My summer. By Leonardo Pereira

There is a blinding light in the sky, the air moves slowly amidst the rush of people. These streets, often so empty, are full of life during the hottest months. A calming high energy fills the space between us, like a procrastinated bustle, as people move in and out of the fish mongers, ice-cream parlors and caffés. The scenario remains the same throughout the years, no matter the hardships of the remaining seasons. Summer always brings joy to this corner of the planet.
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One has not truly experienced a Portuguese way of living until he finds himself climbing a narrow street with old men grilling fish on the road, the smell of coal charred sardines making your mouth water, watching girls giggling at each other’s tans, eating custard filled pastries while laying down on the beach, feeling the cold Atlantic washing your sandy feet when you decide to go home.
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Then sunset comes.
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For me the most exciting part of summer have always been the nights. When the thick crowds of people move from the beach to the streets, these become hard to navigate, and aromas of desserts fill up the air, someone doing crepes dusted with cinnamon, roasted almonds, fartura’s (our version of churros) and ice-cream, lots and lots of ice-cream. It’s every kid’s wish to stay up until midnight, and luckily most parents allow it.
Leonardo Pereira. Photo: Ali Kurshat Altinsoy
Leonardo Pereira. Photo: Ali Kurshat Altinsoy
There is always something magical about the way we celebrate summer, whether it’s with large groups of friends or fireworks lighting up the sky, summer is when we all come to life, in the best sense of the word.
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I was lucky enough to grow up during a part of my childhood in a fishing village, went to school with the fishermen’s kids and even developed an indistinguishable accent to theirs. Even after returning to a more city-like environment I kept on returning year after year to the same beach.
Later in life I started looking at it with different eyes, questioning what was edible and what wasn’t, looking for mushrooms in the bushes behind the sand dunes and my favorite activity of all – harvesting crowberries under the bright sun.
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These white pearls glistening under the blue sky, meant more to me than anything else, only scary stories of my belly exploding if I picked them before lunch kept me away from them as a young child. Crowberries are not a delicacy, they are rather sour, offering their more subtle aromatic hints only during the months of July and August. As a cook I thought I knew what to do with them – using my reference points of Nordic influences I decided to use them as a granité with raw shellfish. I was sure it was going to be a winner … until I did it. It turned out as an uninteresting, insipid flavour – there was no real charm there.
Camarinhas, Milk and Tarragon. Photo: Ali Kurshat Altinsoy
Camarinhas, Milk and Tarragon. Photo: Ali Kurshat Altinsoy
It was the last manifestation I needed to realize how foolish it was to adopt such a foreign tendency to my country’s bounty. I scrapped the initial idea and began to experiment. Boiling, reducing, centrifuging. The result turned a beautiful rhubarb-like colour and vanillaesque flavour. Then it dawned on me. I used to search for crowberries to get a small hint of sweetness – it was my alternative to ice-cream when I could not afford one. It will be a dessert!
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It is quite simple: crowberry with some milk to give the roundness to the tart flavour, tarragon to caress the spicy notes. Surrounding this parfait there are dozens of pearls, seeded one by one, by all of us whenever we had a dead moment. It became more than just my memory, it meant I could share it with my colleagues – they too picked and ate them just off the bush like I did.
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In English they are called Portuguese Crowberries, we call them Camarinhas and I much prefer the latter name.
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Now you know, Portuguese food is not just about Custard Tarts and 1001 ways to eat salted cod. There is a whole world to discover.
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