This article was taken from our archives. It first appeared in the August 1999 issue of The Bermudian. It appears here exactly as it did originally.
Although from a modern perspective it may seem that wars were primarily about real estate, ‘twas not so. Certainly not so in the 16th and 17th Centuries, for sure, when men set out as explorers and went to war over food, more precisely, the purpose was to dominate the trade in spices and codfish. Sure it was about fattening up pocket-books, but bellies were at the bottom of it all. Proving the planet to be round and discovering a New World turned out to be interesting by-products.
In what would end up a tangled vicious rivalry involving most of the European powers of the era, it was Portugal that set the long bloody process in motion. In 1498, when Vasco da Gamma first sailed an all-water route to India and the Spice Islands, he made one of the greatest discoveries of the age. What it meant, basically, was that the Portuguese would be able to cut out the middlemen. Vasco da Gama returned to Portugal from Mozambique a year later with precious pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves that he was able to buy direct. Even though 100 of his 160 crew members succumbed to scurvy and other diseases, others were encouraged by the booty he brought home.
In 1500, Pedro Cabral set out for India, was blown off course and landed in Brazil on Good Friday. He swiftly claimed the land in the name of King Manuel I, then headed off across the South Atlantic for his original goal, now in the company of two like-minded adventurers, Barthlomeu Dias and Duarte Pereira. This time they succeeded in rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and their ships returned heavily laden with highly profitable spices.
No one nation was willing to be content with simply participating in the trade. The Portuguese, Dutch and English each wanted to dominate. Consequently, in 1501, with a fleet of 20 caravels, da Gama closed the Red Sea, cutting off the trade route through Egypt to Alexandria and breaking the back of long-established Venetian control.
There were great fortunes to be made by the underwriters of such dangerous missions. In 1503, Portuguese ships returned from the East Indies with 1,300 tons of pepper, which could earn as much as 6,000 per cent. A 500-pound bag of cloves purchased in the Moluccas cost about two ducats. By the time the same bag had reached the London market, it was worth 2,000 ducats. Those explorers and their backers were the drug lords of their day.
In 1505, the Portuguese took Ceylon by force simply because the island produced the world’s most desirable cinnamon. Four years later, at the Battle of Dieu, Portugal’s Indian Viceroy, Francisco de Almeida, destroyed the Muslim fleet, and Portugal’s control of the spice trade, for the moment, was secure.
Meanwhile, other Portuguese were exploring and charting North America. In 1500, Gaspar Corte Real, son of Joao Corte Real, the despotic ruler of the Azores, had given the name Terre Verde, or Greenland, to Newfoundland. And a map dated 1502 identifies Newfoundland as ‘land of the King of Portugal.’ To this day, many of the old Portuguese names remain: Cape Hope was Cabo de Espera, Cabo Raso is now Cape Race, and the Isla dos Baccalhao is Baccalieu Island. Beyond the thrill of discovery, what they came for was bacalhau — salt cod.
Books have been written about the struggle for domination of the spice trade in the East and the cod fisheries on the North. It was a costly contest between the Portuguese, Dutch and English that went on for nearly three centuries. The Portuguese would eventually suffer reversals of fortune and when the Dutch East India Company was dissolved in 1799, and Mincing Lane, London became the world spice centre for a time.
In 1609, the same year the Sea Venture ran aground in Bermuda, a self-serving Dutch jurist vigorously proposed the “freedom of the seas to all nations,” disputing, no doubt, Portugal’s claims of dominion of the oceans.
Long before the British landed in Bermuda, however, Spanish and Portuguese explorers had sighted, landed, or been wrecked on, Bermuda’s reefs. In Sebastian Cabot’s 1544, Mappa Mundi, Bermuda was listed as Ya de demonios, ‘The Isle of Devils,’ so treacherous was the ring of reefs surrounding it and the myths generated by a mounting list of tragedies. The so-called Spanish Rock in Spittal Pond commemorates the post of a lonely lookout who carved a cryptic message there — TF or TC, and the date, 1543. Replaced by a casting, the original now obliterated, Spanish Rock is believed by some to be connected to Theodore Hernando Camelo. This Portuguese adventurer had, in 1527, received a commission from King Philip of Spain to found a colony on Bermuda. He never did.
The first Portuguese to settle in Bermuda, however, arrived long after the era of Portuguese exploration. They came as imported labourers. The first arrived from Madeira, near the Azores on November 4, 1849 – 58 men, women and children. Many more would come, and still do, from the Azores.
Part of a verdant nine-island volcanic archipelago, the Azores enjoys several parallels with Bermuda. Like Bermuda, the Azores, 1,000 miles west of Portugal, is isolated in the mid-Atlantic and romanticized as the lost Atlantis. Like Bermuda, whose cedars were devastated by a blight in the 1950s, the Azores suffered a blight (in the 1860s) that wiped out lucrative orange groves, which were replaced by tobacco (Bermuda’s first currency), tea and pineapple, once abundant in Bermuda. Like Bermudians, the people of the Azores are resourceful, inventive, self-reliant and independent islanders.
During the 19th Century, a major resurgence in working the land for profit was underway in Bermuda. Agriculture was, and is, important in the Azores, and it was for their farming skills that Azoreans were enticed to come to Bermuda. Portuguese immigrants were instrumental in Bermuda’s ability to produce vegetables and fruits for export to markets on the East Coast of America. It was the Portuguese in Bermuda who would cultivate the famous sweet Bermuda onion. And when agriculture went in to eclipse, it was Portuguese gardeners who nurtured the beauty of these islands, which an ever-increasing number of visitors would call ‘paradise.’
Over the years they, like most immigrants, have assimilated in many ways but have, thankfully, never given up their indigenous foods. Theirs is a simple cuisine, they’ll proudly tell you. Many savoury recipes begin with onion, garlic, tomato, parsley and white wine; sweets with butter, sugar and some brandy. But not so simple is the pleasure of well-made red bean soup, spicy chouriço sausages (a marvel of flavour, texture and aroma), octopus stew, salt cod, fava bean stew, sweet egg bread, buscotos (sugar glazed cookies), malassadas (a type of doughnut), nun’s tummy, barriga de friera (sweet egg pudding) and other treats. Thanks to the Portuguese, Bermuda has seen an increase in the use of thyme, rosemary, bay leaf, garlic and kale and enjoy cross-cultural influences that have become part of the local cuisine.
Today, Portuguese-Bermudians, nine per cent of the population, are Members of Parliament, doctors and lawyers, masons and builders, businessmen and women, landscapers and gardeners, and many still farmland. Without realizing it, we celebrate Bermuda with them every day, for their legacy is everywhere. I celebrate it with some regularity in my kitchen and I hope you will in yours.
Portuguese Red Bean Soup – From Spirit of Bermuda Book
2 large onions, thinly sliced
2 tbs Portuguese olive oil
1 lb Portuguese chouriço sausage, chopped
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 19-ounce cans of red kidney beans, drained
2 cups dry red wine (a Rioja is great)
1 lb fresh kale trimmed, rinsed well, chopped fine (or 2 pkgs frozen)
1 bay leaf
large pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp sugar
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
In a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, sauté the onions and chouriço in the olive oil until the onions are softened and glazed. Pour off most of the fat. Stir in the potatoes and kale and sweat them for a few minutes with the lid on. Add the wine and scrape any clinging bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the chicken broth, beans, bay leaf, cayenne and sugar.
Bring to a boil and simmer one and a half hours or longer, until the vegetables are tender. Skim fat occasionally. Serve hot with some crusty bread and sweet butter.
Azorean Octopus Stew – From Spirit of Bermuda Book
Many wrinkle their noses at the thought of octopus. They’re the ones who haven’t tasted it. Serves 6 — 8.
4 lbs octopus, cleaned
For the marinade:
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs paprika
3 tbs hot peppers, chopped
1 cup of good read wine
3 tbs Portuguese olive oil (Tiago)
3 large garlic cloves
3 medium onions chopped
½ cup parsley, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs paprika
6 large potatoes, cut in large dice
Blanch the octopus in boiling water for two to three minutes to stiffen the tentacles and make them easier to cut. Drain, cool and cut into bite-sized pieces. Mix in a bowl with the marinade and refrigerate, covered, overnight.
In a large pot sauté the garlic and onions in the olive oil until they are translucent. Add the parsley, salt and pepper, paprika, octopus, marinade and bring to a boil. Lower to simmer and cook until the octopus is tender. Add the potatoes and cook until they are done and serve.
Grilled Octopus – This recipe is from Joe Amaral
2 octopus, cleaned
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 onion, quartered
2 bay leaves
1 tbs salt
1 small bunch thyme
2 cups or so of dry red wine
Water to cover (about 3 cups)
Rinse the octopus under cold water. Put it with all of the ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot and bring slowly to heat. Simmer for 30 minutes until tender. Allow to cool in the broth. Remove octopus from poaching liquid, cut the tentacles off close to the body. Discard the body. Rub the purplish skin from the tentacles.
For the Marinade:
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs dry red wine
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil and fresh lemon juice to finish
Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish
Combine the marinade ingredients in a nonreactive bowl and allow the octopus to marinate for 24 – 48 hours (longer is better). When ready, remove from the marinade, pat with paper towels and grill over medium hot coals until heated through and blackened on the tips (about 4 – 5 minutes total grilling time).
Dress, while hot with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
Sardinhas De Escabeched (Marinated Sardines)
2 lb fresh sardines, scaled, cleaned, patted dry
Oil for frying (Mazola or other)
For the Marinade:
5 tbs Portuguese olive oil (Tiago)
3 medium onions, cut in thin rings
2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 large tomato, blanched, peeled, seeded, chopped
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
½ cup dry white wine
2 tbs white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp paprika
Open the window and fry the sardines in batches and drain on paper towels, or a brown paper bag.
Sauté the onions in the olive oil until golden. Add the garlic and cook until translucent, then add the tomato, bay leaf, parsley and salt and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the wine and vinegar and bring to a boil for about 3 minutes. Cool completely.
Arrange the sardines in a single layer in a shallow pan and sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper, then pour the marinade over the sardines. Refrigerate for 2 days.
Portuguese Sweet Bread
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
½ cup warm water
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup warm whole milk
4 eggs, beaten
4 – 5 cups flour
Mix together yeast, one teaspoon sugar and water and allow to bubble up. Mix together the sugar and the butter then add the milk. Add to the yeast mixture and combine completely. Now add three of the beaten eggs, the salt and mix completely. While still in the bowl add at least four cups of flour, one cup at a time, kneading as you go. When enough flour has been worked into the dough to form a somewhat smooth, elastic dough turn onto a well-floured surface and continue to knead the dough, adding flour to prevent sticking. Knead for a good ten minutes. Shape into a ball and put in an oiled bowl and coat all sides of dough ball. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double in bulk.
Divide dough into two balls and fit them to two nonstick or well-oiled skillets (for round), or standard loaf pans. Cover loosely and allow for the second rise until doubled in bulk.
Brush with the remaining egg and slit the top with a sharp knife just before baking at 350° for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and shiny. Bread is completely baked when a hollow sound is made when you knock on the bottom.
Buscotos (Portuguese Holiday Cookies) – This recipe is from Beatrice Faries
2½ lbs flour
1 tbs salt
½ cup sugar
4 heaping tbs baking powder
½ lb plus 1 tbs vegetable shortening
½ cup iced water
In a bowl mix together the dry ingredients. With a fork or pastry knife cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles a course meal. Beat the eggs in the ice water and add to the flour, mixing quickly to form a dough. If dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until smooth. Set aside for an hour.
Make the buscotos by cutting off pieces of dough and rolling them into little logs a half-inch thick and about four inches long. Press the ends together to make a ring. Place on an ungreased easy-release cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 400° oven for 10 – 15 minutes until slightly browned. When cooled, frost them with red or green icing sugar. Keep the buscotos separate while the icing dries.
For the Icing:
3 cups sugar
¾ cup water (or less)
Red and green food colouring
Make the icing by boiling together the sugar and the water, stirring until it becomes somewhat glassy and makes a string when dropped from the spoon. Colour the icing, half red and half green.