In August when we were here, we went to visit José’s family in Ponta do Pargo. They invited us for Christmas lunch and told us we have to come and slaughter the pig with them in preparation for Christmas! Me slaughtering a pig?… God(heaven)forbid.. I would rather become a vegetarian or die of hunger! I went to Boland Agricultural School, and there you had to slaughter a pig and a sheep for marks for your practical exams… so I had my(fair) share of that! No thank you, I would rather pay someone to do it and then I will be miles away not to hear the pig screaming or smell the slaughtering! I had enough of that growing up. Saw it every second Friday!
I can just imagine myself bending double and vomiting all over if I had to do that now. That is if I did not pass out by then.
Back to the family, they are true farming people living and working their farmlands with all their energy and with the little resources they have! They have no vehicle, not even a tractor, their farmlands get tilted with their hands and their energy.A few years ago, Maria-José had a kidney transplant and yet she worked/s harder on the lands than any other woman I know. Their lifestyle is so simple and down to earth that it will shock a lot of people.
In their lives, friendliness and hospitality have no end! Well, it was with a typical Gemini mind (in two) that I went with Jose on Christmas day to Ponta do Pargo. It was with trepidation that I went. I did not know what to expect.
First, when we arrived the food was on the table and covered with cloth. We ate around a small table with 5 little stools around and first of all we started the luncheon with a typical Madeira drink, Johnny Walker Black Label!
Now use your imagine nation / imagination. There is no passage in the house; the rooms are linked by doors. First, as you walk pass on the outside is a store room and then a kitchen I’ve never been in. The third room is a room with this huge forno (oven) but it also doubles up as a storeroom for some farm tools. The walls are covered with soot through the last few decades and high up in the roof is a round hole with one of these TwirleyWhirleys turning at a speed. I found the ceiling pattern under the black soot very interesting until I realised it is actually no ceiling, just the underside of the roof tiles, covered in soot.
We then started to dish up, and boy, I have to let my head hang in shame. We all want only the best for Christmas dinner or lunch. I can imagine some of these “Tannies” back in SA would say to themselves, “You know, my sister in law had four different meats last year, I will need five meats this year, I need to be better, I need to be more impressive. I need to show off; I need to show them I am one better.” Oh, Madeira, you teach me in the kindest way, humanity!
This was a very simple straight forward cooked meal, done with love, simplicity and to perfection. No show off’s but yes, the best glasses, the best plates and the best knives and work. The best table cloth was put out and draped over the table and the crockery set, done with pride and done with love. Oh, Senhor Fellini, you would make “Barbette’s Feast” look like a take away!
The meal started out with “Bacalhau” (Dried, salted codfish) done to perfection with parsley, garlic, onion, chilli and olive oil dressing. It was baked in the oven and then served at room temperature. The taste was exquisite. This was served with fresh farm eggs, boiled and put on top of chickpeas, done again with garlic, onion, olive oil and parsley. There was a plate of peeled and boiled potatoes, some cheese and olives. This was then followed by some pork, beef and chicken, as tasty and well done, but the Bacalhau will be the highlight.
I have eaten in some of the world’s best restaurants, albeit in SA, I have food done by famous chefs, I had food done in the most exquisite ways and yet this meal taught me once again, stop pretending with food, stop trying to impress, simple straight forward food is the answer.
This meal will be in my memory for ever and I will be able to taste every little morsel every time I think of it. Thinking of the meal and the love and pride that went into it gave me tears in my eyes as I write this.
Thanks Evangelista, Maria José and Eduardo.
God Bless you and thank you!