The Spanish Royal Palace Kitchen

The Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain

It was just weeks before COVID stopped the world in its tracks. As I walked up to the grand white facade of the Royal Palace in Madrid, Spain, I noticed a sign: “Kitchen Tours. For a lover of food history and traveller, that promised to be a day made in heaven. And it was.

The Royal Palace was built in 1740 and while it was the official residence for royals for many centuries, now it is used mainly for official functions. It is grand, 135,000 square feet grand. 3, 418 rooms grand. It is the largest functioning royal palace in all of Europe.

Imagine visiting the kitchen that prepared the food for those who lived in a palace this grand. Such an experience comes once in a lifetime.

After clearing security, our small group of kitchen enthusiasts followed the leader across an empty courtyard, through long corridors and down stairs into the bowels of the palace. The longer we walked, the more the excitement mounted. But nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. The rooms were windowless, but with high dramatic ceilings giving a feeling of space. We walked from room to room, and learned of the functions of each room. Long wooden work tables displayed enormous platters and tools for preparing the food. The copper flashed it’s beauty everywhere.

The areas of the kitchen included: a Bakehouse, Cellar (containing beverages, and water from the Fuente del Berro fountain), a fruitery, confectionary, chandlery, woodyard, Ramilette (for tableware, hot beverages, refreshments,) pastry, saucery, guardamangier (larder for meats), and a potagerie (vegetables). There was a King’s kitchen, Ladies kitchen and a household kitchen. Over the years many kitchen areas changed function, but what amazed the visitors is how many kitchenware pieces remain in place as though they had been used yesterday. The oven and charcoal roasting grill were added to the kitchen in 1877 during the reign of King Alfonso X11, to prepare his favorite roast beef dinners.

It is said that there was very little waste of palace food as privileged people ate what the royals didn’t eat. That would be a story in itself. After visiting the kitchen I toured the palace rooms. The rooms open to the public remain authentically furnished, giving us a peek at how the Spanish royalty lived. There were endless rooms with walls lined in brocades, furnished with ornate furniture. An Oriental themed room had walls of silk and many exotic furnishing. Each room was opulent beyond one’s imagination.

The state dining room of the Royal Palace

The state dining room, however took my breath away. But what food went on that table, I wanted to know. I have searched for menus, and descriptions of banquets in vain. That information has so far remained elusive in my research.

There were clues as to what the royal families ate if you looked at the cookware in the kitchens. One could envision enormous platters holding many kinds of meat, fish, and vegetables. Desserts were delicate cakes, pastries and puddings turned out of the copper and glass moulds. Chocolate and ice creams confectionaries were made to please the aristocratic audiences that dined in that grand dining room.

And we can only wonder how many kitchen workers toiled over the hot ovens to turn out the daily meals and impressive banquets.

But we (the common folk) can only imagine the grandeur of palace dining. It was a privilege to have a glimpse into the kitchens of the culinary world of the Royalty of Spain.

La Grand Ferme – French Canadian Food History

On the shores of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, is a precious piece of land, and one that tells a story of farming culture three hundred and fifty years ago.

When the French first arrived to settle this part of New France, this area was wilderness. Francios LeVal bought a large piece of land in 1667 to establish a farm to feed those living at the seminary in Quebec City, further west up the river. This became La Grande Ferme.

Today La Grande Ferme is a historic site that shares the story of how this land was farmed in this part of La Nouvelle France.

A large manor home, now a museum and eatery remains to tell the story, through displays of archeological finds that give us a look and taste of the past.  Foundations of the original buildings remain on the property.

The large manor home housed and fed the men and women who worked on the farm.  One cook fed the workers and it is hard to imagine how hard she must have worked. The original home was burnt down by invading British in 1759, but rebuilt in 1866.  Many of the farm workers were unruly youth and two teachers were said to work at the farm to provide an education for the younger workers. Produce from the farm was taken by boat up the St. Lawrence River and then by cart to the seminary in Quebec city.

Should you be living at the seminary, you were served the best food that could be offered at the time.  Meats, fish and foul were served to the clergy, and a wide variety of vegetables were available. Residents of the seminary enjoyed the farm life and came to La Grand Ferme for a rest. The lower class workers ate more hearty, simple fare of soups and stews. Bread made up the largest part of their diet and they used their bread as a plate to hold their food.

A image from a film in the display at La Grand Ferme

Food eaten at that time included trout, Canada Goose, poultry, beef, pork and pigeon.  Vegetables grown on the farm included beets, leeks, peas, carrots, cabbage, cucumber, lettuce and many onions. Onions were so popular at the time that many men ate up to 400 onions a years. Bread and onions were enjoyed together. They were reported to have the strong odour of onion on their breath at all times. Potatoes were not eaten in early times but became more popular in the nineteenth century.  

Passenger pigeon was popular on the table. They were so plentiful at that time that there are descriptions stating that you could point a gun to the sky and without looking, shoot, and a pigeon would fall to the ground. Of course, they were over hunted and are now extinct. Pigeon tasted similar to chicken but with a varied flavour depending on the what the birds fed on, often corn and nuts.  Pigeon was a popular dish in many places during this period in history and they were served in pies, stews and soups as well as roasted. Many recipes can be found in early Canadian cookery books using pigeon.

Pigeons hunted for food are now extinct.

During the time the British held power they introduced to the French the practice of feeding root crops to the cows increasing their productivity of milk. The making of dairy products increased during that time.  

The museum at La Grand Ferme demonstrates a bit of what life was like during those early days in New France. My visit was made during the Covid virus when normal activities were limited. Costumed interpretive staff  were available pre-covid to tell visitors of life in the 1700’s but the excellent displays tell the story well.  An French /English speaking guide was available and spoke with passion about the history of La Grand Ferme. The  restaurant on the premises normally serves French Canadian specialties, but during the pandemic, only take out items and local crafts are sold.

The menu for the restaurant temporarily closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

A special time in Canada’s French Canadian food history is preserved in La Grande Ferme. The following recipe was displayed in the museum housed in the manor house.

Potato Pudding in 1861

  • Boil potatoes to make ½ lb. of puree.
  • Add 2 oz. of butter, 2 eggs, a ¼ pint of milk, 3 tbsp. of sherry vinegar, juice of one lemon, 2 oz.of sugar.
  • Add the zest of 1 lemon and mix all ingredients together.
  • Put the pudding on a buttered pie dish.
  • Put in oven for a little over a half an hour

An illustration of the original manor house.

For more information

Queimada – Spanish Fire Drink

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Puerto de Avila, Spain

It was dark and I was aware that there was a witchy type of person at the front of the room who was making frightening cackling sounds. I have said frequently in my blog posts that I can never anticipate where I will come across a food history experience and this experience was to be a perfect example. I was volunteering to be an English conversational coach at a language school in Spain, just prior to the life changing Coronavirus taking charge. We were in a small, old stone building in the countryside by our historic hotel.

Our group of 19 Spaniards and 19 international Anglo volunteers were about to experience the traditional ritual of sharing Queimada- the Drink of Blue Fire.

This ancient tradition is known to have originated in the far northwest corner of Spain, an area known as Galicia. This area was settled by the Celts who were known to believe in witches, (meigas), magic and evil spirits. They practiced the ritual of serving Queimada to ward off evil spirits. Unfortunately, as we learned one short week after the experience, it does not ward off evil viruses from the world.

IMG_3113This drink was traditionally mixed in a clay pot that is glazed inside and has a set of small clay cups for serving. It was also made in carved out pumpkins in the past. The mixture is put in the pot and lit on fire, creating a blue flame. A Spell, known as Conxuro is recited while the drink burns and the flame is put out before the drink is served.

Our witch was Carlota Romero who was the Master of Ceremonies at our language school. She is a skilled actress, language teacher, public speaking coach and one of the most energetic, dynamic people I have ever met. But she seemed too sincere to be acting.

Bit by bit she added ingredients while reading the chant. Or at least ingredients to represent the creatures in the spell.


Baby Eagles, owls, toads and witches

Demons, goblins and devils, spirits of the snowy valleys.

Crows, salamanders and witches, quack spell

Hollow and rotten seeds, caves of worms and reptiles.

Fire of the pitiful souls, hexes, black magic, odour of the dead,

Thunder and lightening.

Barking of the dogs, proclamation of death; snout of the satyr and rabbit’s foot.  

Sharp tongue of the bad women married to old men.

Hell of Satan and Beelzebub, fire of burning corpses,

Mutilated bodies of the wretched, farts from eternal asses,

Roars from the stormy sea. 

Useless wombs of unmarried women, the sound of cats in heat, piles of dirty hair from deformed goats.

With this ladle I will raise the flames of this fire which seem like those of hell,

And the Witches will take the sky on their brooms, going to bathe on the beach of the Fat Sands.  

Hear,Hear! The howls of those blasphemous witches who, upon drinking the grain alcohol for self-purification, cannot help but bar the burning in their innards.

And when this brew goes down our throats, we will be free from the evil in our souls, And from witchcraft.

Forces of the air, land, sea and fire to you I call: it is true that you have more power than that of

Human beings and you are here and now, bring the spirits of absent friends here with us to join us in this “Queimada”.  

During the chanting of the spell, she made frightening sounds and added orange peel to represent cats and crying babies.  Coffee beans were insects and goat’s hair,  the hair from a surprised onlooker, mixing it all in. In the dark, it was difficult to believe it wasn’t all real.

She lit the mixture on fire and skillfully ladled it into the air above her, chanting the spell.

The incantation had worked it’s magic as we all sat spellbound in the dark and when the lights came on, and the mixture was served in the small clay cups, we could only drink it and hoped that we lived. And we all lived.


The sharing of Queimada has become a tradition still practiced at family gatherings and social events in Spain. Here is one interpretations of the recipe.

Queimada – The Galician Drink of Blue Fire

This drink should be mixed on a flame proof surface.

  • 1 liter of ORUJO ( a Spanish liqueur made of the skins and pits of grapes)
  • 2/3 cup of granulated sugar
  • rind of 1 lemon cut into strips – orange slices can be added as well.
  • 1/3 cup of coffee beans


  • Dissolve the sugar and 4 tbsp. of ORUJO to a glass.
  • Pour the rest of the ingredients into the clay pot.
  • Pour the mixture from the glass into a ladle and light on fire.
  • Move the ladle slowly toward the pot until the entire drink is on fire.
  • Stir frequently until flames turn blue or lift ladle for more drama
  • Put a lid on the pot to stop flame.
  • Serve in small clay cups.


Enjoy a sip of Spain’s Past.


Coke Bottle Bread- A wartime treat

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It is World War 2. The mail came to the army base that day. He was fighting on the front in France and although they had their meals provided each day, it wasn’t anything like what his mother cooked on the farm at home. Jacques opened the parcel from his mother sent all the way from Canada and there were some surprises to be eaten.

“I got some Coca Cola Bread,” he shouted. The fellas surrounded him and there was obvious jealousy in the air.  He lifted up the loaf of homemade bread, a bit stale by now, but the real treat was inside. A bottle of Coca- Cola. His mother had make a large loaf of bread, cut a hole in the centre and tucked a bottle of Coca-Cola inside. That way the bottle could be sent through the mail with bread as the packing material with hopes that it was edible by the time it arrived.

(I wrote the above description as a story based on an actual fact about how coca- cola was sent during WW2. I also recreated by version of Coca Cola Bread in the photo above)

This beverage was a favorite with the troops in both the first and second World Wars. John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist, invented the drink in 1886. Originally the ingredients included the coca leaf and cola nut from Africa that was combined to make syrup to be added to carbonated water. It was sold as a alternate drink to booze in Temperance times but originally marketed as a medicine. In 1903 the small traces of cocaine found in the coca leaf were removed from the formula but the caffeine content remained high. It was popular as a wartime drink for the soldiers. They loved it.

A Coca-Cola poster shows the war time popularity of the drink.

The transport of the beverage overseas was difficult, so small factories were set up in 64 countries during World War 2 to provide the soldiers with their well loved beverage. In 1941, a declaration was made by the president of Coca- Cola, stating that all troops could purchase a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents.

Sending Food Parcels during the Civil War

In the 1860’s, during the U.S. Civil War, food was regularly sent by loved ones in packages to soldiers to supplement their often inadequate and unappetizing meals. The book Northern Ladies’ Civil War Recipes by Patricia B. Mitchell describes what some of the soldiers ate while they were away for months or years at a time. Because supplies were often delayed by bad trail conditions the soldiers existed on minimal rations. A typical diet in some areas was hard tack, salt pork, beef, beans, and coffee. At times they may have had dried vegetables, corn and cornmeal. If they could forage around in the fields they might find turnips, potatoes, chickens or honey. The parcels from family and friends often arrived damaged and at times the food was too spoiled to eat. The diets of the troops varied depending on where they were, and whom they fought for, but many soldiers faced poor nutrition. In the book, Northern Ladies’ Civil War Recipes are also a collection of letters sent about the packages received.

From that book I include an excerpt of the Civil war version of Coca- Cola bread, but rather a Rye ( Whiskey) Bread version demonstrating that this custom was not new in the later World Wars. An artist named Edwin Forbes, wrote this about Christmas at the front.

“Some of the men were fortunate enough to have received boxes from home, and their faces grew bright as they lifted out roast turkey, chickens, bread, cake and pies that friendly hands had prepared. An occasional bottle of “old rye” secreted in a turkey or loaf of bread, would give rise to much fun and expected enjoyment. The provost guard, however, seldom overlooked a bottle, and confiscated any contraband liquor; and his long experience had bred in him a sort of special sense for any such little infractions of the rule…”

It is the time of the Covid 19 virus as I write this entry. Today I delivered to the door of my friend a package including a meal, and some banana bread. She cannot leave her apartment and I thought it might cheer her up. It was a treat, but I knew that her refrigerator was full of food. Where I live, in Canada, most of us do not want for food. The grocery store shelves are stocked daily and once shoppers stop over- buying, most foods will be available. This summer our farmers will keep working, and we will bring workers from Mexico to help plant, grow and harvest our food. Trucks will bring fruit and vegetables from California.

But let’s remember those in Canada or the rest of the world in this crisis, who may be lacking food or unable to get to the store, and are relying on small packages of food delivered by charities. Food will be scarce for many.

It important to remember our history. To remember the times when food was scarce because of wars, disease, famine and during the depression.





It is April, 2020 and we are making history by living in the time of the Coronavirus.

When trying to buy eggs the other day, I was shocked to find no eggs available – in four stores. Sold out!

With Google as my Cookbook, I found a recipe to make a chocolate cake with no eggs and no butter. It turned out to be one of my best chocolate cakes yet. It was a recipe used in World War 2. And that experience has reawakened my interest in wartime and depression cooking.

Dining Out With History usually focuses on historic culinary experiences discovered while travelling.

Now, the whole world is STAYING HOME. We cannot travel. Restaurants are closed. There is some fast food take out to be had, but I am hearing that interesting and aged foods are being found in the back of cupboards. So people are clearing their shelves and cooking creative foods.

We cannot compare the adversities of life in the times of war, depression and the Spanish flu pandemic to the Coronavirus.  Each is unique and there have been different challenges for each time in history.

During the time spent with the Coronavirus, there is no indication that there will be a shortage of food, at least not in our privileged countries. But we have behaved as though there will be a shortage of food. Many people have panicked, filling their grocery carts with ridiculous amounts of food that in the end may be wasted. Hoarding food has been seen everywhere, until limits have been enforced in some stores.

Food history has many tales to tell about other times that the world has experienced adversity.


During World War 2, food was rationed in Canada, the United States and Great Britain in order to be able to send enough supplies to provide for the troops.

In the beginning there was an impressive voluntary rationing campaign undertaken to encourage people to eat differently. Using less sugar, butter and coffee were encouraged and a poster campaign put in place. In a previous post, I covered the use of canned meat known as SPAM and how it was sent overseas for the soldiers. safeguardshare.jpg.860x0_q70_crop-scale

Spam became an important food to feed the troops. Above is a modern variety still sold today.

In 1942, rationing became compulsory and food restrictions were enforced through  rationing coupon books, allowing the fair distribution of certain kinds of food.

By 1943 in Canada, a ration book allowed 250 g. sugar, 250 g. butter, 30g. tea 115 g coffee and in 1943 meat was limited to 1 kg. of meat per person, per week.  In the U.S. by 1943, there were restrictions on meat, cheese, fats, canned fish and canned milk through the use of coupons.

Canadian Ration Books from WW2

Women (and men who were not at war) had to become creative about their cooking to get the maximum amount of food using the smallest amounts of the limited ingredients.

So creative were the women of this time, that more than 200 cookbooks were published in a few short years, many by women’s church, and hospital groups and clubs. They put forth an image of women as strong and rising to the occasion to do their part – In the kitchen.

I have borrowed some virtual images of old war time recipe books from Gary Draper who has a large and  impressive collection of old Canadian recipe books.

I tried the recipe for Eggless, Butterless Cake from the Wartime Economy Cook Book put together by the Ladies Auxiliary to the Barrie Lions Club in 1942.


Eggless, butterless cake, a chewy, and not too sweet wartime cake.

Give these recipes a try and taste a bit of cake that was eaten during the war.

We are fortunate during these times of Coronavirus that we still have access to all the foods we are so used to eating; food that comes from around the world and can be taken right from the grocery store shelves without a thought. Eat healthily and thoughtfully- Lest we forget.

Wait for it. The Coke Bottle Cake in the next post. 





Terceira, Azores – History of food sharing


Top above is a photo of an Imperio chapel on Terceria and below, a pot of Alcatra 

In the previous post I described a cooking lesson I had taken on  Terceira Island to learn to make a traditional meat dish, Alcatra. I am grateful that I had this experience just a month before the COVID 19 virus changed the world. There is a history of food sharing and taking care of those in need on Terceira that is relevant for us all in this new chapter in history.

Festivals are frequent on the island of Terceira starting around Easter and continuing  throughout the summer and early fall. There is Carnival in February and March, The Holy Ghost Festival April/ May, Sanjoaninas in June and street bullfighting (on a rope) everyday somewhere on the island throughout the summer and into the fall. There seems to be endless festivities for  a small island, 30 kilometres in length and 17 kilometres in width. This is an island with an old soul and rich spirit.

A History of Sharing on Terceira

There are many versions of the traditional stories that are representative of the spirit of charity.

One tale is about Queen Isabel of Aragon who lived in 13th century Portugal.  Many people were starving and Queen Isabel would take a basket of bread and walk outside the castle walls to give the bread to the poor. The King was not tolerant of this charity and caught her leaving the castle one day. He forced her to reveal the bread to the onlookers in the court and as she reached in to bring out the bread, it turned into roses. After that the Queen was able to open the gates of the castle to feed the poor. So goes the legend. These legends are still very much a part of the folklore of  the Azores.

An important part of island culture is the Holy Ghost Festival, also called The Holy Spirit Festival, celebrated in many parts of the world by the Portuguese diaspora.

I have included descriptions of parts of the festival that are relevant to the food traditions and the custom of sharing. Farmers have historically donated beef to the festival. There is a strong tradition of caring for those in need on the Azores.

The Holy Ghost Festival starts after Easter and continues for the next eight weeks. It includes processions, the crowning of a symbolic queen or emperor and religious ceremonies in the Churches and feasts.  A Bodo is an large scale public event held at the eighty-six Imperios (small chapels) around Terceira. All are brightly painted, ornate chapels, used only during the Holy Ghost Festival.  A procession from the church ends at the Imperios and food gifts are left in front of the church. Ornate sugar confections in the shape of birds and other food goods are specially made for  this day. The food is distributed and a portion is given to those in need.

Above photos show Imperios – colourful small chapels used only during  festivals. 

The Função is a private event during the celebration that involves the preparation and sharing of a symbolic meal amongst groups of friends and family. Just as the Thanksgiving dinner in North America most often includes a turkey, the Função serves food that is traditional to this celebration. Holy Ghost Soup (sometimes called Holy Spirit Soup,) is served with bread. Although it is called a soup it is served as pieces of meat on a plate, with a broth used to soak bread cooked with mint leaves. On the island of Terceira Holy Ghost soup is also served with alcatra, a beef dish that includes onions, herbs and red wine and is cooked in a clay pot. Wine and sometimes a sweet rice dessert are added to the feast.

The sharing of food during the Holy Ghost Festival, represents a strong spirit of equality and community sharing that has existed on the islands of the Azores for many centuries and remains strong today.

Our guide for a day long food/history tour Darcio of Sea Adventures, told us of how the island of Terceira pulled together when the American government recently closed an air base on the island. He said that many people were suddenly unemployed, losing their homes and livelihood. Darcio described how the whole island pulled together and built special homes for those who had lost theirs and donated food for those who needed help.

He told me that if you make a friend on Terceira, you make a friend for life. The pride of sharing and maintaining traditional food customs are strong on Terceira.

Darcio – a very skilled guide working for Sea Adventures on Terceira explains the history of the Island. He also talked about the strong spirit of giving and taught us about the food history of Terceira.


My next posts will highlight culinary practices used during difficult times in history, lest we forget that this is not the first. Wars, the Spanish Flu and other times of adversity have rocked the world before the COVID 19, and we can learn lessons from the past.



Alcatra on Terceira

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Antonio Câmara from Pro Island Tours (pictured above with his son), picked up seven enthusiastic students from the lobby of our hotel. We were ready to learn how to cook traditional food from Terceira. He packed us all into his Land Rover and sped across the countryside of Terceira, one of the islands of the Azores.  We wondered where he was taking us, but enjoyed the bumpy ride quietly, until we stopped at our destination. The setting for our cooking course was to be held in a park. A stone shelter with tables and benches looked welcoming amongst the moss covered ground and high trees of the forest that climbed up the mountain behind us.

A large stone open fireplace and wood oven held a raging fire. We were going to prepare a traditional beef dish, Alcatra and bake bread, both to be cooked in the wood fired oven.

“Let’s get started,” said Antonio, right away. This feast would take awhile to put together and cook. He and his son assistant were well prepared with all the ingredients ready on a large round table made from a giant tree stump.

First the Bread

We added the bread ingredients to a large bowl, first mixing the yeast with salt, sugar and a little warm water. Baking powder, olive oil and then the flour were added. Now Antonio did once own a pizza shop, so that explains why he could just “feel” the amounts of each ingredient to be added.

“More,” “more,” “more,” he instructed confidently as the ingredients were added.

It reminded me of how the women of the island would have, and maybe still do cook; measuring by “feeling,” rather than cups. The ingredients were mixed, kneaded and formed into round loaf shapes and put in the bowls to rise. It was a rather damp and chilly day so the bowls were put inside the shelter and covered with a heavy blanket, a rising technique I had never seen.

And Now for the Alcatra

The enthusiastic cooking group from Goderich, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, holding their clay cooking pots called Alguidar.

Next we would make the Alcatra, a very popular traditional meat dish served on Terceira. Different versions can be made with beans or fish, but can never be made in the same clay pot as the beef version. High quality grass fed beef is readily available on Terceira and using good beef is considered to be important to the success of this dish.

Antonio put a large unglazed clay pot called a alguidar in front of each of us. It looked something like a big clay flower pot with no hole in the bottom. The first time it is used, it must be soaked for two or three days before making the Alcatra, we were instructed. We coated the inside of the pot with pork lard. The importance of using an unglazed pot, he explained, was so the tastes and clay become one. The heat radiates through the clay on all sides of the pot giving an even heat during the cooking process. Traditionally they would put the pot in the wood oven to cook all night, and let the heat die off gradually.

We greased our pots, chopped the onion, and chopped one clove of garlic, (Antonio adds a cube of bouillon,) put it all in the pot and covered with hunks of fatty bacon. We cut and laid large pieces of beef (from a rump roast,) with the boniest pieces on the bottom, filling the clay pot to the top. The pot we used held about 2.5 pounds of beef. Spices added were: 10 whole allspice cloves, 10-12 whole black pepper cloves, a dash of cayenne, and clove leaves. The pot was then filled with red wine right to the top. A little white wine can be added as well. The pot was covered tightly with aluminum foil tucked in around the edge and was ready for the oven. If cooking this in an electric or gas oven, it should be put in a cold oven and allowed to heat gradually.

Walking up into the woods we picked some wild ginger leaves to hold our loaves of bread during the cooking process. Ginger plants are not indigenous to the island and now grow voraciously. What looked like large orange flowers were pods left after the blooms had died. The leaves were large and glossy.

When the bread had risen and it was ready for the final bit of kneading , we finished by rolling it into a circular shape with our hands and made shallow cuts on the top surface. We sprinkled flour on the washed leaves and added the loaves, now ready to place in the oven. (see image above)

Loading the wood oven with our food was a process. The burning embers were pushed to the back of the oven. The temperature needed to be correct. Antonio’s elders taught him to put his hand in the oven after the fire had been blazing for hours. He was taught that if you could say the rosary before having to pull your arm out from the heat, the oven was ready. Antonio just seemed to know by feeling when the oven was ready for loading.

We carried the clay pots to the oven with long metal poles that held the pots – a bit of a balancing challenge. When they were all in place we pulled the loaves of bread on ginger leaves onto a long handled wooden paddle and carried them to the oven, giving a little jerking motion to push the loaf into the oven. We placed the bread closer to the front of the oven as they needed less time to cook.

A cooking student carries her Alcatra to the wood oven

Antonio had cleverly brought a few pre-cooked pots of Alcatra from a previous class to heat in the oven so that when our bread was finished we could enjoy a feast. The Alcatra we put together continued to cook in the oven for a future class to enjoy. Antonio told us that in the past, Alcatra was stored without refrigeration. The fat congealed on the top of the cooked pot, he assured us, and it would keep for months. Not something to try at home, but an interesting bit of history.  It was finally time to taste our results.

We feasted on succulent, tender pieces of beef in a wine and spice sauce that resembled no dish I have ever tasted. The clay in the pot and the grass fed beef must make the taste extra special. Alcatra is traditionally eaten with bread to soak up the juices and we enjoyed our loaves hot from the oven. Antonio added salads and a local liqueur called Grappa making it a perfect Azorean feast. He and his son proudly shared their cooking talent and traditions with our group. We also dined as if we were a family from the island enjoying an outdoor picnic in their beautiful park surrounded by thick, bright green moss and giant ferns.

I headed out that day with my new clay pot under my arm ready to conquer the world with my Alcatra. Life couldn’t have been better and little did we know that in a few weeks a virus would overtake the world.

Thanks to Antonio Câmara and his son for a memorable lesson in cooking in the tradition of the Azores. Their touring company is Pro Island Tour –

A few days later we toured the island with another guide and after dining out on another Alcatra dish our guide told us that no one in the world could cook like his grandmother. He went on to add that it was because of the love she put into it.

That was the passion and care I felt from those cooking all of the traditional foods we tasted in the Azores.

My next post will discuss briefly the interesting history of charity and sharing of Alcatra at the Holy Ghost Festivals – still popular today.



O Forno- A Bakery on Terceira preserves pastry history

Bolos D. Amelia

It was a special food history  discovery day when I was invited into the kitchen of the famous O Forno Pastelaria (bakery) in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira island. This island in the Azores is part of Portugal and carries on the tradition of baking exceptional pastries in their own unique style. Since the fifteenth century, Terceira has had a  history of being a safe harbour for ships crossing the Atlantic, travelling to and from many trading destinations. The islanders had access to spices and foods that otherwise would have remained unknown to them. 

While visiting I wanted to learn about the traditional pastries of the island.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to watch Dona Amélia tarts being made by one of the pastry cooks, helped and overseen by the esteemed owner of the O Forno Pastelaria, Ana Maria Pereira da Costa. Dona Amélias are baked daily at 6:30 a.m., but Ana Maria had arranged a special mixture to be baked at 11 so I didn’t need to rise at the crack of dawn.

Dona Amélia cakes look plain beside some of the other fancies and normally I would pass them by. But these little bundles of sweetness are more than just a taste of heaven; they tell a story in the ingredients.

The story of the cakes is articulately told on nicely packaged boxes of D. Amélias.

First of all, there was the good land. Then the people came and start sowing cereals. Later on they brought the precious spices of exotic tastes and strange scents from East and West Indies.

In typically Portuguese way, they mixed it all with magic and wise hands. They made new and delicious recipes.

When D. Amelia, the last Portuguese Queen, visited the island for the first time, the inhabitants made very special cakes which took her name- D. Amélia– in her honour.

History tells us that when the people of the island learned that the Queen would visit in 1901, the bakers set to work to create a cake as a gift that would tell the story of their island. Because Terceira was a major port for trading , they had access to many spices and exotic ingredients from far off ports. Each ingredient in the cake represents an ingredient from Terceira, or goods from a trading ship that had landed in their waters.

Ana Maria joins Cristina Fernandez to begin making D. Amelia cakes. Below Cristina adds molasses to the eggs, then the corn flour followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.

The simple batter consists of finely ground corn flour grown on the island, eggs and butter from the fields, molasses, raisins, and cinnamon from trade routes, salt and baking powder, with confectioners flour on the top.

When the Queen tasted the cake, she was enamoured by the taste and they named the cake in her honour. It is most common now to make Dona Amélias in the form of small cakes and it is a traditional delicacy of the island.

The owner of the bakery, Ana Maria, is a woman of short stature, but of mighty ambitions. She was raised by parents who owned a bakery several blocks from the current location of her shop. Ana Maria became a teacher but as her life progressed she needed more income to raise her children and opened her own bakery, thirty three years ago. I was told that Ana Maria has collected the old recipes of the island women and of the convents of the island and uses those recipes to bake her pastries. In the past, the nuns would bake and sell sweets to bring in income to support their convents. Although we had no common language, Ana Maria showed me the pastries in the showcase that had originated from the recipes of the convents.

She holds a great deal of culinary history in her mind and has a strong pride in the traditions of the island.

The bakery is located on Rua de S. João, one of the old cobblestoned streets of Angra do Heroismo, a city that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. On the patio patrons can enjoy their food while looking at the historic buildings and people passing. Inside the shop bustles with activity. There are a few tables and counters, and a long showcase of labeled pastries at the end of a glassed in kitchen.  On the wall is a display of framed articles that have been written about the pastry shop in many languages. I spotted a framed recipe. Later I learned that was handwritten by Ana Maria’s mother many years ago.

The recipe for D. Amelias handwritten by Ana Maria’s mother.

Ana Maria’s shop, O Forno, bakes the pastry history of Terceira each day and keeps the traditions alive.

If you are in Terceira do not walk by this pastelaria without stopping in to enjoy a taste of history.  There is a story behind the interesting names of some of those sweets. If you are not in Terceria, look up a recipe for Dona Amelia cakes online and try baking a new taste.

When we search, we find.





Black Creek Pioneer Village “Nelson’s Buttons” Meringues

Amy Scott, interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village demonstrates how to beat meringue by hand.

They seemed too delicate to bake in a wood fired oven.

“Surely they will melt,” I thought as I pushed the baking tray of delicate meringues into the hot wood fired oven. I was participating as an apprentice for the day in the kitchen of The Halfway House Inn at Black Creek Pioneer Village and learning to bake as if in the 1860’s. (Read the previous blog entry for the full story.)

My Black Creek experience took me down a rabbit hole of food history as I learned about a delicate sweet that I would not suspect to have existed in the 1860’s.

Amy Scott, an experienced interpretive staff, guided me through a full morning of baking. When we finished our hearty breads, rolls and cakes, Amy surprised me by announcing that we would make meringues.

Meringues are considered a French specialty by many, and a recipe appeared in a cookbook written by Francois Massialot as early as 1692. I found a recipe in a 1925 cookbook entitled French Home Cooking by Claire de Pratz. It describes the simple but exacting process of beating eggs and sugar and dropping tablespoons of the mixture on papered baking sheets to be cooked for about 50 minutes.

Even earlier in 1602, an English receipt book by Lady Elinor Fettiplace includes a recipe called “White Biskit Bread” that fits the description of a Swiss style meringue. Her receipt (recipe) calls for one and a half pounds of sugar, a handful of flour and twelve beaten egg whites. But with some digging, I learned that one claim states that the confectionary originated in a village in Switzerland – Meiringen. Italy has also laid claim to the world of meringue.

Elinor Fettiplace included a meringue recipe called White Biskit Bread in her recipes from the early 1600’s.

The recipe used by the interpretive staff at Black Creek Pioneer Village originates from a cookbook named Gentility and Economy Combined by George Read that dates back to 1850. He names meringues “Nelson’s Buttons”.

Amy broke two egg whites into a bowl and handed me a whisk. She told me that we would be beating those eggs for awhile because it was going to take a lot of beating to turn these whites into fluff by hand.

We took turns and when some white peaks appeared, I learned that we would gradually add confectionary sugar a tiny bit at a time and continue to beat and beat. The success of our meringues depended on a thorough beating.

Adding some red colouring gave them a pink tint and peppermint extract the subtle flavour.

Wrangling the meringue mixture into a piping bag was not easy and then we squeezed out Nelson’s buttons onto the papered baking sheets. Making them a uniform size and shape took some practice.

We baked them in the wood oven for just short of an hour, which proved a bit too long but baking in a wood oven is not an exacting science. The result was divine bites of sweetness.

It was rewarding to master a baking skill that dates back to the 1600’s in England and Switzerland. Below is a recipe to try for Nelson’s Buttons shared by Black Creek Pioneer Village.

Read, George. Gentility and Economy Combined. London: Thomas Dean and Son, 1850, p. 84 [section 2].


Mix a pound of powdered and sifted loaf sugar with the whites of three or four eggs; add ten or twelve drops of the oil of peppermint, beat them up well, and drop them out on writing paper, with a small pipe and bag attached to it, the same as for Savoy biscuits.

NELSON’S BUTTONS, are a large sort of peppermint drops, and coloured on the top. Make as the last, and drop them on paper.



Modern Equivalent Peppermint Drops

2 Cups
 5-10 Drops

3 Cups 10-12 Drops OR:
1 tsp


Superfine White Sugar, Egg Whites,
 Oil of Peppermint OR:

Peppermint Extract OPTIONAL: Pink Food Colouring


500 ml
 3ml- 10-12 Drops OR:

5 ml 5-10 Drops

Whisk egg whites (in a copper bowl if available) until they form stiff peaks. Slowly whisk sugar into whites until entirely incorporated.
Add peppermint flavouring and food colouring and blend in well.
Pipe the mixture onto paper-lined sheets, about 1 inch apart.

Bake in a slow oven (275° F) for 35-40 minutes (put into bake oven after bread and cookies have been baked, for 40-50 minutes), until lightly browned and the bottoms will come off the paper without breaking. Yields about 60 buttons.

Black Creek Pioneer Village Apprenticeship – Toronto

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“Put on the apron,” said Amy, “and we’ll get started”.

Dressed in garb of the1860’s, a long dress with a white apron and bonnet, Amy had the fire going in the bake oven beside the open-hearth fireplace and already had a good start on her sour dough bread production. Amy Scott is an interpretive staff member of the Black Creek Pioneer Village with many years of experience in cooking food using historic methods.

Earlier, as I walked up to the Halfway House Inn, I passed a tinsmith’s shop, general store and an old farm. I imagined I was living in the 1860’s. I looked up and saw a high-rise apartment building in the not too far distance and remembered my place in history. Black Creek Pioneer Village was developed on the site of the old Stong family homestead and keeps Toronto’s rural history alive in a now developed part of the city. There are more than forty old buildings, some original, others moved to the site with costumed interpretive staff to show how life was lived in the past.

Amy and I were cooking in the kitchen of Halfway House Inn originally built at Kingston Road and Midland Ave in Scarborough in 1847 by Alexander Thompson.

It was a coach stop for farmers taking their goods to the downtown markets and commercial travellers such as manufacturers from Montreal. The bedrooms were upstairs and a large dining room was on the main floor, where travellers sat at one large table and were served meals, family style. There was a tavern as well. There were no menus in this Inn. Guests were served meats, vegetables and lots of homemade bread and desserts.

I had signed on to spend a day as an apprentice in the kitchen and we baked as if we were serving bread to a room full of hungry travellers back in time.

The fire was burning away in the brick oven and it was easy to tell that Amy had many years of fire building knowledge. She kneaded her bread, added wood to the fire, washed her hands and got right back to kneading the bread.

As she worked, she kept track of all her ingredients and mine, the fire temperature, talked to visitors coming and going, and instructed me in my baking education.

Amy Scott Interpretive staff at Black Creek, tests the temperature  in the wood stove

My first project would be a loaf of white bread. I added all ingredients, learned her kneading method and we put it in front of the oven to rise with the sour dough loaves she had rising. White flour was the norm at that time, she told me. Next was a lesson in making braided loaves and buns. The recipe from the past called for a “starter”, so I learned a new technique in bread making. The tricky part was learning to do a braid with three flopping strands of bread dough. I have always wondered how that was done and there I was, doing it for myself. Amy showed me several techniques so I turned out both buns and small loaves and then we placed them in a warm corner to rise. Just when I thought I had learned a day’s worth of baking, we were onto the next recipe. After all, if it were the 1860’s, we would be feeding a dining room of hungry mouths.

As visitors from 2019 dropped into the Inn, Amy would stop what she was doing to tell them what was baking, and about the history of the Inn.

Amy gave me a choice of baking Lemon Cake or Spice Cake. I have made a spice cake before, but not without my trusty electric mixer beside me. My mixing arm had a good workout and we poured the batter into a baking dish.

Mixing a spice cake by hand. How I missed the mixer.

We headed over to the wood stove to remove the fire from the brick oven. With a long metal rake Amy began to slide the red-hot ashes down a chute on the bottom of the oven. It looked easy when Amy was doing it but when she handed me the rake I realized it took years of experience to make that tough job look easy. Determining the temperature was our next step. Amy put her arm in and began to count, and invited me to do the same. If you could count to five before the heat forced you to pull out your arm, it was roughly one temperature, counting to three would be another. She knew by touch how hot the oven would be inside, an admirable and old skill.

Amy puts  braided buns in the oven.

We put our baked goods in the oven with a long handled paddle and with a sharp pull the pans released into the oven.

With a sigh of satisfaction, I looked forward to a break while the bread and cake baked.

The front door of the Inn opened and in came a group of curious visitors, drawn by the smell of baking bread. After learning about the history of the Inn, they were eager to come back to buy some of Amy’s lemon cookies and bread when they came out of the oven.

“Now,” said Amy, “We’ll start the meringues.”

There was to be no rest for the weary, especially not with this recipe.


We separated a few eggs and she instructed me to beat the whites to a stiff meringue. Without a mixer. Just as I thought my shoulder would never recover, Amy took over and then another interpretive staff also took her turn. Once we had a nice meringue, we added sugar, one spoonful at a time and beat it for a while. We added some red colouring and peppermint and piped it onto the cookie sheets like delicate little stars. They would go in the oven when the bread came out. All was choreographed perfectly.

Mid afternoon, the baking was pulled out of the oven and proudly displayed on the cooling table. I had learned so much that day and to my surprise Amy packaged up my baking to be taken home to share with my family.

I took away an important lesson from the apprentice experience at Halfway House Inn. Those that cooked in kitchens of the past, worked very hard to produce the delicious foods that they ate.

Thanks to Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto for this experience. Watch for a recipe in the future.

If you are interested in becoming an apprentice for a day in the skills of the village here is the link.






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