PROVINCETOWN PORTUGUESE COOKBOOK
by Mary Jo Avellar
Recipes from Provincetown's finest cooks and restaurants and featuring recipes from the kitchens of Molly O'Neill and Emeril Lagasse
When my grandparents arrived in Provincetown from Portugal more than 100 years ago, Commercial Street was a dirt road with wooden sidewalks shaded by stately elm trees. Although English was the official language of the immigrant's new country, Portuguese was the language of Provincetown's new people.
Today, Commercial Street is paved, its downtown sidewalks brick and its elm trees have fallen victim to Dutch Elm disease. Portuguese, a soft language on the ear, is seldom heard.
My husband remembers how his parents once spoke Portuguese with people older than themselves. But as his parents got older they slowly began to lose the ability to speak the language. For a while, they could understand spoken Portuguese, but could not speak it. In time they even lost that, so Portuguese became almost as foreign to them as it was to him.
Despite the Americanization of the Provincetown Portuguese, a portion of Provincetown's character and vitality is still deeply Portuguese. Much of that spirit and character can be attributed to the foods our Portuguese ancestors enjoyed and which are still prepared today.
Several cookbooks have been written over the years about Provincetown and the foods its inhabitants of Portuguese descent love to prepare. The best of these books was "Traditional Portuguese Recipes from Provincetown" by the late Mary Alice Cook.
Alice, as she was known, published in 1983 a charming book full of recipes and wonderful recollections of Provincetown. It is in every respect a remarkable little book by a remarkable woman. "Traditional Portuguese Recipes from Provincetown" spoke of change and conveyed a sense of time and place gone by as only Alice could have told it. Today, Provincetown continues to change and remain the same.
Although the fishing fleet is smaller and the tourist business paramount, many of the foods Alice Cook prepared and wrote about are still local favorites. The beauty of Provincetown is that we have a capacity to cling stubbornly to old traditions, like the Blessing of the Fleet, while we enthusiastically embrace and create new ones, like Carnival. The same can be said of our food.
Kale soup and clam chowder have never fallen out of favor. Always popular is fresh fish, fish marinated in vinha d'alhos, and all of the incredibly rich and time-consuming Portuguese pastries prepared for holidays.
These wonderful, traditional Portuguese foods, beloved by locals and adopted by washashores, have inspired a host of new and wonderful dishes that are well on their way to becoming new favorites.
It was the dauntless Portuguese, fearless on the seas, who ventured to open the passages that made the world global. As we near the 500th anniversary of Vasco da Gama's voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, the voyage that made it possible for West to meet East, we remember it was the Portuguese who blazed the trail.
We celebrate our Portuguese ancestors and our heritage. We remember the hardships our grandparents endured, their dignity and pride in the face of adversity, and the eagerness with which they embraced their new country. It is in that willing spirit of adventure that this cookbook was written and conceived.
Mary Jo Avellar, Provincetown
Mary-Jo Avellar is a Provincetown native. Portuguese on her father's side and Irish on her mother's, Mary-Jo loves to cook, especially bake. A graduate of Provincetown High School and the University of Massachusetts, Mary-Jo worked in several of Provincetown's restaurants before she and her husband purchased the Red Inn in 1985. During their ownership, Mary-Jo often prepared the desserts which appeared on the Red Inn menu.