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Cooking in Madeira and Brittany

   We are leaving on Sunday for a week in Madeira and Brittany and in both places we are staying in apartments that have full kitchens with utensils, but no condiments etc. so we will do some cooking using local produce. What would you take to "spice up" the local fish, meat and vegetables?

  We took this opportunity to look at Madeleine Kamman’s wonderful book, When French Women Cook (Canada, UK) to reread the chapter on Loetitia, whom Kamman regards as one of the great cooks of Brittany. What will you find there? Belon oysters, mussels, Coquilles Saint Jacques, lobsters, artichokes as big as cauliflowers, wonderful mushrooms, creamery butter, exceptional greens, squash, green peppers, luscious tomatoes, buckwheat crêpes, tempting figs. The herbs and flavorings used in traditional Breton cooking are parsley, chervil, lemon, mustard, tarragon, thyme, pepper, fennel seeds, and garlic. What are you going to need in Brittany? Nothing. At this time of year [summer], you’ll easily find everything you need fresh.

As world explorers, the Portuguese have had access to the world’s spices for centuries, but relatively few seem to have been incorporated into the cooking on Madeira, the island group in the Atlantic about 500 miles southwest of Portugal. The prominent flavorings are garlic, bay leaves, olive oil, and pepper. We’ve seen a few Madeirense recipes that include marjoram and oregano and other Mediterranean herbs, but apparently in Madeira the seafood and produce mostly speak for themselves. The traditional fish chowders use bay leaves, garlic, onions, tomatoes, potatoes, cloves, cayenne pepper, and olive oil. Squid stew adds heat with curry powder and ground ginger. Of course, the fortified wine that originated in the islands and bears their name is an excellent cooking wine, and may well find its way into whatever you make.

Not meaning the be the least bit rude, but just what foods were you thinking of taking from South Africa at the end of winter to spice up your cooking on a sub-tropical island blanketed by warm trade winds and along the northwest coast of France during peak harvest time?


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