Siesta food – matching meals and climate
Three o’clock in Perth and the heat of ten thousand ovens is radiating form every surface. We have been untroubled by rain clouds for the past three months. We should be napping – taking a siesta to escape the devilish heat and to regain our strength for activity in the cooler hours. We have a climate comparable to California and Mediterranean. Just as school tips out for the day you could fry an egg on the bitumen. Kids come home scratchy and over-heated or press on to outdoor sports. Then there’s the question of what to feed the family under these conditions. The appetite is low, no one feels like sparking up the barbie, despite cultural stereotyping.
If we were in a sensible country that insisted on siestas we would spend the hours at which the heat was at its most relentless resting in the shade. We would refresh and rehydrate and recharge and be ready to continue the day after the heat had reached its peak, which is regularly over 1000F / 380 C.
Let us imagine Perth has become Portugal. We share similar climates, coastal landscapes and a dominating afternoon sun. We are also at the most westerly points of great continents.
While this is not a science article, I have still done my research: Writer and expert on everything Portugal Julie Dawn Fox tells me that “despite the heat, it’s not common for the Portuguese to take siestas. They have long lunch breaks and linger over a large meal but are back at work by 2.30 or 3pm.” However, this last week in Perth has been a scorcher and I’ve had this article planned. Plus I have just woken from a little afternoon nap, thick-headed and in no mood to think about cooking dinner or go back to the article planning stage. I am, however in the mood to be in western Portugal.
I have not visited Portugal for 25 years, but my old friend and author Ian Thornton (whom I have not visited for 21 years) can take me there in the pages of his novel The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms: How one man scorched the twentieth century but didn’t mean to.
“The fishing village of Sagres, The End of the World, hugged the most south-westerly tip of Portugal. To the west swelled the steely, grey depths of the Atlantic, destined to become a nautical tomb for many in the next three months, the next three years, the next three decades. To the south baked the warm refuge of the Mediterranean. Then beyond were the deserts and the Moors, the myths of Morocco and North Africa.”
The novel’s protagonist, Johan Thoms, holes up guiltily in Sagres while the Great War is raging to the East. Perhaps this is what he would have for dinner.
Caldo Verde is a traditional soup of onions and waxy potatoes stewed in olive oil with bay leaves, garlic and chorizo. It is finished with dark green leaves, such as kale. I am not going to furnish you with a recipe as it is very simple to make, but I will say, choose your chorizo carefully as it perfumes very strongly. I was in a rush and I bought a generic type from a major supermarket Chain here in Australia, I wish I had gone to an artisanal producer who gave more than two hoots about fragrance and flavour.
Fremantle, Perth’s port city, is famous for its sardines. The fish retailers were bare of the fresh variety this morning but The Fremantle Sardine Company’s Lemon Myrtle Leaf canned variety comes to the rescue. Olive tapenade goes and an iced glass of rose go along nicely, too.
Dessert is very happy to sit and wait for us to shake out our limbs after the refreshing siesta, but it will need refrigeration.
This kind of meal is satisfying, easily digested and can be prepared ahead of time and served even if the Portuguese siesta is a thing of fantasy and nostalgia these days. It is gentle and civilised and gentlenss and civility are essential in this heat which gives meagre relief from an average of 36 0C until the end of March. I shall be cooking dinner before 9 am tomorrow and taking a siesta when the kids get home. They know where I keep the ice lollies and water pistols.
Thank you to Emma Bolland for the scenic photographs