The first Spanish cookery book that I ever owned was one I had first come across in the kitchen of Judy Auld, the friend who also introduced me to Frigiliana The book was “The Foods And Wines Of Spain” by Penelope Casas. Neither Judy nor her husband, Pat are still with us, but in no small part it is to them that I owe my present life. To remind me of them, I still have my much used copy of Penelope Casas’s book. Recently, I turned to it for a recipe that I used a lot when still living in England, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I would share it with you. Say “Spanish sausage” and the word, “chorizo” immediately springs to mind. This version is the raw chorizo used in cooking. In England I used to buy casings from my local butcher, but it struck me that since the casing is so often stripped off before adding the chorizo to whatever dish, we needn’t get too worried about producing a skinless form. Not only that, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks in a container with a suitably snug-fitting lid; it can even be frozen. So this is what you need; 500gm pork mince 2 tsp coarse sea salt 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper 2tbs smoked, mild Spanish paprika (I prefer La Chinata, widely available in the UK) 1tsp smoked ‘picante’ Spanish paprika, or to taste. 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 tsp ground coriander 1/2 tsp sugar 2 large cloves of garlic, crushed 3tbs red wine A pair of disposable rubber gloves also comes in handy. Put everything into a large bowl and mix thoroughly together, squishing it through your fingers until you have a smooth, homogenous ball of meat. Cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour. Then, transfer to a clean, plastic box with a tight-fitting lid and keep in the fridge until needed. Alternatively, you could pack it in smaller quantities and store in the freezer, removing what ou need, as and when. I've used it as sausage, as meatballs and as a filling for empanadas; there must be many other uses. I hopw you enjoy it as much as I do.
It was quiet in the village yesterday. Those who didn’t have to go off to work were taking things gently having been up most if not all of the night before. Another fiesta, that of St John the Baptist. There are only two people whose birth is celebrated in the Christian calendar; Jesus, on 25th December, and St John the Baptist on 24th June. Of course, there is no historical evidence to validate either of these dates, and it may seem strange that they fall almost exactly six months apart. The Catholic Church has always been particularly adept at commandeering suitable pagan celebrations and recasting them to suit its own purposes in bringing people into the circle of the faithful. Two of the biggest pagan festivals occurred on the solstices (roughly 21st December and 21st June) and lo and behold we have birthdays to celebrate at each of these points. The Feast of St John (who, incidentally is the patron saint of Cataluña0 begins on the evening before. Depending on where you live, the tradition is to gather on the beach, at the lakeside or on the river bank. There you build and light your bonfire - or your barbecue, if you prefer, and party your way through to midnight, at which moment it is considered enormous good luck to dip at least a toe into the water as the Feast of the Saint arrives; the more adventurous (or perhaps those in greater need of luck) plunge fully clothed into the water, swimming and splashing about. Another source of good fortune, but one mainly confined to the young, is to leap over the bonfire, which again has a pagan ring about it to me.
The very first restaurant that we ate at in Frigiliana, a few months short of thirty years ago, was El Tangay. To this day I do not know what a tangay is, but no matter. It was a family run restaurant in the new part of the village, and there was no written menu. Instead, the proprietor stood at your table, pad and pencil in hand and listed (in Spanish and English, for example: “sopa, soup”) what was on offer; it never varied either in variety or in quality, and arrived at the table in the kind of quantities that you would have needed to fuel up for a day out in the campo working on your terraces. There were very few places to eat in the village in those days, and they all tended to offer a couple of meat dishes, one of fish, some shellfish - all cooked with lots of oil and an abundance of garlic, a large platter of salad and a pile of chips. Oh, and there was also usually chorizo and tortilla, the famous Spanish omelette made with potatoes. May I just digress at this point to say that the pronunciation of ‘z’ as ‘ts’ is a feature of German and Italian, but not of Spanish. The Spanish ‘z’ is pronounced ‘th’ as in ‘thirst’. By the same token, the Spanish ‘ch’ is pronounced like the English ‘ch’ and not like the throat-clearing German ‘ch’ nor the Italian ‘ck’. So the combination which grates on my ear whenever I hear it, ‘choritso’ could not exist in any of the three languages; being a Spanish word for a Spanish variety of sausage, it is correctly pronounced ‘choritho’. There, that’s got that off my chest. There have been many changes in Frigiliana over the past thirty years, not least in the variety of cuisines that we can now experience in the village. We have a Polish restaurant, an Italian pizzeria, and a German run one and a not very successful Indian. We have what might be called ‘modern Mediterranean, and a Middle East-leaning restaurant, and we have restaurants offering the kind of fare that you would encounter in a modern British restaurant, as well as those offering menus on the ‘pub grub’ to ‘gastro pub’ spectrum. And, of course, you have a selection of Spanish restaurants. But the Spanish restaurants have by and large modified what they offer to suit the palates of the expat, the visitor and the tourist. Not so El Tangay. The proprietor is long gone to his rest, and the restaurant is run by the generation below him. But the menu is the same, apart from one or two additional dishes. You may now have your albondigas with an almond sauce or with the traditional, tomato sauce. The choto, previously only cooked al ajillo, is now also offered with an almond sauce. But these and other additions to the menu have the same pedigree as the other items that have always been served; they are the food that the people of Frigiliana and the surrounding countryside have eaten in their own homes as everyday food for decades, if not centuries. The soup that we had on that very first visit is an excellent example. A huge, steaming tureen of chicken stock filled with equal proportions of white cabbage and chickpeas, together with bits of chicken, ham and black pudding, onions and a little yellow food colouring to give it a golden hue. We had that soup again two weeks ago when twenty one of us gathered there for a meal. Indeed, I’m convinced that - thirty years apart or not - it is the same soup. I don’t believe that the cauldron in the kitchen is ever empty at the end of the night, and so I have a picture of the first person into the kitchen in a morning going to the cauldron, replenishing it and putting it on to simmer ready for the day. We also had a selection of the main course dishes brought to the table for sharing out, salad, and chips, all of which were constantly replenished until eventually the organiser of the evening had to stagger into the kitchen and surrender on behalf of all of use. And still all that cost only 15€ per head. If you come to the village, you must put El Tangay on your ‘must do’ list, only be aware that it is Spanish in its hours as well; you will not get lunch before two o’clock, nor dinner before nine. But it’s worth working up the appetite for.
Tomorrow evening will see the start of feria, the annual fair to mark the feast of San Antonio de Padua, patron saint of the village. Already the bunting is festooning the streets, the engineers have strung untold metres of electricity cable around the Plaza for the use of rides and stalls, and the the various fairground rides are being assembled. One of these rides, the dodgems, always fills me with alarm; a vast array of timber props are placed across the area, each independent of the others, varying in height to take account of the slight slope of the ground, and then the bed of the track is placed on top, its weight being considered sufficient to hold everything in place, and then finally the superstructure is added. I see the cars whizzing about and cannot help thinking of the Heath Robinson structure that supports everything. Every ride, of course, has its music which must be played sufficiently loudly to drown out the music from the other rides, and each includes a monotonous, unvarying bass beat which penetrates everything, including our own double glazed windows - we live within about 200 metres of the fairground site, and the uninterrupted view that we enjoy across the village works in reverse this week to provide an unimpeded flow of incessant, insistent music. At midnight - or thereabouts - the fairground closes for the night and the music falls silent, to be replaced shortly by the equally loud, insistent and monotonous tones of the disco, where the youth of the village dances the night away until around six in the morning. On Thursday, the feast day, there will be a romería when horses will appear from everywhere around, groomed to within an inch of their lives by their proud owners who themselves are dressed in their finery; for the men, traditional striped riding trousers, frilly white shirts, bandanas and the traditional black, stiff felt hat; the women in their fiesta frocks, which non-Spaniards tend to associate with flamenco dancers. They go in procession around the village behind the effigy of the saint, borne on an ox cart, and then head for the picnic area down by the river to spend the rest of the day partying. This year, however, to much consternation, one thing will be missing - no bull run. It has been the tradition, though for how many years I cannot say, that on the Sunday of feria bulls are released at eight o’clock in the morning to run the length of Calle Real, the main street of the old village, preceded by the young (and not-so-young) men, who display their courage by challenging the bulls. This is a common feature of local ferias and I’m sure the owner of the bulls makes a good living from hiring them out, but not this year in this village; the budget will not stretch to bulls in these harsh economic times. This I view with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is always sad to see a tradition lost, and if there is no bull run this year, will there be one next year? Or the following year? On the other hand, ‘bull run’ is something of a misnomer. One is tempted to think of Pamplona and San Fermín, where each morning of the fiesta the bulls for that day’s corrida are released from the stockyard and channelled through the streets to the bull ring. Made famous by Hemingway, this daily routine had turned into a major event with thousands of people placing themselves in the streets on the wrong side of the barricades to test their courage as half a dozen 500kg bulls, and their accompanying herd of bullocks thunder towards the bullring. The half dozen ‘bulls’ of Frigiliana couldn’t muster 500kg between them, and are infinitely more scared of the young men of the village than the latter are of them. Added to which, whereas in Pamplona the streets along the route are generously sanded, Frigiliana’s beasts must run on polished cobbles; the greatest danger anyone faces when confronting these animals, is that the beast will lose its footing and slide into them. Most of me thinks this tradition is one we could well let go of.