In 1984 the French anthropologist Mouette Barboff discovered homemade bread from Alentejo. From then on he made bread in Portugal his main study goal and devoted a diploma thesis, several books as well as decades of work and dedication. Mouette Barboff died suddenly on March 22nd, announced the two children in a post on their mother’s Facebook page.
The books he published – O Pão em Portugal (2008), The Tradition of Bread in Portugal (2011), O Pão das Mulheres (2016) and Crypto-Jewish Memories in Alheiras Transmontanas (2018) – earned him two Gourmand Awards and any significant reference any work on this subject will be considered.
She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She was a member of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and founder of the European scientific association, Civilization du Pain.
In an interview with the Etaste website, he said that his first work on pastoral art was in Alentejo. From then on he discovered and became fascinated by women making bread at home – something that no longer existed in France, with the same artisanal character that he had found in Portugal.
“She comes from a progressive France and arrives in Portugal, a gray country at the time. She photographs and tells how difficult life was for women. He falls in love with the grain cycle and the female cycle, ”summarizes Paulo Amado from Edições do Gosto and Etaste.
He began his studies with Alentejo wheat bread, but eventually expanded it to include rye bread, bread, and bread. “I didn’t want to focus on just the production part, but the entire cycle: from cultivation to consumption,” he explained to Etaste. “This meant going back to the same place several times to be able to follow the sowing, the irrigation of the wheat, the irrigation of the maize, the harvest, the harvest and the grinding of the grains and at the end of the bread. “
As a result, he spent long seasons in Portugal, deepening the study on the subject and often staying at home with those involved in the bread-making process. What happened, explains Paulo Amado, was that in the middle of the process “the object of investigation is changing brutally, first with industrialization and now, more recently, with the new bakeries and the leaven, which has become a hegemony”. Hence he concludes that this is the story of “Mouette against hegemony because she was a woman of diversity”.
It was Mouette’s books that baker Mário Rolando gave “the physical substrate on paper” to be able to talk about bread as he did. “There are still bakers who don’t know who Mouette Barboff is,” she complains, remembering the way she encouraged and helped her make a second edition of the book O Pão em Portugal, as a cover much more to her taste and that “made her very happy”.
It is “a shame for us that a French author did this work” on Portuguese bread, which Mário Rolando continues to offer “to many fellow bakers around the world” as if “he offers good bread”. Despite all those who set out to bake bread in the new wave of bakers, many of whom came from other professions, “need Mouette’s book as bread for the mouth, as if it were some kind of diploma,” she says Message didn’t get through, she says.
Mário Rolando refers to the same problem that Paulo Amado noted: “The bread that is made in Portugal today is the same as that made in São Francisco or anywhere else in the world.” And what Mouette in his Work celebrated, Portuguese bread was an artisanal product in all its diversity, linked to the history of a people and, above all, to its women. A bread that we can hardly find in bakeries today.
His last book on Alheiras Trás-os-Montes was born precisely from this deepening: He wanted to understand how much truth there was in the thesis about the Jewish origin of Alheiras, and in the absence of written documentation, he devoted himself to observe the gestures of those who make Alheiras to discover in them the Jewish origin, which had to be erased from all other records, and survive only in the most unconscious gestures.
“These things were secret so I think the best way is to follow the process,” he told Fugas in January 2020. “That’s how I discovered these words and these gestures, some of which are metaphors.” He was particularly interested in this often metaphorical side of baking bread. “As an anthropologist, I love to discover ancient traditions, some of which have to do with the metaphorical part of bread,” he told Diário de Notícias in 2018. Bread has to do with life. The dough is alive. “
It was the same attention to the smallest details that made his decades of work in Portugal an indispensable reference for anyone passionate about the history of one of the most important products in human nutrition.