Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Memories of a Cook - Ana Maria Soares da Silva

Ana Maria Soares da Silva
In its May 19th online edition, the Folha de S. Paulo's food section published a transcription of the oral memoirs of a certain Ana Maria Soares da Silva from Recife, Pernambuco. Ms. da Silva is a well-known food personality in Recife, and has long been celebrated for her bolo de rolo, Pernambuco's famous guava jelly-roll cake. (Click here for more on the bolo de rolo). Notoriously difficult to master, the bolo de rolo requires a skill that takes years to develop. Those who are considered to be bolo de rolo masters are local celebrities in Recife, and people serve their cakes with pride at family parties, anniversaries and important holidays.

A young and vigorous 90 years old, Ms. da Silva recounted her story to Folha reporter Luisa Fecarotta. Here is Flavors of Brazil's translation of her story:

On March 26, I turned 90 years old. I couldn't tell you for how many of those 90 years  I've been making bolo de rolo. I learned how to in the house of Dona Joaninha, from Joana another maid there. Dona Joaninha was married to a Portuguese man.

Joana made the cake by hand, always after lunch. She saved it wrapped up in a dishtowel and only served it the following day. Once, when Joana was sick, Dona Joaninha asked if I could make the cake for her. That was the day I made my first bolo de rolo alone.

Later I was the maid in the houses of other Portuguese families. Here, at the Casa dos Frios bakery, I started out by making bolo de rolo at night. I had finally left Mr. Amorim's, another Portuguese employer, and started working only here. I would work until midnight, completing orders for bolo de rolo.

It was like running a race. I'd beat the cake batter, pour it into the forms, and place them in the oven. I'd have to watch them all the time. Meanwhile I'd make another batch, then take the first batch out of the oven and put another batch in. Then while that batch was baking, I'd be spreading the guava jelly on the first batch and rolling it up.

I'd to this every day, using only a small hand-mixer and a wooden spoon to make the batter. The mixer seldom worked right, so I depended more on the wooden spoon. Today, I don't make bolo de rolo anymore. And I don't even like to eat it these days.

I grew up in the interior of Pernambuco state. On a plantation. I'd wake up very early, and have to walk three miles to reach the fields. I woke up so early, I don't even remember the time. In our cabin, my mother would cook beans, cuzcuz, cornmeal mush, manioc, potatoes. At Christmastime, she would kill a piglet for all of us to eat.

What I liked best was country-style beans with pumpkin, the way my grandma made them, with mustard leaves that are slightly bitter. Do you know mustard leaves? They're small, tough and bitter. Today, people people load up their beans with lots of everything, until there's no taste of anything. In my grandma's beans, she'd add just a little bit, and the taste was just right. I don't know why it tasted so good - maybe it's because kids have such sensitive palates, and later they begin to lose some of their sense of taste. Who knows?

Leaving the country for Recife was a spur-of-the moment thing. When we were working in the fields, we'd see the train pass by, and I'd say "Some day I'm going to be on that train." We said it as a joke, but one day I went to the market with my mother - she was selling tapioca there for a woman who was going to visit a sick sister in the city. The woman asked my mother if I could come to the city to help her take care of her sister. I was crazy with joy.

I got on the train to Recife on January 29th. I don't remember the year, but I remember the date. I got very homesick in Recife, but I said to myself, "I'm going to stay and I'm going to work hard. No one is going to say that I didn't know how to do anything right."

I've been working ever since. But cooking, you know, there's days you like it and days you don't like it. There's days you're inspired, and there's day your mind just shuts down and you don't know what to do. I've decided I don't want to cook anymore (laughs). Now I want people to cook for me (laughs again).


  1. This blog is fantastic!! I'm a Brazilian expat living in Chicago and I can't wait to try tons of recipes from this blog, especially the carne do sol one :)

  2. Oh wow thank you for this translation. She is still young in spirit;-)

  3. Thanks for the compliments, folks! I agree totally with the comment about her age in spirit - shows that the calendar doesn't really have much to do with one's age. And for the expat in Chicago, I guarantee that you'll "matar as saudades" for carne de sol when you try making it at home. Aproveite!