Thursday, 30 August 2012

Alfarroba,worth its weight in gold


Its late August.Doesn´t time fly when you are enjoying yourself?- the Alfarroba (carob) season is here again. It is unfortunate that it is so hot for the time of this particular harvest,because it is about now, the end of August, when they ripen and fall off the trees easily.The ground beneath the trees has to be cleared of dry grass, thorns and nettles, otherwise collecting them can be an great ordeal. These trees are one of the easiest to harvest. That does not mean that it is not hard work. Firstly they have to be knocked out of the trees with a large stick or ‘Vara’. That can involve a lot of neck strain. Then they are picked up from the floor and collected into sacks of about15 to 30 kilos and that involves back strain.So all in all its not surprising you see so many lean to or hunch backed farmers in and around the Portuguese countryside.The carob tree or St. John´s bread tree, is typical of the Algarve. In Portuguese the tree is called Alfarrobeira and the fruit of this tree is called Alfarroba (al-harruba in Arabic).Since the seeds of the carob tree all weigh the same, they were used to weigh diamonds, silver and gold in the Middle East. The modern usage of the word "carat" refers to the official name of the carob tree: Ceratonia Siliqua. The system was eventually standardized, and one carat was fixed at 0.2 grams.In late Roman and early Byzantine times, the pure gold coin known as the solidus weighed 24 carat seeds (about 4.5 grams). As a result, the carat also became a measure of purity for gold. Thus 24-carat gold means 100% pure, 12-carat gold means the alloy contains 50% gold, etc.
One word of warning: When they ripen and fall to the ground some dogs and horses love to chew them. However, they have a very high protein content,(too much in a horses diet can cause it to bloat and it can be fatal). It can cause convulsions and be fatal to dogs too. In no circumstance ever let any dog get a taste for those tasty, crunchy black beans. The protein is too much for their system to cope with. 
Bolo de Alfarroba, Algarvian Carob cake

Carob cake, besides being part of the traditional Algarve cuisine, is a great alternative to chocolate cake for those who are allergic to chocolate. The flavour and appearance are almost identical too.In the Algarve carob powder is used in baking as an alternative to chocolate and is also known by the name cacao do Algarve. Carob is also free from the stimulants caffeine and theobromine found in chocolate. It is naturally sweet, so carob products will contain less sugar.                                            

1 ch.(1 cup) olive oil 1/2 ch. 1/2 cup. leite, milk 4 ovos 4 eggs 1 ch. 1 cup. açúcar amarelo, brown sugar 1 c. (sopa) fermento em pó, ( 1Tablespoon) baking powder 3 c. (sopa) de farinha, (3 Tablespoons) flour 3 c. (sopa) farinha de alfarroba, (3 dessert spoons) carob flour 100 gr. de nozes picadas, chopped walnuts

Mix the oil, milk, egg yolks and sugar.Add the flour, carob, baking powder, nuts and beat well. Finally add up the egg whites. Bake at 200 º C.

Rumour has it that alfarroba is one of the secret ingredients of Coca Cola.
Portugal produces around 40.000 tons of alfarroba per year, most of which is exported. This is a 32 million euro business. Only Morocco produces more, but the Portuguese claim to have the best quality and if the cake is anything to go by it most certainly is.

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