The kitchen garden, or horta, potlatch is our most active exchange. Whether we've invited people for a meal or a friend just drops by, we have been on the receiving end of large bags of homegrown kale, of bananas and avocados picked right off their trees, and of baskets of fruits I'd once never heard of, but which now I covet: acerola and pitanga. We have returned the favors with red and green peppers, lettuces, cherry tomatoes, beets and carrots, all picked from our own garden. And we have melon ripening as I write. Already some people are eyeing them for future exchanges.
|All from backyard stills|
We also have developed an interesting alcoholic beverage potlatch, which includes moonshine as well as the store-bought variety. We have happily accepted all kinds of interesting homemade cachaças, each more gut-burning than the other. And we hold up our side with honor, bringing bottles of my own homemade limoncello, a digestif that I love, but which is not readily available here. I make it in large batches, so there are always extra bottles to give away. But our booze potlatch isn't all mountain rye from pappy's little still. The offerings have ranged from bottles of lovely red wines to cartons of sparkling wines, from 12-year-old Scotch to Piper Heidsieck. My all-time favorite is the 1.75-liter bottle of rosé that was brought — along with many, many other bottles that day — by friends we had invited for a weekend of high-end gluttony. I don't know what to do with the empty bottle, but I can't bring myself to recycle it just yet.
As for prepared foods, well, we seem to have entered another plane beyond the homemade cakes and cookies of my youth. Here the exchange revolves more around homemade jams and jellies, and even chutneys and crystallized ginger. The winner in this potlatch category, though, is our cleaning lady, Rosângela. Over the years she has taken it upon herself to make sure Mark and I taste all the Brazilian dishes she feels we should know, and she makes sure that what she brings is engordante (fattening), since we're too thin for her taste. And every year around Christmas she brings us rabanada, similar to but not quite French toast. Every year around the June holidays known here as the festas juninas she brings us canjica, similar to but not quite rice pudding (it uses hominy instead of rice). Her garden is enormous and her generosity is boundless. She comes on Tuesdays and Fridays . . . wonder what she'll bring tomorrow.