Seated contentedly at the dinner table, surrounded by her six children, 26 grandchildren, 39 great-grandchildren and 6 great-great grandchildren, Catarina is a good example of how a Mediterranean diet, fresh air and exercise can produce results which teams of doctors and tonnes of tablets fail to match.
Catarina Carreiro was born in the mountains of Penha Garcia, Idanha-a-Nova, in eastern Portugal, a region where air pollution rates are reduced to zero. Belonging to a generation which started to work in the fields as soon as they were old enough to walk, Catarina Carreiro is a typical example of the Portuguese countryfolk, eating only fresh vegetables and fruits, in season, and meat only occasionally.
The habits in the past, before the refrigerator became a staple of kitchen equipment, was to kill two pigs per year in January, cut up the meat into meal-sized portions, salt and smoke the hams and make sausages, later smoked, with the entrails. All the pig, including the ears, was consumed. Breeding their own chickens and rabbits, these families were, and continue to be in many country villages, practically self-sufficient in food.
The result is a diet totally free from chemicals, meals washed down with liberal quantities of home-made red wine, harvested in September and kept in barrels for the whole year. Meat exists in the diet, but more often as a piece boiled in a pot of soup with beans and cabbage to give flavour. Fish is obtained by exchanging it for eggs once or twice a week. Most meals are accompanied with a freshly-picked salad, well irrigated with olive oil.
When these people reach retirement age, they do not put their feet up at 65 years of age and give up. They keep on working, sowing potatoes and other vegetables, looking after their animals, continuing to toil from sunrise to sunset, always thinking about the next day, the next Moon, the next wind or rains.
Such is the recipe for a long, happy life.
Timothy BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.Ru LISBON PORTUGAL