Meet the Locals – Dona Graça

Few would know that my visit to a small restaurant outside of Silves would uncover a family history filled with romance, enterprise and delicious biscuits!

WORDS Henrica Vanderaa

The family-run self-service restaurante Pérola do Arade is located in Silves on the main road out toward Messines. I have stopped a few times and noted that the clientele includes locals and regulars.

On a recent visit, I spontaneously picked up a 250g bag of cookies, Pérolas de Limão, located at a tempting distance from the cash register. The owner, Dona Graça, was truly a gracinha, as they say in Portuguese, or delightful. She volunteered the story behind the cookies. I was touched by the tale and agreed to stop by on a Saturday afternoon when the restaurant was quiet to chat and watch the family make a batch of their now famous Pérolas de Limão.

The story of how the family came to run the restaurant is straight out of a romance novel! A true love story: Adelino’s family visited Dona Graça’s while she was still in Madeira. They came back with a picture of the lovely Dona Graça. Adelino fell in love with her just from the picture and went to Madeira to meet her. They were married, and 45 years later are still together. 

What a delightful family – Graça, her husband Adelino, their daughter Carla, and their granddaughter Rita – all work together. As a team, they create the simple but irresistible cookies made of nothing more than flour, margarine, eggs, sugar, a pinch of salt, lemon zest, and pure love. The recipe is based on one from Madeira, where Dona Graça originates.

As the story goes, when Rita was at the end of her 4th-grade year, the idea came about for her class to enjoy a weekend trip to celebrate their success. Unfortunately, some of the parents simply did not have the means to afford such an expense. Dona Graça, with her restaurant of over 15 years, came up with the idea of making simple cookies to raise funds. Some parents donated flour or sugar; others helped sell cookies, as did the 4th graders, along with Dona Graça in the restaurant. When the idea was launched, they did not have a name for the cookies. It was a regular customer from Setubal who suggested Pérolas de Limão.

The sale of the cookies was a success and even had the support of the local priest, who ate at the restaurant every day. During Mother’s Day Mass, he announced the sale of cookies outside the church entrance after mass to help the cause. The Pérolas de Limão sold out and the demand for more kept the family busy. 

In total, 900€ was raised. Rita and 19 other classmates were able to enjoy a trip to the Alentejo. Each student was also given money to buy an ice cream and a small souvenir.

This extraordinary tale exemplifies how a family bond can make a difference to the local community. 

Facebook: @perola.arade


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