Family, Feasting, Furnas

Cooking in the Ground

Family and Feasting in Furnas

Sao Miguel, Azores

by Jacqueline Raposo – photos by Brent Herrig

I remember being mesmerized as a child the first time I saw the little town of Furnas, one over from my father’s hometown of Povoação on the Azorean island of Sao Miguel. The open hot springs billowed white smoke furiously into the air, then dove indefinitely into the volcanic ground below. They permeated everything with an intoxicating smell of spoiled eggs so strong that, after driving the winding, dizzying roads from one remote corner of the island back home, you could find yourself losing your lunch while breezing through Furnas.  When very young, I was particularly haunted by stories of people falling into those springs and their skin melting off as they were pulled to safety.

I never found out if that last part was true or just an old wives tale spun to discourage us kids from getting to close too the open springs… but they now have tall fences standing guard so, at the age of 33, I still assume the worst.

I’ve returned to Sao Miguel many times since that first trip, and I’ve come to appreciate more and more the tradition of cooking food in the ground at Furnas.  As a child my avó – my grandmother – would prepare a large pot layered with meat and potatoes and vegetables, and strong men would lower it into the ground and cover it with wood and stone.  As we played by the small lake or flipped cards at picnic tables, the pot would sizzle. And just when the sun took a turn to the west, it would be pulled up and out and serve the massive group of family there.

It’s a special place.

I’ve gone back to Sao Miguel many times as an adult, and am still enchanted by this ritual, though perhaps slightly less so.  Now that both of my grandparents are gone, our friends at the cafe in our town prepare the pot for us, joining us in the feast as we drink wine and talk about things grownups who rarely see each other like to talk about.  It’s not the same, and it always makes me miss my avó horribly.  But the magic and wonder have been replaced by a deep gratitude for the unique experience, and a respect for those on the island who still make their Sundays about lowering a pot of meat and potatoes into the ground, and spending lazy time together until it’s ready to feast them.

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