As we wind our way down the mountain road after a visit to Caldes de Monchique, the ancient Roman spa known for its healing powers, we’re reflecting on our climb through a gorge carved within the mountains, destined for cascading falls and hot springs. We envision the hopeful people who pilgrimaged to this idyllic spot 1,000 years ago with hopes of healing various ailments and to calm the mind and soothe the body. Once again, I’m reminded of our fleeting presence on this earth. We (except for paranoid me!) drank from the fountain that pumps water from one of the ancient springs. The kids seemed more relaxed than usual but I’ll admit they were focused on getting an ice cream on the way out. Kids will be kids!
On the car ride home, we passed through hills and towards the valleys, where almonds, figs and oranges have grown for hundreds and thousands of years. Heading back from Monchique, I always like to visit one of the roadside stands to buy a few kilos of oranges from the local farmers who sit with their small stash of goods hoping to make a few euros.
This time, we stopped by the same little old lady we happened to visit in the past. She sat beside her offerings, probably what little she grows on her own property: two crates of oranges, five eggs and a small pile of garlic. She smiled, her cheeks brightening a wrinkled face and looked me straight in the eyes. With shaky, weathered hands and gnarly fingers, she moved oranges from the crate to a measuring scale undoubtedly as old as she, and into a bag. On a tattered piece of paper, she scribbled 1,50 euros for two kilos of oranges, a modest amount. As she passed the bag to me, I was given more than oranges, but a connection to a woman who I’d never really know but who so briefly touched my heart. I only hope she’ll be there the following summer.
The only thing to do next was to contemplate what to do with oranges so rooted in history and laden with experience. The kids would juice many for breakfast and serve their sugary sweet nectar proudly in a pitcher. One morning I blended the rich pulp and juice together with vanilla ice cream, froze it in a hollowed out orange, creating a traditional Portuguese frozen orange treat (sans the liquor) often found in restaurants. It’s a delicious and fun summer treat to enjoy, even if you have to get your oranges in a grocery store and not from a tiny roadside stand in Portugal.
Portuguese Frozen Oranges
4 large navel oranges
2 cups (1 pint) vanilla ice cream
Cut a small slice off the bottom of four oranges so they can sit on a plate without falling over. Cut about ½ inch off the top of the oranges and remove the pulp and juice. Transfer to a blender and add 2 cups of vanilla ice cream. Blend until smooth and pour back into the oranges. Place them uncovered on parchment paper and freeze overnight until solid. Freeze the leftovers in a small container to use on top of the oranges when serving.