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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

The Spider Caves - Valencia
28 November 2019

This ancient rock painting is the oldest evidence of humans’ love affair with honey. The taste of honey has entranced humans as long as we’ve walked upright—it is the second sweetest thing found in nature after dates. Until relatively recently, bees were the primary source of both sweetness, as honey, and light, in the form of beeswax candles. But before we domesticated them, getting hold of the sugary treat was a risky business.

Thousands of years ago, our prehistoric ancestors would teeter on rickety ladders to swipe honeycomb from wild bees nesting in cliff faces. In this Gastropod episode listen to author Gene Kritsky introduce us to the cave painting in the Cuevas de la Araña (“Spider Caves”) in Bicorp, Spain that is the oldest evidence of humans’ love affair with honey.

 

 

You can view the honey hunting rock painting in Cuevas de la Araña, or Spider Caves, in Bicorp, near Valencia, Spain. 

For more details visit their museum website: http://www.ecomuseodebicorp.com/

 

 

 



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The saffron harvest
18 November 2019

Saffron is a tradition that is re-emerging. One of the most expensive products in the world, it is making a comeback in modern cuisine. Pepper, cloves, cayenne... names that invoke flavours and smells that stimulate the senses, that form a part of Spain’s most traditional cuisine and play an essential role in the healthy Mediterranean diet. 

Towards the end of October, at dawn in the fields of La Mancha in Spain, one can start to see a surprising carpet of violet-blue. It is the first sign of the ephemeral saffron harvest, the plant Crocus Sativus, that for a period of fifteen days will yield a crop appreciated as much as gold. The flowers are picked manually between dawn and midday around this time of year - beginning of November - with fast twists of the thumb and index finger. Later, specialist workers remove the three fine red filaments at breathtaking speed. Each worker can manipulate between 10,000 and 12,000 flowers per day.

The saffron filaments, or stigmas, are subsequently "toasted" and dried over fire thus accentuating the aroma. They are now ready to be used. The figures concerning the saffron harvest are astonishing: five pounds (2.3 kg) of flowers are needed to obtain five ounces (143 gr) of finished product. In other words, 37 kg of flowers (approximately 70,000 flowers) yield half a kilo of this first class spice. It is not surprising that the farmers can charge €1800 a kilogram for their saffron and this can rise to €3000 on the open market. Without doubt one of the most expensive food products in the world - purple gold.

 

In their search for spices, men such as Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus set forth in the discovery of new worlds, and in the Middle Ages the so called "Spice Road" was of major economic importance to Old Europe.

Spices are a universe in themselves, and like all universes there is a King, Saffron. Saffron is a product that requires careful elaboration and intensive manual labour, extracting from the heart of the saffron flower (Crocus Sativus Linnaeus) this filament that later, when dried, gives such a delicate flavour.

Saffron is one of the most traditional and natural spices that one can find in Spanish cuisine, and to substitute it for chemical colourings that may be harmful to one's health is a crime, especially as they do not have the flavour and quality of authentic saffron. Amongst the immense variety of spices, saffron is the finest and most delicate. Its singular magic, sensual and inciting, gives unequalled aroma and colour to all gastronomic dishes where it is used. Revered since time immemorial, today saffron is the symbol of the best quality. To bring out the best of the saffron in stews, it should first and foremost be perfectly dry. Then the filaments should be ground in a mortar releasing the full aroma and giving a light red powder

Once ground, add a little stock or liquid from the stew to the mortar and stir. Once well diluted add the saffron to the stew for the latter stages of its preparation. Saffron enriches a wide variety of dishes, adding an appetizing colour and a sumptuous aroma and thus guarantees excellent results. 

Saffron in its filament form is the best guarantee of purity. A small quantity of strong clean filaments subsequently ground, add a delicious taste and colour to the widest range of dishes: paellas, stews, soups, pastas, baked fish, potato stews, pasta paellas, oxtail stews, rice dishes, yellow bean stews, prawns, sauces, fish soups - the list is endless.

Saffron is known to both give a healthy appetite and also help with digestion. It has also been attributed with helping to strengthen the heart, the liver and the respiratory tracts. In some parts of Spain saffron is still taken in small doses as an infusion or tea for its medicinal values. It is also used to rub the gums of teething babies to help calm the pains.

The famous Spanish doctor, Andrés Laguna, who worked considerably with saffron filaments, was convinced that taking regular small quantities of the spice lightened the heart. The frequent use of saffron filaments in cooking is due, in part, to the aroma but more importantly the colour it gives to dishes. In so many recipes of the Spanish cuisine it is essential to add a few saffron filaments ground in a mortar.

It is also frequently used in French and Italian dishes and extensively in oriental food. Saffron works so well with fish, meat, pasta and rice, and is used to colour cheeses. As a spice it is found on the market in filament form or ground as a powder. In the form of Filaments ensures that the saffron has not been tampered with. Grind with a little salt in a mortar to release a maximum aroma and colour in the food preparation.

Historically saffron has been considered as a luxury product. For this reason it has been the spice that has incited adventure, journeys by sea and by land to the Orient. Many ancient civilizations made perfumes from saffron that were used in religious ceremonies and other occasions. The Romans perfumed their baths with saffron. Its presence signified opulence and refinement and when Nero made his triumphal entrance in Rome as Prince of the Empire, the streets of the city were carpeted with saffron. It was the highest homage that could be paid.

When the Arabs settled in the Spanish Peninsular they introduced the cultivation of saffron, which rapidly became the most abundant spice in Europe.

 

     

 

Saffron harvesting in Castilla, Spain from Mary Adeline Royal



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Whale Watching in Spain
15 November 2019

 

Argentina, Scotland, Canada, the Antarctica… and, Mazarrón! There are many destinations where you can spot large cetaceans such as whales, but none so near and so economically as on the coast of Murcia. From the harbour of Mazarrón itself you can lift the anchor of a yacht and sail away with the wind behind you, to spot these mammals. Although it is more common to see species such as the striped, Atlantic bottlenose and short-beaked common dolphins, if you are lucky, you may also see sperm whales or even fin whales. The adventure is even more attractive if you add the cuisine and wide range of leisure activities offered by the coast of Murcia. Irresistible.

 

 

The coast of Murcia, Almería and Cadiz is one of the few places in Spain where it is still possible to feel the excitement of whale spotting. This is because there is practically no continental shelf in this area; in other words, the deep water (between 2,000 and 2,500 metres), which is precisely the habitat this marine species needs, is very near the coast. This, accompanied by a benign climate that guarantees smooth sailing is the perfect combination for converting the experience into a great marine adventure.

 

 

Your search for the kings of the sea can either start in the Port of Mazarrón or in Cartagena, where you can set sail towards deep water. Throughout the whole trip you need to keep your eyes glued to the horizon and, as time the animals appear, listen to the crew's explanations as though it were a biology class. You will probably see dolphins (the striped, Atlantic bottlenose and short-beaked common species) or long-finned pilot whales (which can grow to a length of between 4 and 6 metres) but if you are lucky, you might see large cetaceans such as sperm whales or fin whales along the way. The latter do not usually live in these waters but use them as a migration area, meaning they are slightly more difficult to spot. You will need to increase your camera memory when you watch the dolphins playing around the prow of the boat or spot the back of a sperm whale (which can measure between 15 and 18 metres) appear under the surface - a unique experience.

 

 

To experience this adventure, you can choose excursions of between one and several days, depending on your budget and how long you want to spend enjoying the sea. On the one-day trips you sail in search of the animals and return to port the same morning; whereas on the two to five-day trips, besides spotting whales, the boats anchor in dreamlike coves so that you can have a swim, rest or do water sports like snorkelling, diving or kayaking. The final touch of the trip is the boat itself: you can sail on a fantastic yacht, the Karyam, or on board an old, reconverted fishing boat, the Osprey II - each is as charming as each other. 

 

 

As if the excitement with the whale adventure were not enough, once you are back on dry land Cartagena and Mazarrón have a lot to offer you. While in the first town you can immerse yourself in its numerous history-filled nooks and crannies, such as the Púnica Wall or the Teatro Romano, in the second, you can enjoy fishing culture in the area by visiting, for example, the impressive fish market.

And since it is impossible to visit Murcia without trying its tasty seafood and vegetable-based cuisine, we suggest you end your trip with a culinary offering. Grouper from Mazarrón with potatoes and ajotomate (with sweet paprika and ground cumin), hake meatballs, Mazarrón-style migas (fried breadcrumbs with spicy sausage and bacon) or Bolnuevo torrijas (French toast) are just some of the area's irresistible specialities. You can try them at Restaurante Miramar in the Port of Mazarrón, will not let you down, especially if you want to try arroz a banda or grilled squid. If you prefer to eat in Cartagena, you can go to La Catedral in Plaza Condesa de Peralta, very near the harbour, where the cod in tomato and garlic mousseline au gratin are simply delicious.

 

If you are interested here is the link with more information :

http://www.cetaceosynavegacion.com



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