Wednesday, November 17, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Origone

A popular food from the southernmost state of Brazil, Rio Grande do Sul, origone are a form of pressed, dried peaches. Rio Grande do Sul is much less tropical than most of Brazil, lying in the temperate climate zone, so fruits that are cultivated in North America and Europe, like peaches, cherries, apples and grapes, can be grown there and nowhere else in Brazil. In most of Brazil there is not enough of a cool-weather season to generate the period of dormancy that these fruits require. In Rio Grande do Sul, on the other hand, there is a distinct winter season, with occasional snow at higher altitudes, and so temperate-climate fruits flourish.

The culture of Rio Grande do Sul has always been influenced by the culture of its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries, Uruguay and Argentina. To this day, inhabitants of Rio Grande do Sul are called gaúchos, the name given to the cowboys of the pampas throughout southern South America. The Portuguese name for these dried peaches, origone, derives from the Spanish word orejón meaning "big ear." When I was a kid I used to call dried apricots and peaches "dried ears" - the resemblance was clear to me. I guess that I wasn't the only to notice that resemblance.

Origone has a long history in the southern part of Brazil. In early times, drying fruit in the sun was a common and reliable way to preserve the bounty of the harvest for eating later in the year. The gauchos were often away from their homes for much of the year, herding cattle on the treeless expanses of the pampas. They had to carry much of their foodstuffs along with them and origone was light and easy to carry and store. The concentrated sugar and vitamins in these dried fruits also made them a valuable nutritive source when fresh fruits were not an option..

What once was made and eaten out of necessity became a food habit in Rio Grande do Sul, and origone is now considered one of the regions traditional ingredients. Although origone is delicious eaten "as is", it's more often reconstituted by cooking and eaten as a sweet dessert, or part of a savory dish of rice or meat. However it's eaten, it's symbolic of Rio Grande do Sul, and of that state's gaúcho culture.

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