My Portugal Series - Maria Lawton
We're back with our September installment of My Portugal, a monthly series where we dive into conversations about Portuguese culture with some of our lifelong friends here at Portugalia Marketplace. Let's give a great big welcome to our next guest:
Maria Lawton has been one of our dearest friends here at Portugalia Marketplace since the beginning. Known as the "Azorean Green Bean," Maria is an esteemed host and executive director of the award-winning series "Maria's Portuguese Table" on PBS. With a deep connection to her Azorean roots in Portugal, Maria has successfully brought the essence of authentic Portuguese cusine to American television audiences.
Portugalia Marketplace: Maria, can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired your passion for cooking?
Maria Lawton: Absolutely. I hail from a small picturesque village on the island of Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal. I emigrated to the USA when I was just six years old, and we settled in the city of New Bedford, MA. I lived in a three decker home with my parents on the first floor, my grandparents on the second floor and my aunt and uncle on the third. Growing up, my home was always filled with the warm and inviting aromas of Portuguese cuisine, thanks to my mother and my grandmother who were fervent cooks, and it made a lasting impression on me at a very young age. Over the years, my culinary journey took me from my family's kitchen and table to places throughout the USA and the Azores Islands, soaking up regional cooking techniques and flavors which later became a significant part of my culinary narrative.
PM: You’ve been an integral part of Portugalia Marketplace since day one, hosting tours and book signings and everything in between. We couldn’t be more appreciative of your support! Do you have any favorite memories from past events here at the market?
ML: Oh, it has indeed been a remarkable journey with Portugalia Marketplace! One of my fondest memories has to be the inaugural gastronomy food tour that I hosted there a few years ago. I love nothing more than bringing together people from all walks of life to share and enjoy authentic Portuguese dishes. The laughter, shared stories, and the communal vibe created a magical atmosphere, reinforcing the spirit of unity and celebration that is at the heart of Portuguese culture.
Next would be the book signings. It’s wonderful to meet with others that share the same deep connection to our Portuguese culture that I have as well.
PM: Your PBS show, Maria’s Portuguese Table, is now in its second season. Can you tell our readers a little about the series and what to expect this season? Was there a particular episode / region you visited that really stood out during filming?
ML: The series, Maria's Portuguese Table, is a joyous journey exploring the vibrant and rich history, culture, and gastronomy of Portugal. This season, we delve deeper into the hidden culinary treasures scattered across various regions. A few places that really stood out to me were our visit to the islands of Terceira, São Jorge, Pico and Faial which are part of the central islands in the Azorean archipelago. The breathtaking landscapes coupled with the exclusive wine tours and the heartwarming encounters with local producers made those episodes a truly enriching experience. I have actually heard from some of the viewers on how much love and pride they felt while watching this season. Truly heartfelt!
PM: We have so many staple dishes that we’ve learned from your cookbook, Azorean Cooking: From My Table to Yours. What inspired the recipes in this book, and do you have a favorite that you find yourself returning to?
ML: The inspiration behind Azorean Cooking: From My Family Table to Yours was not only to preserve my family recipes, but to also bring the hidden culinary jewels of the Azores to the global stage. It’s also a tribute to the generations of home cooks like my mother and grandmother who have nurtured and preserved our culinary traditions. I can honestly say that I have several favorite dishes. I could never pick just one! Each is special in their own way. Recreating wonderful food memories and sharing with family and friends is the heart and soul of Portuguese cuisine.
PM: Are there any Portuguese dishes or products that you feel should be more commonplace here in the United States?
ML: Absolutely! I believe that Portuguese cheeses, especially Queijo São Jorge and Serra da Estrela cheese, deserve a more prominent place on the American culinary landscape. These cheeses, with their unique flavors and textures, can elevate any cheese platter. Additionally, I would love to see a greater appreciation for the assortment of amazing Portuguese pastries besides Pastéis de Nata. Next time you're in a Portuguese bakery, you should try a Pastel de Feijão, which is a rich bean tart or the heavenly Pão de Deus, meaning God’s Bread, which is a brioche style bun that's topped with a blend of egg cream, coconut and sugar. Trust me that it is a true delight for the senses! Then don’t even get me started on Portuguese wines as well as olive oils … They are hidden gems that are also so undervalued.
PM: What would you say are your must-see stops and destinations when traveling through Portugal?
ML: In the middle of the Atlantic ocean there are 9 volcanic islands that make up the Azores Archipelago. Each has breathtaking vistas, waterfalls, thermal pools and the most amazing people who call it home. But as much as they are similar, each island has their own culinary specialties, whether it’s a special dish or dessert. The Azores are magical and filled with wonder, and one needs to experience them all!
Live locally to the Fall River Area? Maria will be at Portugalia Marketplace for a meet and greet and book signing on Saturday, October 21, 2023 from 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM. Hope to see you there!
Serra da Estrela DOP Cheese