The Table of My Ancestors: Week 24 (Portugal)

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I can’t believe this the last week of this project. Honestly, the last six months have flown by! It’s been fascinating to explore my heritage through cooking recipes from the lands my ancestors came from: Scotland; North Africa; Egypt; Spain; Senegambia; and Portugal. Most of those regions were a complete surprise to me when they showed up in my 23 and Me DNA results. But I discovered the most beautiful thing when I dove in and started researching them: an unexpected sense of connection. Connection to beautiful places and fascinating people and celebrated recipes and complicated histories. Connection to something bigger than myself. I write in my book that not knowing where I came from has always left me feeling untethered, like it was me all alone out here in this big world, not knowing what my place was or where I belonged. This project, combined taking the ancestry test, has resolved that for me. I am Scottish. I am Moroccan. I am Egyptian. I am Spanish. These are new identities for me, ones that I tried timidly at first, unsure of how they’d fit — like trying on a coat in a boutique’s fitting room. But over the past six months, they have become a part of me, etched themselves into my blood and bones. I know who I am. I know where I came from. It’s an incredible, beautiful feeling.

To celebrate, I chose to end this project by baking a cake. Since it needed to be a Portuguese recipe, I wanted something that Portuguese hosts would serve for family or friends. Enter caramelized apple cake. It’s essentially an upside down apple cake with dark, homemade caramel and sliced apple on the bottom, topped with a rich and fluffy vanilla and lemon cake.

Assembling the base

Apples have an interesting history of being used in literature and art to convey symbolism. Typically, they’re meant to communicate ideas of love, beauty, and sentimentality. In the Christian religion, the apple is thought of to be the fruit that Adam and Eve ate of in the Garden of Eden (though the biblical text does not actually specify what type of fruit it is!), giving it a bit of a bad rap. However, it also symbolizes knowledge, since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In some artist depictions of Jesus, he has an apple in his hand, denoting the redemption he brings to the brokenness originating in the garden. For all those reasons and more, an apple cake seemed like the perfect ending for this journey I have been on for the last six months.

I think I’ll probably be a little bored with my same old recipes going forward, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones, particularly if they’re meaningful to your family or culture! What are your favorites? Comment below and let me know. And from the bottom of my heart, thank you for embarking on this project with me. So many of you have let me know how interesting it’s been and that you love seeing the things I made. It’s been a gift to have you along for the ride. Thank you.

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