The name Portugal is said to derive from the Roman for Port of Cale, a settlement found at the mouth of the Douro River, where the modern city of Porto now stands. Originally used to describe a portion of what we now know to be continental Europe’s most westerly country,
Portugal has lived under the rule of a variety of invading cultures since its conception. Even today, traces of these periods are alive in modern Portugal in, for example, its Architecture,Cuisine and Language.
Portuguese Gastronomy origins
"With such a large coastline, it‘s should not come as any surprise that the sea has always been one of the main source of food in Portuguese cuisine. Although not much is known about early culinary habits, archaeological evidence does show that by the end of the Palaeolithic period, about 7000BC the valley of the Tagus River was populated by hunter/gatherer/fishing tribes. The remains of shellfish and crustaceans, as well as the bones of oxen, deer, sheep, horses and pigs have been excavated from this period.
By 3000 BC Neolithic people had begun to practice agriculture and were practised in the use of polished stone tools and ceramics however it was the arrival and settlement of Celtic peoples by 600 BC which was to have a more profound culinary influence - more so even than it’s Spanish neighbour. The peoples occupying Portugal ( Gallics and Celtiberians) took advantage of the fine pasture-land, both for raising livestock and farming although wild game, shellfish and honey formed the basis of their diet. They also gathered nuts, in particular chestnuts, which they roasted and made into bread.
The arrival of the Romans had an effect on the dietary habits in this area. By the 2nd Century AD their building of new roads meant that food could be transported more easily, thus introducing new ingredients such as wheat to the different parts of the country. It is thought they also introduced olives (therefore olive oil), onions and garlic - three ingredients which are indispensable in Portuguese cuisine.
The Arabs who occupied the southern parts of Portugal from the early 8th Century AD also had a huge effect on Portuguese cooking, not only in the types of foods grown and eaten, but also on the preparation of foods. They introduced new irrigation methods which turned otherwise barren areas into agricultural land enabling fresh and new produce (such as almond trees, figs and citrus) to be grown. They also introduced new ingredients such as rice and spices and at least one cooking technique which still features in Southern Portuguese cuisine today, namely the Cataplana.
By the early 15th century, Portugal's sea-faring explorers were to add another dimension to the cuisine. The expansion of their empire lead to them introducing spices such as coriander, saffron and ginger to Europe, as well as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and many other ingredients from The New World. Further driven by the desire to find exotic spices, it was a Portuguese, Vaco da Gama who discovered the sea route to India and the far east. It was also around this time that what many think of as being the national ingredient of Portugal, came into popularity - the salted cod - Bacalhau".
Madeira was discovered by two captains of Henry the Navigator of Portugal at some time between 1418 and 1420. They were João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira. In 1419 the two fleets of the captains were driven by a storm to the island they named Porto Santo. They gave this name (meaning Holy Harbour) in gratitude for their rescue from shipwreck. The next year an expedition was sent to populate the island and the two captains, together with Captain Bartolomeu Perestrello, took possession of the islands on behalf of the Portuguese crown. The name Madeira means "wood" in the Portuguese language and the archipelago was named after its large forests and dense vegetation.
To populate the islands the three captain-majors brought their families, a small group of people of the minor nobility, a group of people of modest conditions and some old prisoners of the kingdom. To gain the minimum conditions for the development of agriculture they had to rough-hew a part of the dense forest of laurisilva and to construct a large number of canals (levadas), since in some parts of the island there was water in excess while in other parts it was scarce. In the earliest times, fish constituted about half of the settlers' diet, together with vegetables and fruit. The first local agricultural activity with some success was the raising of wheat. Initially, the colonists produced wheat for their own sustenance, but later began to export wheat to Portugal.
Later, King Henry decided to order the planting of sugarcane (rare in Europe) and the introduction of Sicilian beets. Sugarcane production became a leading factor in the island's economy and increased the demand for labour.
However, Madeira's most important product has been its wine, Madeira wine was perhaps the most popular luxury beverage in the colonial Western Hemisphere during the 17th and 18th centuries. Nowadays, not only the wine, but tropical fruits, coffee and fish are also very much appreciated and exported worldwide.
Unfortunately our research on the history of the Azores gastronomy hasn't produced many results. If you have any useful information around the subject, please share it with us. We will reward you with lovely cakes!!!! Thank you.