Brazil, a vast land with an incredible bounty of tropical produce, both cultivated and wild, influenced by a wide array of European, African and indigenous cultures, always had a remarkably rich and unique dessert scene. For centuries, family recipes were carefully guarded secrets handed down from the leading women of families to their daughters and granddaughters. While some dishes, made of cheap, easily available ingredients, could be enjoyed by virtually all Brazilians, some recipes of elaborate construction were reserved for the wealthy planter classes, where the “Sá-Dona” (the leading lady of an aristocratic estate) would oversee the preparation of recipes with the help of her house slaves (slavery was legal and common in Brazil until 1889, and many recipes, especially desserts, were products of the sugar-slave economy).
For several reasons, for the longest time, many of the most popular Brazilian recipes were never publicly disseminated or printed. Families wished to preserve their ‘secret’ recipes, while the first printing press in Brazil was not established until 1808. Moreover, during the Portuguese colonial era (1500-1822), it was considered ‘proper’ for the wealthy and aspiring classes to publicize Portuguese, or other European dishes, with the local recipes considered ‘provincial’, even if it they were much beloved by Brazilians.
However, during the reign of Emperor Pedro II (r. 1840-1889), Brazil found its voice, and buoyed by national pride, the good and great of the country came to explore and promote things Brazilian. Food made with Brazilian ingredients, done to local recipes, was now looked upon with pride, and was to be promoted.
The first Brazilian cookbook was the Cozinheiro imperial ou nova arte do cozimento e do copeiro em todos os seus ramos (1840), authored by Constança Oliva de Lima and printed in Rio de Janeiro by the esteemed Laemmert firm, the same press that produced the present work. It proved extreme popular, running into several editions over many years, although examples are today very rare.
However, Cozinheiro imperial focused upon savory dishes, paying scant attention to sweets. Desserts, which played such central role in Brazilian cuisine, were not yet covered with their own dedicated book.
Enter Anna Maria das Virgens Pereira Rabello e Gavinho (1832 – 1856), the young “Sá-Dona” of an estate in the Macaé region, in the north of Rio de Janeiro province, an area famed for its ‘sweet tooth’. She hailed from an esteemed, wealthy family and at the age of 15 married the scion of another such clan, Commander José Gavinho Viana (1826 – 1904). Wise well beyond her years, while still only a teenager, she ran a large household with a bustling kitchen that catered to the many parties hosted at the estate. By the age of 19, she had already given birth to four children and has recorded numerous ‘secret’ desert recipes in a manuscript book, gleaned from her own family traditions and those of her aristocratic friends (this book is said to be retained by the Gavinho family to the present day). Tragically, this highly intelligent and enterprising young women died in 1856, at only the age of 24.
Constança Oliva de Lima, the author of Cozinheiro imperial, somehow obtained a copy of Rabello e Gavinho’s manuscript, and editing some of the recipes and adding a few from other sources, published it at the Doceira Brasileira ou Novo Guia Manual Para Se Fazerem Todas as Qualidades de Doces (Rio de Janeiro: Eduardo & Henriques Laemmert, 1851), which became the first published book of Brazilian desserts. While Rabello e Gavinho’s is not credited in print, her authorship of most of the recipes has since been confirmed by research.
Importantly, while Doceira Brasileira’s over a hundred recipes included many European elements, many of the dishes are quintessentially Brazilian, employing local ingredients, difficult or impossible to source in Europe. It also describes how to refine raw materials using local methods. In short it is a dessert book by Brazilians for Brazilians, epitomizing the patriotic sentiment that flourished during Dom Pedro II’s reign, having a very different feel from contemporary European cookbooks. It is also an important monument of in the history of Brazilian female authors, being both written and edited (and augmented) by women.
The present example of the work is of the third edition, issued in 1862, whereupon Oliva de Lima added additional material beyond the previous editions of 1851 and 1856.
The work is organized into nine chapters: I – Purification and refining of sugar, honey and rapadura; and the way to make sugar candies and syrups (pp. 1-22); II – Sweets in general that are not syrupy; pastries for sweets and puff pastry; Murcellas and various sweet soups (pp. 23-158); III – Fruit jellies, and others (pp. 159-167); IV – Sweets and fruits in syrup, or compotes, and creams, or milk cream (pp. 168- 193); V – Of the sweets and fruits covered, or confectioned, and the way of making some preserves (pp. 194 – 204); VI – The manufacture of tablets, flowers, fruits and different figures and sugary objects (pp. 205-217); VII – The method of conserving fruits in brandy syrup and sugaring (pp. 218- 225); VIII – Of ratafias or liqueurs made by infusion (pp. 226 – 243); IX – The system by which artificial ice is obtained for the whole year; and how to make ice cream (pp. 244-257); all followed by an alphabetical index per chapter (pp. 258-272).
Doceira Brasileira proved extremely popular and influential, with its recipes copied millions of times in hotels, restaurants and in private homes all across Brazil. It was issued in ten editions over period of 52 years, from 1851 to 1903, all printed by Laemmert, establishing many desserts as national ‘classics’ for generations to come. It also spurred the publication of many other dessert books in Brazil, although none of these was ever able to rival Doceira Brasileira’s treasured place in the kitchens of the nation.
A Note on Rarity
Despite, or perhaps because of, Doceira Brasileira’s great importance, it seems that almost all examples of the to work, in any of its editions, have perished, likely due to heavy use in kitchens and the ravages of Brazil’s generally tropical climate.
While there are likely a handful of examples in Brazilian libraries (although we have not been able to trace them), we can find only a single institutional example outside of Brazil of the work in any of the editions, being what seems to be an 1889 (fifth) edition, held by the Stanford University Library. Moreover, we are not aware of any sales records for any other examples in any of the editions since another 1862 (third) edition was offered for sale by Francis Edwards (London) in 1966.
References: No locations of the present 1862 edition of any of the other early editions, traced, at least outside of Brazil. Cf. Stanford University Library (re: 1889 fifth edition:) 641.5 .O48 T; OCLC: 22761778; (re: literary references:) Rosa BELLUZZO, Nem garfo nem faca à mesa com os cronistas e viajantes (2019), n.p.; Gilberto FREYRE, Açúcar: Uma sociologia do doce, com receitas de bolos e doces do Nordeste do Brasil (2020), n.p.; Laurence HALLEWELL, O livro no Brasil: sua história (2005), p. 240; EDUARDO & HENRIQUES LAEMMERT, Edições Brasileiras, Novo Catalog N. 3 (Rio de Janeiro: Eduardo & Henriques Laemmert, 1851); Joana MONTELEONE, (2019). ‘Uma análise do livro Doceira Brasileira’, Revista Ingesta, vol. 1, no. 2 (2019), p. 245.