What is it about goats?
I remember the first time I saw a goat herd on the road in La Palma. We had to sit and wait in the car until they had all passed by. I was so excited, I pleaded for (and got) us to turn the car around and see them all over again.
I suppose it is just something you do not regularly see in the UK. But here in the area of Garafia in the north of La Palma, there are more goats than people and it is a regular treat to see them as they return home for their milking session.
Most people who live around here, deep in the countryside, are at least partly self-sufficient. Potatoes are the norm. In fact, potatoes are so synonymous with a meal, that it is common to say, ‘Your papas (potatoes) are ready,’ when in fact people really mean that the meal is ready which might not even contain potatoes. But potatoes really are the staple diet and they are eaten most days by the Palmerans. The two main methods of cooking are plain boiled or as papas arrugadas, which are part-boiled and part-steamed using plenty of sea salt. In fact you could be forgiven for thinking that the many little terraces with potatoes growing on them are for commercial purposes, but they are generally for personal and family consumption. No self-respecting Palmeran in the country would think to buy potatoes –and they are not usually available in the village shops anyway. And so even relatives who live in a flat in the city get to share in the harvest of the country.
For fruit and other vegetables, it very much depends on the altitude. Of course, orange trees abound and more exotic fruits such as papaya grown nearer to sea level. Avocados, plums, apples and figs are often found growing on deserted trees and are there for the picking. Truly a Garden of Eden! Palmerans are not great vegetable eaters but some of the favourites to grow are broad beans, pumpkin, sweet potato, onions and cabbage. Of course, orange trees abound
Like us, many people also keep chickens. They are easy and quite cheap to look after and provide wholesome fresh eggs. We do not eat the chickens themselves but the cockerels are quite sought after for the dinner table as they have less fat than the females.
Some people will keep a pig for food though this takes greater skill and commitment. The unwanted vegetables, scraps and leftovers are all boiled up every three days or so and fed to the pig. The pig kindly turns it all into pork which is highly regarded and after 3 to 4 months, he meets his fete. Kind recompense indeed for all his work. The farmer kills the pig, and along with a couple of neighbours, prepares it for eating. Then 20 to 50 friends, neighbours and family are invited to help eat at least half of it and the rest is kept for freezing. Because everyone shares in the country, the farmer can guarantee an invitation to share in someone else’s pig while he is waiting for his next piglet to put on weight.
Rabbit is another popular meat and they are either bred specifically for eating or wild ones are hunted. Many people in the north keep a couple of hunting dogs – rather like whippets – and on specified days which are allowed for hunting, set out to bag a couple to augment the meat supply.
It is not surprising then that goats top the list for the provision of food. With meat, milk and cheese, what look to me like cuteness on four legs are in fact more like meals on wheels.