The Portugal Years – Year 1: Thanksgiving and My Curiosity (O dia de ação de graças)

The autumn days were pleasantly busy with language study and immersion in the Portuguese culture. We called family rarely –  it was very expensive. (And for the record, it took me a long time before I would even answer the phone  after I learned the proper way to greet someone: “Está?”(Are you there?) I was afraid they would expect me to understand them.  The temperatures crept down to “need a sweater and wool skirts.” And it rained often as is the custom of autumn weather in Portugal.

By the time November rolled around I was accustomed to purchasing meat from the butcher. In that shop where all of the bloody meat was hanging on hooks in the windows, I discovered that a pound of ground beef (ground on the spot) was a little less than a half of a Kilo. So, I asked for half a kilo to keep it simple. It took awhile to get used to it; it was very lean meat.

One of my adventures in cooking involved a cow’s tongue. (The cow was dead

Cow's Tongue
Cow’s Tongue

when I got the tongue in case you were worried). Like the elephant’s child, my curiosity had no end. I pulled out my trusty cookbook and fearlessly went where I’d never gone before. Harry got through that meal, but asked me politely to lose that recipe.

We lived near a farmer’s market that was open once or twice a week. Most of the food was produce – and it was lovely.


One stall caught my eye week after week. They sold rabbits. I knew I had a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook that had a recipe for Hasenpheffer. One Saturday, my curiosity got the better of me again. I asked for 2 rabbits. The lady who owned the stall pulled two out of the cage, murdered killed them, and put them in a bag for me. I had a few queasy regrets as I carried the warm rabbits home in the bag. This experiment eventually turned out much better than the cow tongue. But I couldn’t bring myself to make it again. I did, however, start buying stewing hens when I wanted to make soup – I even put the eggs into the soup.

When Thanksgiving was just around the corner, I began looking at the turkeys in the butcher shop. They looked scrawny compared to the Butterball Turkeys I was used to eating. They were, however very good. (Long years later I learned about free range poultry – we never appreciated what we had when we had it.)  The Portugal team gathered together for the meal at our house. We were voted in because we had the most room and the biggest table. Everyone brought food that they liked when they celebrated Thanksgiving in the states. Of course we had turkey. Someone found a store that sold imported food and we had cranberry sauce. Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, vegetables, pumpkin pie – all were there in abundance. And there was one thing I’d NEVER seen at a Thanksgiving meal. Our secretary was from Miami, and she brought deviled eggs.


Have you ever had any extraordinary food adventures? What do you like to have on the table for it to be Thanksgiving?

12 thoughts on “The Portugal Years – Year 1: Thanksgiving and My Curiosity (O dia de ação de graças)

  1. Charlotte has always talked about Hasenpheffer. I think her Oma prepared it.

    My favorite Thanksgivings were always the family gatherings at our Beach House on the coast in North Carolina, to close it up for the winter. I don’t know what it was about food prepared in the salt air at sea level, but it always had distinctive flavor. On the Friday after Thanksgiving we’d go search the interior of the island for Youpon bushes and their bright red winter berries. We’d also collect the huge pine cones from the Longleaf Pines that grew back from the beach. My Grandmother used both of them in her Christmas decorations. Memories….

    Another excellent installment, big sister.


  2. Cow tongue? Goodness. What did it taste like? And rabbits! I’m curious about them too.

    The professor likes the normal fare, I think. I can’t say I’ve had such neat experiences eating different stuff, though. And I don’t know if I would have survived it either.

    The professor is curious: How were the rabbits killed?


    1. I didn’t watch the rabbits being slaughtered. I did hear the squeal, and that was quite enough.

      Rabbits taste a lot like, yes, chicken. These, however were cooked with a German recipe and were a bit more interesting.

      The cow tongue was like a pot roast where the meat was more dense and not fully cooked. I wasn’t thrilled. Later I had some smoked lingua de vaca and sliced thin like lunch meat it tasted much like smoked pork.


    2. I wonder if they used a katana….

      Interesting. The professor would have thought it would have been more chewy.

      You are very brave. I’m not sure I would touch cow’s tongue!


    3. I don’t think they were from the PL. 😀

      It’s okay to touch the cow’s tail as long as the cow isn’t attached to it. On a brighter note, I love the cow tails I get in the candy aisle.

      Not brave enough to set food in the PL. At least not now. I don’t know what it might take to get me to the PL.


  3. Food traditions/normal dishes in other countries are sometimes quite interesting. Loved the photos, but uncertain if I’d be as brave as you in either prep or eating!


    1. I still like to try out new things. The tongue probably fascinated me because I have read a lot of British mystery books and tongue was served regularly in them.


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