Trails of flavors

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					João Rural

Flavors from Brazil

Trails of flavors



he typical food of São Paulo still exists in many corners of the Paraíba Valley. It is simple and tasty, besides having “sustenance”, as said in country style. It originated with the arrival of the European and the Africans that, together with the native Indians, created most of our national dishes. Throughout the centuries, many recipes were modified, with the addition of new ingredients. In many cases, the dish got better, but in others it lost its historical tradition. The contribution of several peoples enabled varied recipes, notably those prepared with manioc, corn, sugarcane and pork. Thus, emerged the virado, or feijão tropeiro; paçocas; sweet shops and groceries; the use of pepper; and “fogado”, typical of the Paraíba Valley in São Paulo. And how did these flavors travel from North to South in Brazil for at least four centuries? They were carried by troop guides, known as tropeiros, who, during the 17th century, were forced to cut trails through the forests to transport goods. With the trade of European products and gold between Minas Gerais and Brazilian ports, the troops became a vital means of transport for the economy. In the beginning, the majority of the mules and donkeys came from breeding areas in the South of Brazil, where the technique of crossbreeding horses with donkeys, was known. The trade of work horses between Rio Grande do Sul and the city of Sorocaba, in São Paulo was significant. Around 1850, approximately fifty thousand animals were traded in one year. With the arrival of the coffee cycle, the tropeiro began to transport this product to the ports. Figures from the Port of Ubatuba show that, around 1860, at least two thousand animals arrived daily to unload coffee.

Through their trails, the tropeiros would take flavors, exchanging products and practicing the mixture that we make today in our kitchens. Many dishes like virado, made from beans, – or virado paulista – originated in this period.
The troop was generally made up of ten animals. A boy on horseback, almost always the troop’s cook, would go on the front. The first animal was called “madrinha” (godmother) or “frenteira” and would carry small bells, called “cincerros”, on its chest, which would chime calling the troop. Some researchers claim that the animals heard the tolls as if they were the sound of water and, therefore, followed them. Next would come the cargo animals, always with pack frames, carrying bags, baskets made of thin strips of wood or bamboo, leather bags and saddlebags for provision. Each animal carried up to 10 kg. In the middle, came the owner of the troop on horseback. At the end, came the animal called “coice” and behind it a man, always on foot, driving the animals. Through their trails, the tropeiros would take flavors, exchanging products and practicing the mixture that we make today in our kitchens. Many dishes like virado, made from beans, – or virado paulista – originated in this period. During the expeditions that left São Paulo to explore


Texts from Brazil . Nº 13

District of Chapada. June 1827. Aimé-Adrien Taunay.

the interior, some of them would plant, along the way, food that could be gathered in only three months. In certain cases, men would stay behind taking care of the crops of corn, beans and manioc to join the troop after harvest, following their trail and taking the food; in others, this group would set out first awaiting the troop with the harvest done. When the expedition arrived at the crops, beans were cooked with the meat from the animals hunted on the way and corn was crushed into a fine flour to be added to the beans, thus making a hearty dish that was appreciated by the travelers. The advice for those who would travel through Brazilian forests came from this custom. “To eat, do what you can [vai se virando] like the paulistas [men from São Paulo]”. The “se virando” was gradually transformed into “virado paulista”, nowadays prepared with corn flour, torresmo and spicy sausages. Also from this period is the feijão tropeiro, made with dried meat, spicy sausages, fried torresmo and corn flour. It was a caloric food, proFlavors from Brazil

viding energy to the men during their long journeys through Brazil. But the tropeiro was wise, he only traveled four leagues (24 km) per day or workday. This habit gave birth to our cities, for on their resting spots emerged shelters for basic needs. After a short time, these shelters turned into villages and, after that, into cities separated, on average, 5 km one from another. Every troop had a wooden mortar and pestle. Paçoca was the main food because they always carried a load of manioc or corn flour. On the way, the troopers hunted forest animals or fished. The catch was “moqueado” (roasted), as the natives did, who, at the time, worked as carriers. They were the ones who taught the secrets of hunting and fishing in the woods. After the meat was dry, it was thrown into the mortar with the flour and ground to form a thick dough. Thus, the roasted dried meat could be transported for many days. Two kilos of meat and ten of flour could feed many people. The paçoca was placed in saddlebags, so even when walking or riding, the

The old fogado. João Rural

men could eat it. As a complement they would eat a piece of rapadura. Eating just the meat – as we see in movies – was impossible for they could not stop for long periods and hunt. It was necessary to constantly be on the move. If a man stole meat, it was a sure death. In the Paraíba Valley region and in the Gaucho Mountains, pinhão was the main food of the travelers, since this chestnut takes up to four months to spoil. Also in the Paraíba Valley, the tradition of eating içá (female sauba ants) was noted by the author Monteiro Lobato, who couldn’t live without it. In the 18th century, during the gold cycle, food became even more valuable. Due to the number of people who went to Minas Gerais, agricultural production in that region became scarce. In this scenario, the tropeiros were responsible for transporting everything that was possible and earned a lot of money. Some products, like salt and sugar, reached a price four times higher than in São Paulo. A good number of these travelers brought their goods from the Paraíba Valley, in São Paulo. Many men in this region were respon76

sible for founding several cities in the south of Minas Gerais. Based on this flux, certain scholars of Brazilian cuisine consider that the cuisine of Minas Gerais is a development of the one from São Paulo, with consolidated dishes. Some modifications occurred, like virado de feijão changing into tutu. Eduardo Frieiro, in his book Feijão, angu e couve (Beans, polenta and collard greens), claims that “there is a typical food from Minas Gerais, for we can recognize a constancy in the food preferences”, but, on the other hand, emphasizes that “these preferences are not exclusive of this same population”. We should, therefore, consider that, when Minas Gerais prospered, the Paraíba Valley and other regions of São Paulo were already bustling for at least 00 years. The role of our tropeiro, in this context, stands out for he would disseminate his customs and traditions through the paths he trailed. He brought manioc, he took corn, he planted sugarcane, he conserved pork meat, he planted beans, he discovered rice and he pointed out
Texts from Brazil . Nº 13

the tropical fruits. The tropeiro was responsible for this “mixture”, which was the basis for Brazilian nourishment for several centuries. Naturally, new products were gradually incorporated with the arrival of immigrants, but this basis continues until today in any worthy kitchen. One cannot speak of Brazilian cuisine without mentioning paçoca, farofa, torresmo, flours, beans, sugar or rice. Thus, it is a cuisine which the adventures of the tropeiros helped season.

habit of mixing food. They roasted meat, they cooked corn, they made manioc flour, but ate them separately, throwing the food directly into their mouths. There still are those in the countryside who can put a handful of flour in their mouth without dropping any.

For their own needs, the Europeans brought sugarcane and the technique to produce sugar. Shortly, the production of rapadura, raw sugar and molasses became a large business, mainly in the mills of the Northeast, which sent their production to the South. Little by little, the mills spread out in a way that each region had its own production. With plenty of sugar, the sweets, privilege of the masters, became popular. In these circumstances it was enough to take the abundant tropical fruits, put them into a large copper pan and cover it with sugar: one more Brazilian flavor was invented. Another invention was the cachaça, which made many mills wealthy and is gaining more inroads into foreign markets.

The tropeiro’s menu manioc
The first travelers who arrived in Brazil described many beauties and curiosities of the land. One issue that stood out was the eating habits of the native Indians. Therefore, several writings mention that the natives fed on a white root called yam or cará which were the names they knew. But they soon observed that it wasn’t exactly this. In reality, the native Indians called this root manioca, today known as manioc. From this tuber they made flour, mush and even an alcoholic beverage, which the Europeans learned to savor. With the arrival of equipment and European knowledge, its production was improved, becoming the famous flour we know today and one of the basic tripods of Brazilian food.

The colonizers brought their animals with them, including sheep, goats, chickens, geese, horses and cattle. The animal that best adapted itself was the pig, due to the humid climate and lack of pastures. All that was needed was to let it loose in a small wood and it would fend for itself, searching swamps and eating roots. Thus the pig became, in a very short time, the main source of fat for daily food. This nutrient, in fact, was already extracted from wild pigs, tapirs and other large animals by the native Indians. Pork fat, besides seasoning, also became the food “refrigerator”, for it was used to preserve all types of

Along with manioc the explorers discovered another novelty: corn, a millenary food described by travelers who were delighted especially with the popcorn that turned into a “flower”, when thrown into the fire. The corn ground in the famous “grating rocks” turned into crushed corn or a thick flour. In this form, it was cooked and savored. The native Indians did not have the

Flavors from Brazil


Tropeiro prepares lunch on the trempe. João Rural

meat. There is, for this reason, the famous “meat in fat”, a dish that can be found in many small cities in the interior of the country.

The native Indians had their tropical beans while the Portuguese had always appreciated beans, especially the white one. The Africans loved black beans. All of this arrived and invaded our kitchens, creating many dishes that are appreciated today. By adding rice, which arrived with the Europeans, the most famous dish of Brazil, rice with beans, was created.

The well known expression “estou por cima da carne seca” (“I’m on top of the dried meat”), has its origin in the fact that the tropeiros who had this provision were considered rich. They were the tropeiros from farm troops. The others, who worked on their own, were the jornadeiros and rarely had this advantage. So in order to say that one was well off, this expression was used.

the secular fogado
One of the most characteristic dishes of the Paraíba Valley is the afogado, also known as “fogado”. Its history goes back more than a century. According to ancient cooks, farmers and researchers, the dish originated in a very simple manner. The farmers killed their oldest cows to make dried meat. Its preparation helps to preserve and soften the meat hardened from the age of the animals. The feet were rejected by the masters, but used by the slaves and, later on, by the employees of the farm. These parts were cut and put into large pans, only with water and salt,

dried meat
The tropeiros always carried salted meats and bacon to endure their travels. What many do not know is that to remove the salt from the bacon, the cook used a very simple trick. He would cut it in small pieces, put it into a pan and add one more handful of salt. When the water started to boil, he would stir well and eliminated the liquid, leaving the bacon unsalted.

Texts from Brazil . Nº 13

for a whole night, “afogando” (drowning) them in low fire to make them tender. The origin of the name certainly comes from this process, which popularly became “fogado”. A detail is that the dish did not have any fat in it, only cow feet and bone marrow, which gave it a especial flavor. The sauce was made of annatto, garlic, green spices, alfavaca (basil) and peppermint. These last two ingredients were helpful in the digestion, according to the Africans, responsible for adding them to the recipe. “Seu” (Mr.) Sebastião Benjamim, who died when he was 103 years old, confirmed the information about the origin of the dish: “My father, José Antonio Cassiano, would take the ox’s legs, burn them, and would scrape off the leather well to eliminate the fur. He took the hoof off and cut it into pieces. He would put it in a big iron pot with water and salt, and leave it “drowning” for the whole night. The next day, he would remove the pieces of bone and season it with annatto, garlic, peppermint and basil, and it was ready to eat. It was mixed on the plate with homemade manioc flour forming a mush.”

The tropeiro’s food
Although the tropeiro had available an enormous variety of food, from nature or from the shelters and farms they rested in, the daily foods they ate, although simple and practical, had “sustenance”, as they would say. The basic nourishment on their travels were beans, rice, dried meat and bacon. There were also accompanying foods like manioc or corn flours, salt, garlic, sugar and coffee powder. Early in the morning, the madrinheiro, a young boy, would wake up and put the beans to cook, while the others saddled the troop and put the load on the animals. After cooking the beans, the bacon was fried, and

corn flour was added in order to prepare a hearty feijão tropeiro. This was their breakfast. The rest of the cooked beans, not yet seasoned, was put into a large pot and taken in the “saco de trem” to be eaten at lunchtime. During their break, the madrinheiro would fry more torresmos, removing the excess fat. He would then add the alreadycooked beans to spices and corn flour making feijão tropeiro again. The wealthier ones would add dried meat and smoked sausages to the beans. Rice could be plain or mixed with pieces of fried torresmos, making, thus, arroz tropeiro. To conclude, coffee was made, boiling water and adding coffee powder and sugar. The drink would be taken from the fire and two pieces of coal were put into it in order to settle the powder, so a strainer was not needed. The tropeiro had a basic cooking equipment called “jacá de caldeirão” made of bamboo. In it were placed a couple of iron pans (a large pot and a small pan), plates, mugs, spoons and a coffee pot. There was also, in this set, the “trempe” (a portable stove) which consisted of three iron sticks: two to be stuck in the earth and the third one to be used as a crossbar where the pans were hung. Sometimes, this equipment was improvised with freshly cut wood and used only once. There was also the “saco de trem”, which was a white bag with several smaller bags inside, where beans, rice, manioc flour, salt, sugar, garlic, salted bacon and coffee powder were stored. As we can see, although there was nothing sophisticated about it, the nourishment satisfied the needs from the hard days walk. From São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, for example, they took 15 days.

Journalist. Author of the recipe book “Sabores do tempo dos tropeiros” (Flavors from the tropeiros’ period)

João Rural

Flavors from Brazil


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