I’ve really been trying to avoid this, but it’s avoidable no longer: Brazilian cake is amazing. It’s dense, sugar-cane cake, different than the fluffy, fake stuff in the U.S., and there are dozens of different kinds. Bolo—cake—was one of the first words I learned here, which felt frustratingly superfluous when I was struggling to say ‘Where am I’ but now that I’ve given in to the bounty of bolo in Brazil, I love this word. I may have eaten half of Sra. Tabosa’s pé-de-moloque cake this weekend, quite a feat given that the recipe for pé-de-moloque calls for two and a half pounds of manioc dough, a pound of unprocessed cane sugar, and three cups of roasted cashews.
I was invited to Caruaru by the Tabosas, family friends who lived in Pasadena for a time, and who, according to photographic evidence and unfortunately not my own recollection, knew me when I was three. José grew up in Caruaru, and so his entire extended family converged to celebrate the great St. John. There were four different types of cake, though I, apparently, could not be torn away from the pé-de-moloque; there was corn-based food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; fireworks and bonfires, musica do forró; and all the aunts, uncles and cousins provided by a family of eight children.
José’s father, Sr. Tabosa, is one excited 77-year-old—he rocks up on his tip toes when he talks, hair askew, and he’s wound up about everything: about São João, about forró, about France (even though I’m actually from the U.S…), palm-reading, Land Rovers from the 70s, and, above all, açaí. He grows açaí in the mountains above Caruaru and was thrilled to learn of my fondness for açaí na tigela, and then—literally—jumped in the air when I admitted that I had never actually seen an açaí tree in person. An excursion to the farm was planned.
We traipse through mud and cows to find an açaí tree that has fruit on it—January and February are berry season—and I’m surprised to see that açaí berries look like mini purple coconuts: tight fists of fruit covered by a fibrous husk. This is fitting giving that açaí is, by definition, a palm (and stating this is, I believe, on par with stating, ‘coconuts come from palm trees’). The açaí everyone loves to snack on is made by freezing the pulp extracted from these tiny berries and blending it with honey or sugar.
Sr. Tabosa talks to the açaí trees: he leans over the fence and waves his hands in the air, and calls, “how are you today?” The wind whips the palm fronds at exactly the right moment, and they nod floppily. “They’re happy to see us,” he says. “Sometimes, when people come with me, they get embarrassed and don’t talk, but they’re happy today.” When we have to say goodbye, he says, “lets go quickly, so they don’t see us leave.”