Mass. woman captures Azorean roots in recipe bookBy LINDA MURPHY , Associated Press
Jul. 27, 2013 2:31 AM ET
DARTMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — When Maria Lawton embarked on a plan to learn the traditional Azorean recipes she grew up with she had no idea it would turn into a cookbook. Or that it would revive childhood memories for readers from across the country, Canada, and even Norway.
"Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours," a collection of more than 60 recipes and stories celebrating Azorean culture and food, was released in mid-June with an accompanying Facebook page (AzoreanGreenBean) in which Lawton shares videos of cooking the food and an online conversation with fans from around the world. So far, she's sold more than 500 books and garnered 8,000 followers of the Facebook page from around the world. "From day one, people have just embraced the whole thing," she said.
Born in Sao Miguel, Azores, Lawton moved with her family to New Bedford when she was 6 years old. A current Dartmouth resident, she embarked upon a plan to preserve her family recipes when she lost her mother, Adelina Medeiros, and father, Joseph Medeiros, and her grandmother within a couple years.
"Food was a large part of my upbringing, the kitchen table was always a hubbub of activity," she recalled. "My mother was an amazing cook and my grandmother was an amazing baker. When I lost them, I realized I was missing all of that."
But her mother, like many home cooks, never measured anything. So when she tried to make the family recipes she was at a loss when it came to exact measurements and unexpected ingredients like the cinnamon used in many of the meat dishes made in her native town of Lagoa in Sao Miguel.
"I found a spiral-bound notebook she kept with a list of ingredients, but there were no measurements. At that point, I decided to recreate the recipes for me and my three daughters," she said.
Her father's side of the family still live in Sao Miguel, so four years ago, she returned to her native country to learn to cook at the side of her elderly aunts — this time, being careful to take measurements. "The first thing they had to do was allow me in their kitchen to cook. As a guest, they didn't want me to do any cooking," she recalled of her aunts, who, like many Azoreans, are well-known for their hospitality.
With no professional experience as a cook or writer, Lawton said the process of writing the book, and making the recipes accessible to readers, was a four-year journey of memories. "I cooked. I wrote. I ate. And I cried. Part of that was mourning the loss of so many people so close together," said Lawton.
And the book has had a similar impact on people who grew up in the Azorean culture. She's heard from readers in California, Indiana, Texas, Nevada and myriad other places about how the book brought back memories from others' childhoods as well. One reader, she said, wrote to tell her, "This is the first time I've read a cookbook cover to cover. And I cried while reading it. It's very close to what my childhood was like," said Lawton.
The result of her journey through her family's recipes is a collection of Azorean dishes that includes Arroz Doce (Sweet Rice Pudding), Massa Sovada (Sweet Bread), Sopa de Couve (Kale Soup), Cozido (Boiled Dinner), Caçoila (Marinated Pork), and Camarão Moçambique (Shrimp Mozambique).
The first recipe she wanted to learn was for stewed hake, a fish soup that her mother used to make, but for readers of the book and Facebook page, it's all about the Arroz Doce and the Massa Sovada. "The sweet rice pudding has had more than 70,000 hits and the sweet bread has had more than 80,000 hits. It blows me away how many people have looked at them," she said.
Lawton self-published the cookbook on her own, without the assistance of a self-publishing company using a local printing company. And even as she was writing it, she realized she had enough recipes for follow-up books. She's currently working on a book focusing solely on desserts from her family recipes.