Mar 092018

Today is the birthday (1454) of Amerigo Vespucci, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus who also explored the New World by ship, and first demonstrated in about 1502 that Brazil and the West Indies did not represent Asia’s eastern outskirts as initially conjectured from Columbus’ voyages, but instead constituted an entirely separate landmass hitherto unknown to people of the Old World. Because of his exploration and cartography, the continent he explored (actually 2 continents) was named for him. The Latin version of Amerigo is Americus (masculine). The Latin feminine is America. Why continents are feminine in Romance languages is just one of the mysteries of linguistics you will have to sort out on your own. My pet peeve is more basic. As a native Argentino, I am as American as any Chilean, Bolivian, Mexican, or Canadian, and I resent citizens of the United States of America commandeering “American” and “America” for their nation only when they ought to apply to all peoples and nations of both continents. I doubt Vespucci would have approved. In many languages there are words for citizens of the U.S. that do not confuse the country with the continents. Estadounidense is used in most South American Spanish dialects, for example. English ought to be able to come up with something.

Vespucci was born and raised in Florence, the third son of Ser Nastagio (Anastasio) Vespucci, a Florentine notary, and Lisabetta Mini. His paternal grandfather also bore the name Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci was educated by his uncle, Fra Giorgio Antonio Vespucci, a Dominican friar of the monastery of San Marco in Florence. While his elder brothers were sent to the University of Pisa to pursue scholarly careers, Amerigo Vespucci embraced a mercantile life, and was hired as a clerk by the Florentine commercial house of Medici, headed by Lorenzo de’ Medici. Vespucci acquired the favor and protection of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici who became the head of the business after the elder Lorenzo’s death in 1492. In March 1492, the Medici dispatched the 38-year-old Vespucci and Donato Niccolini as confidential agents to look into the Medici branch office in Cádiz, whose managers and dealings were under suspicion.

In April 1495, by the intrigues of Bishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca, the Crown of Castile broke their monopoly deal with Christopher Columbus and began handing out licenses to other navigators for the West Indies. Just around this time (1495–96), Vespucci was engaged as the executor of Giannotto Berardi, an Italian merchant who had recently died in Seville. Vespucci organized the fulfillment of Berardi’s outstanding contract with the Castilian crown to provide twelve vessels for the Indies. After these were delivered, Vespucci continued as a provision contractor for Indies expeditions, and is known to have secured beef supplies for at least one (if not two) of Columbus’ voyages.

At the invitation of king Manuel I of Portugal, Vespucci participated as observer in several voyages that explored the east coast of South America between 1499 and 1502. On the first of these voyages he was aboard the ship that discovered that South America extended much further south than previously thought. The expeditions became widely known in Europe after two accounts attributed to Vespucci were published between 1502 and 1504. In 1507, Martin Waldseemüller produced a world map on which he named the new continent America after Vespucci. In an accompanying book, Waldseemüller published one of the Vespucci accounts, which led to criticism that Vespucci was trying to upset Christopher Columbus’ glory. However, the rediscovery in the 18th century of other letters by Vespucci has led to the view that the early published accounts, notably the Soderini Letter, could be fabrications, not by Vespucci, but by others.

In 1508, the position of chief of navigation of Spain (piloto mayor de Indias) was created for Vespucci, with the responsibility of planning navigation for voyages to the Indies. Two letters attributed to Vespucci were published during his lifetime. Mundus Novus (New World) was a Latin translation of a lost Italian letter sent from Lisbon to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici. It describes a voyage to South America in 1501–1502. Mundus Novus was published in late 1502 or early 1503 and soon reprinted and distributed in numerous European countries. Lettera di Amerigo Vespucci delle isole nuovamente trovate in quattro suoi viaggi (Letter of Amerigo Vespucci concerning the isles newly discovered on his four voyages), also known as Lettera al Soderini or just Lettera, was a letter in Italian addressed to Piero Soderini. Printed in 1504 or 1505, it claimed to be an account of four voyages to the Americas made by Vespucci between 1497 and 1504. A Latin translation was published by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507 in Cosmographiae Introductio, a book on cosmography and geography, as Quattuor Americi Vespucij navigationes (Four Voyages of Amerigo Vespucci).

Vespucci’s real historical importance may well rest more in his letters than in his discoveries. From these letters, the European public learned about the newly discovered continents of the Americas for the first time within a few years of their publication. There is ongoing debate concerning the actual authorship of the letters and their veracity. It is possible that the first and fourth voyages are fabricated, but the second and third are certain.

First voyage

A letter published in 1504 purports to be an account by Vespucci, written to Soderini, of a lengthy visit to the New World, leaving Spain in May 1497 and returning in October 1498. However, some modern scholars have doubted that this voyage took place, and consider this letter a forgery. Whoever did write the letter makes several observations of native customs, including use of hammocks and sweat lodges.

Second voyage

About 1499–1500, Vespucci joined an expedition in the service of Spain, with Alonso de Ojeda (or Hojeda) as the fleet commander. The intention was to sail around the southern end of the African mainland into the Indian Ocean. After hitting land at the coast of what is now Guyana, the two seem to have separated. Vespucci sailed southward, discovering the mouth of the Amazon River and reaching 6°S before turning around and seeing Trinidad and the Orinoco River, and returning to Spain by way of Hispaniola. The letter, to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, claims that Vespucci determined his longitude celestially on August 23, 1499, while on this voyage. However, that claim may be fraudulent.

Third voyage

The last certain voyage of Vespucci was led by Gonçalo Coelho in 1501–1502 in the service of Portugal. Departing from Lisbon, the fleet sailed first to Cape Verde where they met two of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s ships returning from India. In a letter from Cape Verde, Vespucci says that he hopes to visit the same lands that Álvares Cabral had explored, suggesting that the intention is to sail west to Asia, as on the 1499–1500 voyage. On reaching the coast of Brazil, they sailed south along the coast of South America to Rio de Janeiro’s bay. If his own account is to be believed, he reached the latitude of Patagonia before turning back, although this also seems doubtful, since his account does not mention the broad estuary of the Río de la Plata, which he must have seen if he had sailed that far south. Portuguese maps of South America, created after the voyage of Coelho and Vespucci, do not show any land south of present-day Cananéia at 25° S, so this may represent the southernmost extent of their voyages.

After the first half of the expedition, Vespucci mapped Alpha and Beta Centauri, as well as the constellation Crux, the Southern Cross, and the Coalsack Nebula. Although these stars had been known to the ancient Greeks, gradual precession had lowered them below the European horizon so that they had been forgotten. On his return to Lisbon, Vespucci wrote in a letter that the land masses they explored were much larger than anticipated and different from the Asia described by Ptolemy or Marco Polo and therefore, must be a New World, that is, a previously unknown fourth continent, after Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Fourth voyage

Vespucci’s fourth voyage was another expedition for the Portuguese crown down the eastern coast of Brazil, that set out in May 1503 and returned to Portugal in June 1504. Like his alleged first voyage, Vespucci’s last voyage in 1503–1504 is also disputed to have taken place. The only source of information for the last voyage is the Letter to Soderini, but as several modern scholars dispute Vespucci’s authorship of the letter to Soderini, it is also sometimes doubted whether Vespucci undertook this trip. However, Portuguese documents do confirm a voyage to Brazil was undertaken in 1503–04 by the captain Gonçalo Coelho, very likely the same captain of the 1501 mapping expedition (Vespucci’s third voyage), and so it is quite possible that Vespucci went on board this one as well. However, it is not independently confirmed Vespucci was aboard and there are some difficulties in the reported dates and details.

The letters caused controversy after Vespucci’s death, especially among the supporters of Columbus who believed Columbus’ priority for the discovery of America was being undermined, and seriously damaged Vespucci’s reputation. Not long after his return to Spain, Vespucci became a Spanish citizen. On March 22, 1508 he was made the pilot major of Spain by Ferdinand II of Aragon in honor of his discoveries. Vespucci also ran a school for navigators in the Spanish House of Trade, based in Seville. He died on February 22, 1512 at his home in Seville.

In honor of Vespucci here are 2 segments from the 16th century Tuscan cookbook, L’Arte Et Prudenza D’Un Maestro Cuoco (The Art and Craft of a Master Cook). A full facsimile of the original can be found here:

The first recipe to be used for pasta is unusual in that it uses both rosewater and sugar. The second is a fairly standard recipe for pasta in brodo although you may have trouble making a broth from hare or crane. The recipe for making the noodles shows that nothing much has changed in 500 years.

Per fare tortelletti con la polpa di cappone

[…] uno sfoglio di pasta alquanto sottile, fatto di fior di farina, acqua di rose, sale, butiro, zuccaro, & acqua tepida […]

To prepare tortelletti with capon flesh

[…] a rather thin sheet of dough is made of flour, rosewater, salt, butter, sugar and warm water […]

Per far minestra di tagliatelli

Impastinosi due libre di fior di farina con tre uoua, & acqua tepida, & mescolisi bene sopra una tavola per lo spatio d’un quarto d’hora, & dapoi stendasi sottilmente con il bastone, & lascisi alquanto risciugare il sfoglio, & rimondinosi con lo sperone le parti piu grosse, che son gli orlicci, & quando sarà asciutto però non troppo, perche crepe rebbe, spoluerizzisi di fior di farina con il fetaccio, accioche non si attacchi, piglisi poi il bastone della pasta, & comincisi da un capo, & riuolgasi tutto lo sfoglio sopra il bastone leggiermente, cauisi il bastone, e taglisi lo sfoglio cosi riuolto per lo trauerso con un coltello largo sottile, e tagliati che saranno, slarghinosi, & lassinosi alquanto rasciugare, & asciutti che saranno, fettaccisi fuora per lo criuello il farinaccio, & facciasene minestra con brodo grasso di carne, o con latte, & butiro, & cotti che saranno, seruanosi caldi con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella, & uolendone far lasagne taglisi la pasta sul bastone per lungo, & compartasi la detta pasta in due parti parimente per lungo, e taglisi in quadretti, & faccianosi  cuocere in brodo di lepre, ouero di grua, o d’altra carna, o latte, & seruanosi calde con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella.

To prepare a thick soup of tagliatelle

Work two pounds of flour, three eggs and warm water into a dough, kneading it on a table for a quarter of an hour. Roll it out thin with a rolling pin and let the sheet of dough dry a little. Trim away the irregular parts, the fringes, with a rolling wheel. When it has dried, though not too much because it would break up, sprinkle it with flour through a sieve so it will not stick. Then take the rolling pin and, beginning at one end, wrap the whole sheet loosely on it. Remove the rolling pin and cut the rolled-up dough crosswise with a broad, thin knife. When they are cut open them [the noodles] out. Let them dry out a little and, when they are dry, filter off the excess flour through a sieve. Make up a soup of them with a fat meat broth, or milk and butter. When they are cooked, serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon. If you want to make lasagna of them, cut the dough lengthwise on the pin, and likewise divide it lengthwise in two, and cut that into little squares. Cook them in the broth of a hare, a crane or some other meat, or in milk. Serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon.

Jun 072017

The Treaty of Tordesillas was signed at Tordesillas in Castile on this date in 1494, and authenticated at Setúbal in Portugal. It divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between Portugal and the Crown of Castile, along a meridian 370 nautical leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa. This line of demarcation was about halfway between the Cape Verde islands (already Portuguese) and the islands entered by Christopher Columbus on his first voyage (claimed for Castile and León), named in the treaty as Cipangu and Antilia (Cuba and Hispaniola). The lands to the east would belong to Portugal and the lands to the west to Castile.  This treaty would be observed reasonably well by Spain and Portugal, despite considerable ignorance concerning the geography of the New World. It did, however, omit all of the other European powers. More to the point, it did not take account of the fact that most of the lands included in the treaty were fully occupied by indigenous peoples. Despite its antiquity the treaty is still occasionally invoked by the governments of successor nations to the former Spanish empire.

The Treaty of Tordesillas was intended to solve the dispute that had arisen following the return of Christopher Columbus and his crew, who had sailed under the sponsorship of the Catholic Monarchs (Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon). On his way back to Spain Columbus first arrived at Lisbon in Portugal. There he asked for a meeting with king John II to discuss the newly discovered lands. In turn the Portuguese king sent a threatening letter to the Catholic Monarchs stating that the Treaty of Alcáçovas signed in 1479 and confirmed in 1481 with the papal bull Æterni regis,  granted all lands south of the Canary Islands to Portugal, all of the lands discovered by Columbus belonged, in fact, to Portugal. Also, John II stated that he was already making arrangements for a fleet (an armada led by Francisco de Almeida) to depart shortly and take possession of the new lands.

After reading the letter the Catholic Monarchs, knowing they did not have any military power in the Atlantic to match the Portuguese, pursued a diplomatic way out. On 4th May 1493 Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), an Aragonese from Valencia by birth, decreed in the bull, Inter caetera, that all lands west and south of a pole-to-pole line 100 leagues west and south of any of the islands of the Azores or the Cape Verde Islands should belong to Castile, although territory under Catholic rule as of Christmas 1492 would remain untouched. The bull did not mention Portugal or its lands, so Portugal could not claim newly discovered lands even if they were east of the line. Another bull, Dudum siquidem, (“Extension of the Apostolic Grant and Donation of the Indies”) dated 25th September 1493, gave all mainland territories and islands, “at one time or even yet belonged to India” to Spain, even if east of the line.

John II was not pleased with that arrangement, feeling that it gave him far too little land, and it prevented him from possessing India, his near term goal. By 1493 Portuguese explorers had reached the Cape of Good Hope and knew they could round Africa to head to India. The Portuguese were unlikely to go to war over the islands encountered by Columbus, but the explicit mention of India was a major issue. John II opened direct negotiations with the Catholic Monarchs to move the line to the west and allow him to claim newly discovered lands east of the line. In the bargain, John accepted Inter caetera as the starting point of discussion with Ferdinand and Isabella, but had the boundary line moved 270 leagues west, protecting the Portuguese route down the coast of Africa and giving the Portuguese rights to lands that now constitute the eastern quarter of Brazil. Both sides knew that such a boundary could not be accurately fixed and each felt comfortable that the other was deceived. Portugal felt it was a diplomatic triumph because it gained the Portuguese a viable sea route to India and gave them most of the South Atlantic. Not known at the time was just how much of the Americas it granted Spain (and how much gold, silver, and precious stones there were in South America).

The treaty effectively countered the bulls of Alexander VI but was subsequently sanctioned by Pope Julius II by means of the bull Ea quae pro bono pacis of 24th January 1506. Even though the treaty was negotiated without consulting the pope, a few sources called the resulting line the “Papal Line of Demarcation”. Very little of the newly divided area had actually been seen by Europeans, as it was only divided via the treaty. Castile gained lands including most of the Americas, which in 1494 had little proven wealth. The easternmost part of current Brazil was granted to Portugal when in 1500 Pedro Álvares Cabral landed there while he was en route to India. Some historians contend that the Portuguese already knew of the South American bulge that makes up most of Brazil before this time, so his landing in Brazil was not an accident. J.H. Parry in The Age of Reconnaissance: Discovery, Exploration, and Settlement, 1450–1650 (1973) says that the likelihood of Cabral’s landing on the Brazilian coast 12 degrees farther south than the expected Cape São Roque, “as a result of freak weather or navigational error was remote; and it is highly probable that Cabral had been instructed to investigate a coast whose existence was not merely suspected, but already known”.

The line was not strictly enforced—the Spanish did not resist the Portuguese expansion of Brazil across the meridian. However, the Catholic Monarchs attempted to stop the Portuguese advance in Asia, by claiming the meridian line ran around the world, dividing the whole world in half rather than just the Atlantic. Portugal pushed back, seeking another papal pronouncement that limited the line of demarcation to the Atlantic. This was given by Pope Leo X, who was friendly toward Portugal and its discoveries, in 1514 in the bull Praecelsae devotionis.

Spanish empire

For a period between 1580 and 1640, the treaty was rendered meaningless, because Spain controlled Portugal. It was superseded by the 1750 Treaty of Madrid which granted Portugal control of the lands it occupied in South America. However, the latter treaty was immediately repudiated by Spain. The First Treaty of San Ildefonso settled the problem, with Spain acquiring territories east of the Uruguay River and Portugal acquiring territories in the Amazon Basin. Emerging Protestant maritime powers, particularly England and The Netherlands, and other third parties such as Roman Catholic France, did not recognize the division of the world between only two Roman Catholic nations brokered by the pope, however.

Portuguese empire

Well, the story continues of course. But I’ll stop except to note that in the 20th century The Treaty of Tordesillas was invoked by Chile to defend the principle of an Antarctic sector extending along a meridian to the South Pole, as well as the assertion that the treaty made Spanish (or Portuguese) all undiscovered land south to the Pole, and by  Argentina as part of its claim to the Malvinas Islands. In both cases the treaty was only a part of the legal tussles, and did not have enormous force by itself because it excluded all other European nations.

If you want to start a fight either within Iberia or between foodies abroad ask what the difference is between Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. You’ll get multiple answers, but, in reality, it is a meaningless question.  Both countries have diverse cuisines based on region, and there is a great deal of overlap. Even if I narrow things down to the sausage called chorizo in Spanish and chouriço in Portuguese I’m not much further along.  I’ll give it a go, though, and in the process talk about these sausages in the Spanish and Portuguese diasporas. I’ll begin by saying that chorizo and chouriço are fairly generic names for a wide variety of sausages, usually preserved in some way.

Generic Spanish chorizo is made from coarsely chopped pork and pork fat, seasoned with pimentón – a special smoked paprika – and salt. It is generally classed as either picante (spicy) or dulce (sweet), depending upon the type of pimentón used. Hundreds of regional varieties of Spanish chorizo, both smoked and unsmoked, exist and may contain garlic, herbs, and other ingredients. There is Chorizo de Pamplona which is a thicker sausage with the meat finely ground or chorizo Riojano from the La Rioja region, which has PGI protection within the EU. Spanish chorizo can be made in short or long and hard or soft varieties; leaner varieties are suited to being eaten at room temperature as an appetizer or in tapas, whereas the fattier versions are generally used for cooking. A good rule of thumb is that long, thin chorizos are sweet, and short chorizos are spicy, although this is not always the case. Depending on the variety, chorizo can be eaten sliced without further cooking, sometimes sliced in a sandwich, or grilled, fried, or baked alongside other things, and is also an ingredient in several dishes where it accompanies beans, such as fabada or cocido montañés. The version of these dishes con todos los sacramentos (with all the trimmings, literally sacraments) adds to chorizo other preserved meats such as tocino (cured bacon) and morcilla (blood sausage).

Portuguese chouriço is made with pork, fat, wine, paprika, garlic, and salt. It is then stuffed into natural or artificial casings and slowly dried over smoke. The many different varieties differ in color, shape, seasoning, and taste. Many dishes of Portuguese cuisine (and Brazilian cuisine) make use of chouriço – cozido à portuguesa and feijoada are two of the best known. A popular way to prepare chouriço is partially sliced and flame-cooked over alcohol at the table (chouriço à bombeiro). Special glazed earthenware dishes with a lattice top are used for this purpose.

In Johannesburg in South Africa, the high influx of Portuguese immigrants in the 1960s from Portugal and Mozambique tended to settle in a suburb called La Rochelle and though most of them have either returned to Portugal or moved on to more affluent suburbs in the city, restaurants in the area still have chouriço as the centerpiece of many items on their menus. In the heavily Portuguese counties in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, chouriço is often served with little neck clams and white beans. Chouriço sandwiches on grinder rolls, with sautéed green peppers and onions, are commonly available at local delis and convenience stores. Stuffed quahogs (also known as stuffies), a Rhode Island specialty, usually include chouriço.

Mexican chorizo is probably the commonest chorizo in the United States. It is based on the uncooked Spanish chorizo fresco (fresh chorizo), usually made with fatty pork, but beef, venison, chicken, kosher, turkey, and even tofu and vegan versions are made. The meat is usually ground rather than chopped, and different seasonings are used. This type is not frequently found in Europe or outside the Americas in general. Chorizo verde (green chorizo) is an emblematic food item of the Valle de Toluca, and is claimed to have originated in the town of Texcalyacac.

The area of around Toluca, known as the capital of chorizo outside of the Iberian Peninsula, specializes in “green” chorizo, made with tomatillo, cilantro, chili peppers, garlic, or a combination of these. The green chorizo recipe is native to Toluca. Most Mexican chorizo is a deep reddish color, and is largely available in two varieties, fresh and dried, though fresh is much more common. Quality chorizo consists of good cuts of pork stuffed in intestinal casings,[10] while some of the cheapest commercial styles use variety meats stuffed in inedible plastic casing to resemble sausage links. Before consumption, the casing is usually cut open and the sausage is fried in a pan and mashed with a fork until it resembles finely minced ground beef. A common alternative recipe doesn’t have casings. Pork and beef are cured overnight in vinegar and chili powder. Served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it has the finely minced texture mentioned above, and is quite intense in flavor.

In Mexico, restaurants and food stands make tacos, queso fundido (or choriqueso), burritos, and tortas with cooked chorizo, and it is also a popular pizza topping. Chorizo con huevos is a popular breakfast dish in Mexico and areas of the USA with Mexican immigration. It is made by mixing fried chorizo with scrambled eggs. Chorizo con huevos is often used in breakfast burritos, tacos, and taquitos. Another popular Mexican recipe is fried chorizo combined with pinto or black refried beans. This combination is often used in tortas as a spread, or as a side dish where plain refried beans would normally be served. In Mexico, chorizo is also used to make the popular appetizer chorizo con queso (or choriqueso), which is small pieces of chorizo served in or on melted cheese, and eaten with small corn tortillas. In heavily Mexican parts of the United States, a popular filling for breakfast tacos is chorizo con papas, or diced potatoes sautéed until soft with chorizo mixed in.

In Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia, chorizo is the name for any coarse meat sausage. Spanish-style chorizo is also available, and is distinguished by the name “chorizo español” (Spanish chorizo). Argentine chorizos are normally made of pork, and are not spicy hot. Some Argentine chorizos include other types of meat, typically beef. In Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru, a fresh chorizo, cooked and served in a bread roll, is called a choripán. In Colombia, chorizos are usually eaten with arepas (cornflour buns).

In Bolivia, chorizos are made of pork, fried and served with a salad (tomato, lettuce, onion, boiled carrots, and quirquiña), mote (hominy), and a slice of bread soaked with chorizo fat.

In Goa, former Portuguese colony in India, chouriço is very common. Here, chouriço is made from a mixture of pork, vinegar, red chilies, garlic, ginger, cumin, turmeric, cloves, pepper, and cinnamon – a combination which is extremely hot, spicy, and flavorful – that is stuffed into cow/ox intestine casings. These are enjoyed either with the local Goan bread (pão), or pearl onions, or both. They are also used in a rice-based dish called pulão.  Goan chouriço is so must be cooked before eating.

Three kinds of chouriço are found in Goa: dry, wet, and skin. Dry chouriço is aged in the sun for long periods (three months or more). Wet chouriço has been aged for about a month. Skin chouriço, also aged, is rare and difficult to find. It consists primarily of pork skin and some fat. All three chouriço are made in variations such as hot, medium, and mild. Other variations exist, depending on the size of the links, which range from 1 in (smallest) to 6 in. Typically, the wet varieties tend to be longer than the dry ones.

In Louisiana, Creole and Cajun cuisine both feature a variant of chorizo called chaurice, which is frequently used in the quintessential Creole dish of red beans and rice.  This dish undoubtedly derives from the time when Louisiana was part of the Florida territory in the Spanish empire.

So there you have it. I’m sure you can find one of these kinds of sausage locally. Make a Spanish or Portuguese dish — your choice.

Jun 252015


On this date in 1975 Mozambique gained independence from Portugal, becoming the People’s Republic of Mozambique shortly thereafter. After only two years of independence, the country descended into an intense and protracted civil war lasting from 1977 to 1992. In 1994, Mozambique held its first multiparty elections and has remained a relatively stable presidential republic since.

Between the 1st and 5th centuries, Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from farther north and west. Swahili, and later also Arab, commercial ports existed along the coasts until the arrival of Europeans. The area was explored by Vasco da Gama in 1498 and colonized by Portugal from 1505.  At first Portuguese colonists settled the coastal areas, but eventually pushed inland.  Arab traders into the 19th century used Mozambique as a source of slaves.


As communist and anti-colonial ideologies spread out across Africa in the 1960s, many clandestine political movements were established in support of Mozambican independence. These movements claimed that since policies and development plans were primarily designed by the ruling authorities for the benefit of Mozambique’s Portuguese population, little attention was paid to Mozambique’s tribal integration and the development of its native communities. This affected a majority of the indigenous population who suffered both state-sponsored discrimination and enormous social pressure. Many felt they had received too little opportunity or resources to upgrade their skills and improve their economic and social situation to a degree comparable to that of the Europeans. Statistically, Mozambique’s Portuguese whites were wealthier and more skilled than the black indigenous majority. As a response to the guerrilla movement, the Portuguese government from the 1960s and principally the early 1970s, initiated gradual changes with new socioeconomic developments and egalitarian policies for all.


The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) initiated a guerrilla campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964. This conflict – along with the two others already initiated in the other Portuguese colonies of Angola and Portuguese Guinea – became part of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974). From a military standpoint, the Portuguese regular army maintained control of the population centers while the guerrilla forces sought to undermine their influence in rural and tribal areas in the north and west. As part of their response to FRELIMO, the Portuguese government began to pay more attention to creating favorable conditions for social development and economic growth.


After 10 years of sporadic warfare and Portugal’s return to democracy through a leftist military coup in Lisbon, which replaced Portugal’s Estado Novo regime for a military junta (the Carnation Revolution of April 1974), FRELIMO took control of the territory. Within a year, most of the 250,000 Portuguese in Mozambique had left – some expelled by the government of the nearly independent territory, some fleeing in fear – and Mozambique became independent from Portugal. In an act of vengeance, a law had been passed by the then relatively unknown Armando Guebuza in the FRELIMO party ordering the Portuguese to leave the country in 24 hours with only 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of luggage. Unable to salvage any of their assets, most of them returned to Portugal penniless.


Starting shortly after the independence, the country was plagued from 1977 to 1992 by a long and violent civil war between the opposition forces of anti-Communist Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) rebel militias and the FRELIMO regime. This conflict, combined with sabotage from the neighboring white-ruled state of Rhodesia and the apartheid regime of South Africa, ineffective policies, failed central planning, and the resulting economic collapse, characterised the first decades of Mozambican independence. This period was also marked by the exodus of Portuguese nationals and Mozambicans of Portuguese heritage, a collapsed infrastructure, lack of investment in productive assets, and government nationalization of privately owned industries as well as widespread famine.

Mozambique held elections in 1994, which were accepted by most parties as free and fair while still contested by many nationals and observers alike. FRELIMO won, under Joaquim Chissano, while RENAMO, led by Afonso Dhlakama, ran as the official opposition. In 1995, Mozambique joined the Commonwealth of Nations, becoming, at the time, the only member nation that had never been part of the British Empire.

By mid-1995, over 1.7 million refugees who had sought asylum in neighboring countries had returned to Mozambique, part of the largest repatriation witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa. An additional four million internally displaced persons had returned to their homes. In December 1999, Mozambique held elections for a second time since the civil war, which were again won by FRELIMO. RENAMO accused FRELIMO of fraud, and threatened to return to civil war, but backed down after taking the matter to the Supreme Court and losing.

Since then, due largely to sweeping economic reforms Mozambique has stabilized. The resettlement of civil war refugees and successful economic reform have led to a high growth rate: the country enjoyed a remarkable recovery, achieving an average annual rate of economic growth of 8% between 1996 and 2006 and between 6%–7% from 2006 to 2011. The devastating floods of early 2000 slowed GDP growth to 2.1% but a full recovery was achieved in 2001 with growth of 14.8%. Rapid expansion hinged on several major foreign investment projects, continued economic reform, and the revival of the agriculture, transportation, and tourism sectors. In 2013 about 80% of the population was employed in agriculture, the majority of whom were engaged in small-scale subsistence farming. This still suffers from inadequate infrastructure, commercial networks, and investment, but is turning around.

From a cook’s perspective one of Mozambique’s most important agricultural products is the piri-piri pepper, aka African bird’s eye chile, an essential ingredient in many African and Portuguese dishes. Piri piri is Swahili for ‘pepper pepper.’ Other English language spellings may include pili pili in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or peri peri in Malawi, deriving from the various pronunciations of the word in parts of Bantu languages-speaking Africa. Piri-piri is the spelling of the name as used in the Portuguese language, as in the Portuguese-speaking Mozambican community.


Plants are usually very bushy and grow in height to 45–120 centimeters, with leaves 4–7 cm long and 1.3–1.5 cm wide. The fruits are generally tapered to a blunt point and measure up to 8 or 10 centimeters long. Immature pod color is green, mature color is bright red or purple. Some varieties measure up to 175,000 Scoville heat units, that is, fiercely hot. I’ve grown piri-piri in pots on the deck of my house in the New York Catskills with great success. Seeds are readily available online, and can be started indoors in temperate climates and then transplanted outdoors when frosts are over and night time temperatures do not drop too low.


Commercial piri-piri sauces are also easily found. I always had a bottle on hand in Buenos Aires, although I had to mail order it because Argentinos hate even the mild heat of black pepper. I have not found it in China yet, but there is scarcely any need given the penchant for mouth-searing dishes in my current home in Yunnan province.

Use piri-piri, either as a plain pepper or as a bottled sauce in any dish that you want to kick up a bit. It makes an excellent marinade mixed with fresh lemon juice for barbecued chicken or shrimp. If your taste buds lean to the hot side, have at it !!

Jun 012015


Azores Day (Dia dos Acores) is a regional holiday to commemorate Azorean political autonomy established in the Portuguese constitution, following the Carnation Revolution – a military coup in Lisbon on 25 April 1974 which overthrew the regime of the Estado Novo. The original context of Azores Day has changed from a commemoration of a “Day of Autonomy” to one based on the celebration of the political, religious, traditional, and historic context of the Azores within Portugal. Political quarrels between the Azores and the national government are usually highlighted during these celebrations, with political commentaries made by the President of the Regional Government. The day is also associated with the distinctively Azorean Catholic cult of the Holy Spirit.


The islands were known in the fourteenth century and parts of them can be seen, for example, in the Atlas Catalan. In 1427, one of the captains sailing for Henry the Navigator, possibly Gonçalo Velho, rediscovered the Azores, but this is not certain. In Thomas Ashe’s 1813 work, “A History of the Azores”, the author identified a Fleming, Joshua Vander Berg of Bruges, who made landfall in the archipelago during a storm on his way to Lisbon. He stated that the Portuguese explored the area and claimed it for Portugal shortly after. Other stories note the discovery of the first islands (São Miguel Island, Santa Maria Island and Terceira Island) were made by sailors in the service of Henry the Navigator, although there are few written documents to support the claims.

Although it is commonly said that the archipelago received its name from the goshawk (Açor in Portuguese), a common bird at the time of discovery, it is unlikely that the bird nested or hunted in the islands.


At some point, following the discovery of Santa Maria, sheep were let loose on the island before settlement actually took place. This was done to supply the future settlers with food because there were no large animals on the island. Settlement did not take place right away, however. There was not much interest among the Portuguese people in an isolated archipelago hundreds of miles from civilization. However, Cabral patiently gathered resources and settlers for the next three years (1433–1436) and sailed to establish colonies on Santa Maria first and then São Miguel next. Settlers cleared bush and rocks to plant crops—grain, grape vines, sugar cane, and other plants suitable for local use and of commercial value. They brought domesticated animals, such as chickens, rabbits, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs, built houses and established villages.

The archipelago was settled over the centuries largely from mainland Portugal. Portuguese settlers came from the provinces of Algarve, Minho, Alentejo and Ribatejo as well as Madeira. São Miguel was first settled in 1444, the settlers – mainly from the Estremadura, Alto Alentejo and Algarve areas of continental Portugal, under the command of Gonçalo Velho Cabral – landing at the site of modern-day Povoação. In 1522 Vila Franca do Campo, then the capital of the island, was devastated by a landslide caused by an earthquake that killed about 5,000 people, so the capital was moved to Ponta Delgada. The town of Vila Franca do Campo was rebuilt on the original site and today is a thriving fishing and yachting port. Ponta Delgada received its city status in 1546. Once settled, the pioneers applied themselves to agriculture. By the 15th century Graciosa exported wheat, barley, wine and brandy. The goods were sent to Terceira largely because of the proximity of the island.


During the 18th and 19th centuries, Graciosa was host to many prominent figures, including Chateaubriand, the French writer who passed through upon his escape to America during the French revolution; Almeida Garrett, the Portuguese poet who visited an uncle and wrote some poetry while there; and Prince Albert of Monaco, the 19th century oceanographer who led several expeditions in the waters of the Azores. He arrived on his yacht “Hirondelle”, and visited the “furna da caldeira”, the noted hot springs grotto. Mark Twain described his time in the Azores in The Innocents Abroad (1869).


Azoreans have developed their own distinct regional identity and cultural traits, from a combination of continental Portuguese customs brought by various waves of immigration and local political and environmental factors. Religious festivals, patron saints and traditional holidays dot the Azorean calendar. The most important religious events are tied with the festivals associated with the Cult of the Holy Spirit, commonly referred to as the festivals of the Holy Spirit (or Espírito Santo), rooted in millenarian dogma and held on all islands from May to September. These festivals are very important to the Azorean people, who are primarily Roman Catholic, and combine religious rituals with processions celebrating the benevolence and egalitarianism of neighbors. These events are centered on treatros or impérios, small buildings that host the meals, adoration and charity of the participants, and used to store the artifacts associated with the events. On Terceira, for example, these impérios have grown into ornate buildings painted and cared for by the local brotherhoods in their respective parishes. The events focus on the members of local parishes, not tourists, but all are welcome, as sharing is one of the main principles of the festivals.


Another event, the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres (Lord Holy Christ of Miracles) in Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel, is the largest individual religious event in the Azores, and takes place on the fifth Sunday after Easter. Pilgrims from within the Portuguese diaspora normally travel to Ponta Delgada to participate in an afternoon procession behind the image of Christ along the flower-decorated streets of the city. Although the solemn procession is only held on one day, the events of the Festival of Senhor Santo Cristo occur over a period of a week and involve a ritual of moving the image between the main church and convent nightly, ultimately culminating in the procession, which is televised within the Azores and to the Portuguese diaspora. The Sanjoaninas Festivities in Angra do Heroísmo on Terceira are held in June honoring S. Antonio, S. Pedro and S. João, in a large religious celebration.

Ecce Homo celebrations

The festival of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes, (Our Lady of Lourdes), patron saint of whalers, begins in Lajes on Pico on the last Sunday of August and runs through the week—Whalers Week. It is marked by social and cultural events connected to the tradition of whale hunting. The Festa das Vindimas, (Wine Harvest Festival), takes place during the first week of September and is a century-old custom of the people of Pico.


On Corvo the people celebrate their patron saint Nossa Senhora dos Milagres (Our Lady of Miracles) on 15 August every year in addition to the festivals of the Divine Holy Spirit. The Festival da Maré de Agosto (August Sea Festival), takes place every year beginning on 15 August in Praia Formosa on Santa Maria. Also, the Semana do Mar (Sea Week), dedicated almost exclusively to water sports, takes place in August in the city of Horta, on Faial.


Carnaval is also celebrated in the Azores. Parades and pageants are the heart of the Carnaval festivities. There is lively music, colorful costumes, hand-made masks, and floats. Traditional bullfights occur as well as the running of bulls in the streets.

Naturally, feasting featuring local dishes is an important component of these celebrations. Azorean cuisine is obviously derived from traditional Portuguese food, but with variations that have evolved over time. Fish is, of course, a major element. But the Azores are also noted for dairy for cheese and butter, and local beef is a staple. Pork is also popular. Here’s a local recipe for a hearty fennel soup, originally from Portugal but with typical Azorean rustic hints. Linguiça is a Portuguese sausage that you can often find in good supermarkets, or online.


Fennel Soup


1 ½ cups dried white kidney beans
1 lb pig’s knuckle
2 fennel bulbs with green leaves, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp ground cloves
black pepper
3 Savoy cabbage leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large new potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 tbsp olive oil
½ lb linguiça, cut into ⅛-in rounds


Soak the beans overnight.

Rub the meat with 2 tablespoons of kosher coarse salt and chill overnight.

Put the pig’s knuckles and beans in a large, heavy pot and cover with water or light stock. Simmer until the meat and beans are tender (about an hour, or more).

Add the onion, garlic, bay leaf, cloves, and freshly ground black pepper to taste to the pot. Simmer 5 minutes, then add the fennel, cabbage, potatoes, scallions, olive oil, and sausage. Return the soup to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer until the potatoes are cooked, about 20 minutes.

Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread.

Oct 132014


The Miracle of the Sun (O Milagre do Sol) was an event which occurred just after midday on Sunday 13 October 1917, attended by some 30,000 to 100,000 people who were gathered near Fátima in Portugal. Several newspaper reporters were in attendance and they took testimony from many people who claimed to have witnessed extraordinary solar activity. This recorded testimony was later added to by an Italian Catholic priest and researcher in the 1940s.

The event was officially accepted as a miracle by the Roman Catholic Church on 13 October 1930. On 13 October 1951, the papal legate, Cardinal Tedeschini, told the million people gathered at Fátima that on 30 October, 31 October, 1 November, and 8 November 1950, Pope Pius XII himself witnessed the miracle of the sun from the Vatican gardens.


The people had gathered because three young shepherd children (Lucia dos Santos, Jacinta Marto and Francisco Marto) who originally claimed to have seen Our Lady of Fátima also reported seeing a panorama of visions, including those of Jesus, Our Lady of Sorrows, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, and of Saint Joseph blessing the people, had predicted that at high noon the “lady” who had appeared to them several times would perform a great miracle in a field near Fátima called Cova da Iria.


According to many witnesses, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and “the sun” appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the shadows on the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The sun was then reported to have careened towards the earth in a zigzag pattern, frightening those who thought it a sign of the end of the world. Witnesses reported that their previously wet clothes became “suddenly and completely dry, as well as the wet and muddy ground that had been previously soaked because of the rain that had been falling.” Estimates of the number of people present range from between 30,000 to 40,000 by Avelino de Almeida, writing for the Portuguese newspaper O Século, to 100,000, estimated by Dr. Joseph Garrett, professor of natural sciences at the University of Coimbra, both of whom were present on that day.

The event was attributed by believers to Our Lady of Fátima, who purportedly had appeared to the children on 13 July 1917, 19 August, and 13 September. The children stated that the Lady had promised them that she would on 13 October reveal her identity to them and provide a miracle “so that all may believe.”


The most widely cited descriptions of the events reported at Fatima are taken from the writings of John De Marchi, an Italian Catholic priest and researcher. De Marchi spent seven years in Fátima, from 1943 to 1950, conducting original research and interviewing the principals at length. In The Immaculate Heart, published in 1952, De Marchi reports that, “their ranks [those present on 13 October] included believers and non-believers, pious old ladies and scoffing young men. Hundreds, from these mixed categories, have given formal testimony. Reports do vary; impressions are in minor details confused, but none to our knowledge has directly denied the visible prodigy of the sun.”


Some of the witness statements follow below. They are taken from De Marchi’s published works:

 Before the astonished eyes of the crowd, whose aspect was biblical as they stood bare-headed, eagerly searching the sky, the sun trembled, made sudden incredible movements outside all cosmic laws — the sun ‘danced’ according to the typical expression of the people.” ― Avelino de Almeida, writing for O Século

O Século was Portugal’s most widely circulated and influential newspaper. It was pro-government and anti-clerical at the time. Almeida’s previous articles had satirized earlier reported events at Fátima.


The sun, at one moment surrounded with scarlet flame, at another aureoled in yellow and deep purple, seemed to be in an exceedingly swift and whirling movement, at times appearing to be loosened from the sky and to be approaching the earth, strongly radiating heat.” ― Dr. Domingos Pinto Coelho, writing for the newspaper Ordem.

The silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy grey light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds… The light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands… people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.” ― Reporter for the Lisbon newspaper O Dia.

The sun’s disc did not remain immobile. This was not the sparkling of a heavenly body, for it spun round on itself in a mad whirl, when suddenly a clamor was heard from all the people. The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible.” — Dr. Almeida Garrett, Professor of Natural Sciences at Coimbra University.

As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve vertiginously on its axis, like the most magnificent firewheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multicolored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This sublime and incomparable spectacle, which was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees.” ― Dr. Manuel Formigão, a professor at the seminary at Santarém, and a priest. He had attended the September visitation, and examined and questioned the children in detail several times.

I feel incapable of describing what I saw. I looked fixedly at the sun, which seemed pale and did not hurt my eyes. Looking like a ball of snow, revolving on itself, it suddenly seemed to come down in a zig-zag, menacing the earth. Terrified, I ran and hid myself among the people, who were weeping and expecting the end of the world at any moment.” — Rev. Joaquim Lourenço, describing his boyhood experience in Alburitel, eighteen kilometers from Fatima.

On that day of October 13, 1917, without remembering the predictions of the children, I was enchanted by a remarkable spectacle in the sky of a kind I had never seen before. I saw it from this veranda…” — Portuguese poet Afonso Lopes Vieira.

According to De Marchi, “Engineers that have studied the case reckoned that an incredible amount of energy would have been necessary to dry up those pools of water that had formed on the field in a few minutes as it was reported by witnesses.”[6]

Joe Nickell notes: “Not surprisingly, perhaps, Sun Miracles have been reported at other Marian sites—at Lubbock, Texas, in 1989; Mother Cabrini Shrine near Denver, Colorado, in 1992; Conyers, Georgia, in the early to mid-1990s.” Nickell also suggests that the dancing effects witnessed at Fátima may have been due to optical effects resulting from temporary retinal distortion caused by staring at such an intense light.

Auguste Meessen, following the work done before him by the Belgian skeptic Marc Hallet, has stated sun miracles cannot be taken at face value and that the reported observations were optical effects caused by prolonged staring at the sun. Meessen contends that retinal after-images produced after brief periods of sun gazing are a likely cause of the observed dancing effects. Similarly Meessen states that the color changes witnessed were most likely caused by the bleaching of photosensitive retinal cells.Meessen observes that Sun Miracles have been witnessed in many places where religiously charged pilgrims have been encouraged to stare at the sun. He cites the apparitions at Heroldsbach, Germany (1949) as an example, where many people within a crowd of over 10,000 testified to witnessing similar observations as at Fátima. Meessen also cites a British Journal of Ophthalmology article that discusses some modern examples of Sun Miracles. While Meessen suggests possible psychological or neurological explanations for the apparitions he notes, “It is impossible to provide any direct evidence for or against the supernatural origin of apparitions.” He also notes that “[t]here may be some exceptions, but in general, the seers are honestly experiencing what they report.”

De Marchi claims that the prediction of an unspecified “miracle”, the abrupt beginning and end of the alleged miracle of the sun, the varied religious backgrounds of the observers, the sheer numbers of people present, and the lack of any known scientific causative factor make a mass hallucination unlikely. That the activity of the sun was reported as visible by those up to 18 kilometers (11 mi) away, also precludes the theory of a collective hallucination or mass hysteria.

Despite these assertions, not all witnesses reported seeing the sun “dance”. Some people only saw the radiant colors. Others, including some believers, saw nothing at all. No scientific accounts exist of any unusual solar or astronomic activity during the time the sun was reported to have “danced”, and there are no witness reports of any unusual solar phenomenon further than 64 kilometers (40 mi) out from Cova da Iria.

Pio Scatizzi, Society of Jesus, described the events of that day on Fátima, and he concluded:

The … solar phenomena were not observed in any observatory. Impossible that they should escape notice of so many astronomers and indeed the other inhabitants of the hemisphere… there is no question of an astronomical or meteorological event phenomenon… Either all the observers in Fátima were collectively deceived and erred in their testimony, or we must suppose an extra-natural intervention.

Joe Nickell, a skeptic and investigator of paranormal phenomena, claimed that the position of the phenomenon, as described by the various witnesses, is at the wrong azimuth and elevation to have been the sun. He suggested the cause may have been a sundog. Sometimes referred to as a parhelion or “mock sun”, a sundog is a relatively common atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with the reflection / refraction of sunlight by the numerous small ice crystals that make up cirrus clouds or cirrostratus clouds.

Stanley L. Jaki, a professor of physics at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, a Benedictine priest, and the author of a number of books dealing with the intersection of science and faith, suggested that the event was natural and meteorological in nature, but the fact that the event occurred at the exact time predicted was indeed a miracle.

To celebrate the day I suggest you make cozido à portuguesa. Portuguese cozido has its origins in the Beira but is loved all over Portugal. It is a rich stew that usually includes shin of beef, pork, and Portuguese smoked (or blood) sausages (morcela, farinheira and chouriço) and in some regions chicken, served with cabbage, carrots, turnips, rice, potatoes, and greens. As such it is much like the French pot-au-feu or Italian bollito misto. The important thing is to use bone in stewing beef to enrich the broth.

Here is one of my generalized recipes without quantities and with general suggestions for ingredients. Once again this is cook’s choice. Make sure you have some kind of stewing beef, pork, and sausage (preferably Portuguese).  Sometimes a slab of bacon is added in place of the pork.


Cozido à portuguesa

In a large, heavy soup pot place about 2lbs/1 kilo of bone-in stewing beef and ½ lb/225g of pork. Cover with water or light beef stock. Bring slowly to a simmer, skimming scum and froth as it rises. Cover and simmer for about 2 hours. Add 1lb/450g each of potatoes, carrots, and turnips cut in large chunks plus a white cabbage quartered. You may peel the root vegetables if you wish or simply scrub them well and remove tops and tails (the way I do it). Bring the pot back to a rolling simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove about 2 pints/1liter of broth and heat it in a separate pot. Add 1lb/250g rice and cook until tender. Then add your choice of Portuguese sausages such as linguiça, chouriço, or morcela (blood sausage) to the meat and vegetables. If you cannot find Portuguese versions, any good smoked sausage will do. Cook gently for around another 20 minutes or until the vegetables are well cooked.

To serve, strain the meat and vegetables. Return the broth to the pot and keep hot. Bone the meat and shred it. Serve it on a heated platter with the vegetables, and serve the rice in a large bowl. Pour the broth into warmed soup bowls, one per diner.