Category: Cakes, Biscuits and Sweets
Doce de Escorcioneira
The escorcioneira is a rustic, spontaneous plant which grows especially on limy soil and is known almost exclusively in the city of Evora, where it was picked until 50 years ago.
In ancient times it was used to prepare savoury or sweet dishes (there are references of its culinary use in Portuguese 17th century cookery books). However, the only place in the world where escorcioneira dessert recipes can be found is Evora, the main city in the Alentejo region.
The dark, long and fleshy roots of this plant were used both as food and in popular medicine (documents from the 19th century mention its use as an antidote to viper bites). Used in soups or fried, it is certainly better known as an ingredient of sweet recipes which can be found in the cookery books kept at local monasteries. The plant roots were used to be sold by intermediaries to small artisan workshops which produced sweets (such as crystallised escorcioneira), loved by children and adults, locals and visitors.
Scorzonera sweet consists of cubes of crystallized escorcioneira, prepared by putting the roots in a pan and adding sugar, lemon or orange zests. Once the ingredients are well mixed together, the pan is taken out of the fire and its content is stirred until the mix dries. Once it is hard, the crystallised sweet is broken into pieces and wrapped in paper. This used to be the most famous product from the city and locals even thought that its name came for the word 'excursionist', given the high number of visitors who would come to buy it.
About 50 year ago, the sweet disappeared, probably because of the modernisation of agricultural practices, lack of commercial interest for the product, competition with chewing gum and the introduction of other packaged sweets to the region. The product is now only remembered with nostalgia by the elderly who tasted it in the past.
Today, the Alentejo Slow Food Convivium is promoting the recovery of the recipe of the Scorzonera sweet: a few members and friends have devoted part of their vegetable gardens in Evora to its cultivation. In Monte do Trigo a small farmer found some scorzonera plants and his experimental production is monitored by the Convivium.
The involved territories, located in central Alentejo, are Monte do Trigo and Portel (south-east of Evora) and the city of Evora, where the roots were taken and processed by small artisan confectioner's shops, which also sold the sweets produced with them.
Escorcioneira spontaneously grew in the area around Monte do Trigo and Portel.
At the moment the plant is nearly extinct, but there are still a few elderly people who knew the use of escorcioneira and the sweet recipes prepared with it.