Thursday, December 24, 2015

Comfort and Joy

From the time I was a young child one of my favorite foods has been Portuguese Sopas.  I'm don't have any Portuguese in my lineage, but my mother was raised near a town with many Portuguese decedents so she was privy to the festivals and celebrations they held...and with that their scrumptious food.

This is her recollection of Sopas:

Once a year she remembers watching a parade with family friends that honored Portugal's Queen Isabel of Agagao.
It was one of a few opportunities her family of 8 would "go out and eat."
She remembers standing in line to get a bowl of the delicious stew and bread, and that it was her chance to drink an orange soda.

Sopas found a way into our family traditions (mostly through the stomach memory).

My grandma began cooking Sopas for our family visits.
The rich aroma of spices filled the house and I have such vivid memories of walking through the door and smelling it simmering on the stove.

The smell was an instant hug of love knowing that she had prepared early in the day the stew meat in anticipation of our arrival.
Sitting around their little round table in the kitchen allowing the steam to rise around our cheeks as we sopped up the juices with french bread.
The Sopas soon became a requested item for my birthdays. 
I have never pronounced it correctly.  
And it lovingly became known in our home as "Soupis"
Sopas for me became a love language of food.

I remember around my 10th birthday or so my mom suggesting that maybe for my girl's sleepover we should do pizza instead of Sopas because the girls didn't really like that for dinner.  I was stunned. Slightly offended.  How could someone NOT appreciate the labor of love that IS Sopas. I conceded.  Secretly pissed as I took bites of pizza instead of slurping up Sopas on my birthday.

New traditions soon took over, and Sopas was made less and less.

Recently, I asked with puppy-dog eyes if my mom would please make some.
She knows food is my love language.
My mom loves me. 
Not surprisingly, my dad does too.

They both prepped two pots of Sopas for our families last night.
It was family.
It was history.
It was new memories.
New laughter and stories told as the steam kissed our cheeks again.
It was everything I remember it to be and my memories are full because of Sopas.

Here is a photo story of the night, as well as a brief history of Queen Isabel of Agagao.

The "Festa" began hundreds of years ago.  In 1296 when Queen Isabel of Agagao, wife of King Diniz of Portugal, saw her subjects suffering from the effects of a devastating drought followed by a long famine. Thousands of people died during those years. Wells ran dry, and food began to get scarce.  Portugal’s Queen Isabel did all she could for her people during that time. There is a tradition that shows her, always with red roses in one hand and a small loaf of bread in the other. This stems from her habit of taking bread from the palace and secretly passing it to the poor and hungry. One day the king found out about it and confronted her. When she opened her apron to reveal the stolen bread, a miracle had occurred. For instead of bread, a bunch of red roses fell to the floor. Her generosity and love for her people had been honored by God.

Masses were said continuously during a nine-day novena until the day of Pentecost when the people witnessed three ships sail up the harbor and docked in Lisbon. These ships were filled with grain. Their hunger was finally at an end. It also began to rain, after several years of drought. This was considered to be a major miracle.

In thanksgiving to the Holy Spirit for this miraculous deliverance, the day of the Pentecost was declared to be a national holiday. This holiday persisted in Portugal for several centuries before being exported to the Azores Islands, and onto the community in Manteca.  Queen Isabel was canonized by Pope Urban the Eighth in 1625. Her devotion to her people was symbolized by the promise she made to the Holy Spirit that if her people were delivered from the famine and drought, she would lay her jeweled crown on the altar as a gift to the church.

Replicas of her crown adorned with the dove, the Holy Spirit’s symbol, were made and the saintly queen began a custom of crowning and placing her cape on the poorest girl in the kingdom and poorest male beggar.

Although the original meaning of this custom, which intended to honor the less fortunate of the kingdom, has been partially forgotten due to our comfortable life styles, the custom of crowning and feeding the people of our community Sopas still takes place.

This Festa tradition has survived nearly 700 years of tumultuous worldly change and may very well survive another 700 years, for its inception is deep-rooted in religion, but more importantly, in faith.


I amand I am heart-full of food, family, and memories.

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