How one woman’s love of family — and a culinary pilgrimage — recaptured the flavors of her childhood.
Maria Lawton’s public persona as the “Azorean Green Bean” is a symbol of cultural pride that means almost as much to her as the delicious Azorean recipes for which she has amassed more than 10,000 online followers over the past few years.
Growing up in New Bedford, after emigrating there from São Miguel at the age of six, Lawton was teased with names like “Greenhorn,” “Portagee,” and “Fava Bean.” Her response? “Thank you – I’m proud of it!”
After marrying and having three daughters, Lawton wanted them to experience the tastes and smells that she remembered from her childhood. But with her mother and grandmother gone, and her older sisters (who usually helped her mother in the kitchen) not remembering details of the recipes, Lawton dedicated herself to recreating her mother’s arsenal of family recipes.
She started by sitting down with her aunt (her uncle’s wife), who sat with her and went through her mother’s binder of cooking notes, translating. For her next step, Lawton reached out to her aunts in the Azores. She then traveled to Sao Miguel, to cook and learn. “I brought all these recipes with me,” she says. “The hardest part was getting them to let me in the kitchen. I was a guest, so God forbid I cook.”
She stayed for two weeks, then came home and re-cooked everything. “I wanted to be sure the results were the same. It was for me, and my daughters. I never imagined I’d be sharing this with anyone.”
Thankfully, she did. In “Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours”, Lawton shares recipes ranging from popular Azorean dishes from Arroz Doce (Sweet Rice Pudding) and Massa Sovada (Sweet Bread) to Caçoila (Marinated Pork) and Camarão Moçambique (Shrimp Mozambique).
The pages are full of Lawton’s memories as well. “Like looking for perfect chestnuts with my dad, or how we always made wine in the fall. Memories my girls didn’t get to see.” Of course, with wonderful memories comes the challenge of revisiting the pain of loss, and it was an emotional process at times. “Sometimes I was writing and I had to pull back. It’s more than a cookbook; it’s about family, and life, and all the amazing things that happen in the life of a family.”
One of the things that Lawton has found most surprising about this journey is the number of people she has touched. “I hear from people from all over the world: Norway, UK, Australia, India, China. Azoreans — we are everywhere! And one thing that people often do is thank me, because they thought those recipes would be gone forever. And they tell me that they have many shared memories from their Azorean childhoods.
” It’s taken on a life of its own.”
This Thanksgiving, Maria Lawton will be enjoying the holiday at her sister’s, with her daughters around the table, and the smells, flavors and wonderful memories of her mother and Avo filling the home. One of the things they’ll be making is the cornbread stuffing, one of Lawton’s favorite recipes. “You’ve got to have chourico in it.” (Recipe on p. 7)
At present, no East Bay bookstores carry “Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours,” but it is available for purchase for $27.99 on Amazon, as well as local bookstores across Massachusetts. Visit www.azoreangreenbean.com for more information.
Corn Bread Stuffing (Recheio)
This recipe came from my aunt Ines. This is the same recipe my mom would make to go with stuffed mackerel or to accompany a roasted chicken or turkey dinner. The only difference when making the poultry recipe was the addition of chicken or turkey liver and giblets to the ingredients.
It really is very versatile and can accompany any meat dish. It has a good kick with the chourico and hot red pepper sauce and you can adjust it to your taste. Also, make sure that you’re using bread that is at least 1 to 2 days old, truly the older the bread the better. You can also substitute with any bread, so if you don’t like cornbread, just double up with the white or bread of your choice.
1 Portuguese corn bread
1 loaf of white bread (I prefer Vienna bread)
2 cups of milk or chicken broth
1 pound of chourico, cooked and shredded
1-2 tablespoons of hot red pepper sauce, more or less to your taste
½ teaspoon of paprika
1 bunch of parsley finely chopped
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut both breads in to pieces and remove the crust if it’s too hard. Place the pieces of bread in a large bowl and leave aside.
In a small saucepan, place the chourico and enough water to cover, bring to boil and lower to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the chourico and remove from casings and shred or chop into small to medium pieces and leave aside. NOTE: Do not get rid of the water used to boil the chourico, please leave aside.
Heat milk or broth until almost at a boil and pour over the bread. Using your hands or a fork mix together and leave aside, letting the bread completely absorb the liquid. Once that’s absorbed, add about half of the liquid of the water used to boil the chourico and let the bread absorb that completely.
In a separate bowl mix and beat together the eggs, shredded Chourico, red pepper sauce, paprika, chopped parsley, salt and pepper to taste and pour over the bread. Using your hands mix everything together and leave aside. It’s up to you how chunky you leave your bread. The more you mix the more the bread will break down into smaller pieces.
In a large frying pan, sauté the chopped onion, garlic in olive oil. Season with a little salt and cook until onion is translucent and almost caramelized.
Add the bread mixture into the pan and stir together. You want to make sure the egg is well incorporated. At this point you can place the mixture into a buttered baking dish and bake in a 350 F degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes. If you like your stuffing a little drier you can bake for another 10 min.