to Portugal and amongst them I had a few varieties of English tomatoes. I got them started and then planted them in pots on our roof terrace. I was so pleased when they grew tall and sturdy, then produced their first trusses of red fruit. I took Maria up to see them, proud of my first efforts at Portuguese gardening. She took one look, then put her hand up to stifle a giggle, then said,
" Oh nice. But they're so small!"
Of course they were. They were the small cherry-type and against the massive beefsteak size of Portuguese tomatoes they did look a bit pathetic. But I picked some, handing them to her to try. She popped them in her mouth, chewed a little, then smiled and then had to admit,
"Mmm. Very nice. Very sweet!"
Ahh. Success. I had her approval.

Without really knowing it, we were educating each other not just with language but with tastes in food and our own cultures. Because of this our friendship grew ever stronger becoming as close as any "sisters" could be. Lovely, wonderful, colourful memories.

Muito obrigada Maria!