Thursday, 24 February 2011

Five go mad in the campo

‘who’d ‘a’ thought it.’ five proprietors go foraging in the Algarve. Hurrah! I Today found myself a privileged participant of a brainstorming workshop chaired by Maria Manuel Valagao, author of two books "Natureza Gastronomia e Lazer" and "Tradição e Inovação Alimentar".

The setting and days intentions were vaguely reminiscent of an Enid Blyton childhood,rural,remote and with the ability for second childhood to discover the simple joys of casas de campo (cottages),fazendas ( farms ) aldeias (villages), the Algarvian countryside and sea shores, as well as the adventures,picnics, lemonade,bicycle rides, home-made food, and lashings of ginger beer.Hurrah! A time of innocence, lost but not forgotten.

Maria Manuel´s book NATURE, FOOD & LEISURE defines the role of flora in terms of a culinary culture of Mediterranean gastronomic heritage. The book introduces the reader to wild food, plants and herbs,their uses as condiments and as a major contribution to the new dining table. Some are the most common and some lesser known,some big surprises( until today I did not know that parsnips (pastinacas) can grow in the wild uncultivated).Some are part of a traditional gastronomy being rediscovered or reinvented by the current generation of chefs, to create new culinary trends. Her thesis is how "new arrives from the old man's hand,"( sic),ensuring the conservation of species and securing continuity and innovation of some of the signature food traditions of the Alentejo. 
The workshop set out to establish a new way forward for "Agro  Turismo". Maria Manuel prefers to describe her work in a wider and more romantic context as "Itinerarios, Turisticos, Integrados".The five participants consisted, apart from us, of two other Turismo Rurais,and a modern innovative restaurant.Following a presentation and brainstorming with Maria Manuel we set off with cloth bags and baskets, hats on heads, to explore the nearby undergrowth and gather a natural harvest of Ortigas (nettles) Acelga ( wild spinach )Dentes de leao (dandelion) carrasquinha (thistle) and alabaça ( dock leaves ). Eglantinas husband Francisco was meanwhile preparing a Consomé de ortigas for our potluck picnic lunch.We  had not got the message and therefore shamefully came without. The consomé was delicious, followed by offerings of traditional fresh cheese and bread, shrimps cozidos, caldeirada,nut bread, and for desert tangerines and fresh goats cheese tart with cinnamon. A totally inspiring day. I have come home with newly acquired culinary knowledge of the wild gastronomy, and armed with bundles of herbs and leaves previously unknown to me, from which I will be experimenting and producing trial recipes to fuel this blog and report back to the next meeting of our newly formed union for the promotion  of "wild gastronomic tourism".Lets put our best foot forward to see what further fruits nature can offer us.Watch this space..... 

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