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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

Spain's Love Affair with Chocolate
Wednesday, April 3, 2024

The Spanish have had a love affair with chocolate for hundreds of years even though they aren't famed for producing it, but they are one of the largest consumer markets still today, especially when it comes to drinking chocolate, and its history goes back quite a way... 

For many millennia Cacao grew in the understory of the tropical rainforest the northern Amazon basin. Together with the plethora of plants, animals and insects of the rainforest, it thrived in the shade on the forest floor and lived on the nutrients and water passed down from the canopy above.

The history of this popular plant's use is somewhat clouded by numerous wildly conflicting stories. The myths, legends, propaganda and inaccuracies in the history of Chocolate are profound. Especially suspect are the manufacturers' websites!! 

Cacao has been a cultivated crop for at least 3,000 years, probably quite a bit more. Before that, it is certain that the seeds of wild Cacao trees were gathered. Initially, a few Cacao trees would be planted just inside the heavy rainforest, mixed with both wild and cultivated understory plants. Eventually, that grew to more specific plots of Cacao, still under the canopy and within the rainforest.

The people who first utilized Cacao were the inhabitants of what is now Venezuela in northwestern South America, where the tree is native. I strongly suspect that they created Cacao as we know it, just as the Inca created the potato using their rather advanced genetic technology. (Most high production food plants, certainly including Potatoes, Squash, Maize (corn) and Bananas, were engineered over many generations by the natives of their respective areas to produce large and plentiful fruit.) The Olmec Civilization (3500 to 2500 years ago) consumed the beverage and it was used to fortify soldiers during marches and in battle.

Cacao was clearly highly valued by these people and they spread it northward through trade with their neighbours. It was probably the Maya, over 1500 years ago, who brought Cacao to Yucatan in what is now Mexico. Maya urns were often decorated with images of Cacao Pods. The Aztecs who got Cacao from the Maya used Cacao in a number of ways, one common way was as a bitter spice in food (such as today's Molé sauce). The common people often used Cacao as a spice, and possibly also as a base for pasta or bread.

The most well-known way that Cacao was used (and the way that made the deepest impression on the European conquerors) was as a drink. The beans were toasted, ground up, put in hot water and often a bit of maize, vanilla or chillies were added to create the beverage of the Emperor. The water had to be extremely hot for the mixture to work, and from that came the phrase, still used in Mexico, Like Water for Chocolate to mean as hot as anything you can imagine. It seems likely that the consumption of this drink was limited to nobility, priesthood, and ritual occasions. Mixtecs and Oaxaca used it in marriage rites of nobles and deities. While the Maya drank Chocolate hot, the Aztecs seem to have often taken it cold. The term 'food of the gods', is not Aztec, nor Maya, it was coined by a European in the 17th century.


It is well known that Cacao Seeds were valued so highly throughout Mesoamerica that they were used for centuries as currency. 

The Aztecs called the drink, and apparently the bean as well, Xocoatl. From this word comes the pan-European word Chocolate.  The word Cacao comes from comes from the Mayan word for the plant was "Cacau". Because of a spelling error, probably by English traders long ago, these beans became known as Cocoa beans.

When Europeans first made contact with the Aztec civilization, Cacao was being cultivated and used extensively. The Spanish Conquistadors quickly noticed the benefits of Chocolate and used it to keep their armies marching long distances with little food. From the Aztecs, the Spanish took it to Europe -- where it became part of the then European-wide Imperial quest for more drugs for the polite high society, competing with the British tea and opium, the Catholic countries' coffee and the young USA's tobacco.



There is a great deal of differing information about the arrival of Cacao in Europe. Some sources say that Columbus himself brought the first beans, others say it was Cortes, and a whole list of others have their supporters. Actually, Columbus never showed much interest in the beans that he thought were sheep turds. (He actually burned an entire cargo of Cacao for this reason.) In any case, although almost every country claims to have been the first in Europe to utilize Chocolate, clearly the Spanish were first.  There is even the improbable suggestion that Spain kept it a secret for 100 years, however, it seems possible that it took that long to generate European interest in the strange bitter confection.

Initially (in the 1500s), Europeans, primarily the Spanish, were put off by the drink's traditional spicy bitter flavour so they so they began adding European (and recent American import) flavourings to Chocolate, such as vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper and, of course, cane sugar.

Chocolate was widely used in Catholic countries after 1569 when Pope Pius V declared that Chocolate (the drink) did not break the fast -- despite the hearty nutritional aspects of Chocolate. Every Pope for 190 years after him, from Gregory XIII to Benedict XIV affirmed this decision -- the popes loved Chocolate. It became a popular way to nourish oneself on the many religious fast days. This may have reached its climax when Pope Clement XIV was killed with a cup of poisoned Chocolate in 1774!

By the middle of the 1600s, Chocolate houses had opened in Europe; this is before coffee houses started up. Chocolate Houses became social clubs, meeting places for the elite, places to visit and to talk politics. It was trendy and extremely expensive. Coffee was much cheaper and therefore not for the elite, but for the masses. Coffee houses inherited the popularity, the community and the political atmosphere from Chocolate houses when the invention of the Dutch press removed the narcotic effect. The coffee house culture went on to incubate the democratic political movements of the 18th & 19th centuries.

The drink was foamed, not using the Aztec method of pouring it from one cup into another, but using a 'molinillo', a wooden whisk-like tool that is twirled between the palms of the hands. This is commonly used today to foam Chocolate drinks in Mexico. Machine-made Chocolate was first produced in Barcelona in 1780.

As Chocolate spread out of Spain, Hapsburg possessions remained at the forefront of Chocolate manufacturing and use, this included Austria and the Spanish Netherlands (which are today Holland and, the world centre for Chocolate, Belgium!). Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI transferred his court from Madrid to Vienna in 1711 which certainly advanced the use of Chocolate in Austria. However, in 1810 one third of the world's entire Cacao production was consumed by Spain and Venezuela had 50% of world production. Germany surpassed Spain as the world leader in chocolate consumption around 1900.

Originally the way they made the Chocolate drink was to grind the whole bean and add sugar and hot water, it was delicious, mildly intoxicating and somewhat 'Aztec', but apparently too rich and for the European palate. In 1828 the Dutch (Coenraad Van Houten had the patent) developed a press to force about initially 50% and with improvements, 98% of the fat out of Cacao paste -- producing the powder which we are familiar with today. The powder was then mixed with milk, instead of water, to add a little fat, but not nearly as much as was removed. (3% vs. 54%!) The pressing process also produced a major commercially viable by-product: Cocoa Butter!

Twenty years later at the Joseph Fry factory, they discovered a way to mix melted Cocoa Butter back into Dutch powder to create a gooey mass which could be moulded: the first bar Chocolate. In 1875 two Swiss men, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé used the sweetened condensed milk they had developed for concentrated infant food formula in to create milk chocolate. The low water content of the milk made it possible to mix it with the Chocolate into a bar that did not spoil quickly. Rudolphe Lindt developed the 'conching process' in Switzerland in 1879, producing for the first time, smooth creamy Chocolate bars like we are familiar with today.

The New World, Mexico and Costa Rica, but primarily Venezuela, was the main supplier of Cacao until the start of the 20th century when the centre of cultivation moved first to the Caribbean and then to Africa (with some also in Asia). In the late 19th century major companies started growing Cacao on large plantations, generally clearing rainforest to provide open land. It was at this time that the extremely low pollination rate of Cacao (1 in 3000) was noticed, but no one paid any attention to it. You will still find scientific sources which suggest this was a natural phenomenon, when in fact, moving Cacao from the rainforest to plantations took it farther away from it's pollinating midges' habitat.

Many of the companies that started making Chocolate in the late 19th century, including Hersheys & Cadbury, were based on religious ideals of abstaining from alcohol -- Chocolate was seen as an acceptable substitute.

There are various suggestions of when Chocolate was introduced into the USA, ranging from the early 1700s to the late 1800s. In 1900 Milton Snavely Hershey, a Mennonite from Pennsylvania began producing milk-chocolate bars and "kisses" with great success. He was anti-alcohol (As was Cadbury & Fry) and saw Chocolate as a good, profitable alternative. In less than ten years he was able to buy two entire towns and name them after him, one previously called Derry Church, Pennsylvania, and the other in Cuba, around his sugar mill. The empire grew even larger during World War I when Milton Hershey encouraged the US Army to add four Hershey bars to each soldier's daily ration!

This completed the sequence that took Chocolate from the divine food of Emperors, through the European Imperial quest for monopolies on mild drugs for high society, into respectability and common usage and finally to candy. Not unlike coca, which followed much the same course through the shady time of patent medicines such as the original colas, through to the time of prohibition to inclusion, at one time, in today's favourite candy-drink Coca Cola!

Chocolate remained popular in Europe, and after World War II many Belgian and French Chocolatiers specialized making fine, high-grade Chocolate. Eventually, in 1994, the Chocolate War established standards and started the huge wave of pure Chocolate Bars made of 70% or more Cacao.

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Spain's Lukewarm Relationship with Chilies
Friday, March 15, 2024

The tale of chilli peppers in Spanish cuisine is a story of global exploration, culinary tradition, and socio-cultural dynamics. Unlike many world cuisines that embraced the piquant allure of chilies, Spanish food has maintained a notably subdued relationship with this fiery ingredient. This nuanced affair is rooted in historical encounters, economic developments, and a deep-seated commitment to culinary heritage, unfolding a narrative that spans continents and centuries.



The Arrival of Chilies in Spain

The journey of chillies into the Spanish gastronomic scene began with Christopher Columbus, who, upon his return from the Americas at the end of the 15th century, introduced Europe to these vibrant peppers. Despite initially capturing the Spanish imagination, chilies struggled to find their place at the Spanish table. Unlike other New World imports such as tomatoes and potatoes, which eventually became staples, chilies did not enjoy the same widespread acceptance.

Cultural Preferences and Culinary Integration

Historical records suggest that chilies were grown extensively in Spain and were accessible to the peasant class, earning the moniker "the pepper of the poor". Their affordability, however, also contributed to their limited culinary prestige. Chilies were incorporated into the diets of the lower social strata for their robust flavours, which helped season otherwise bland foods, but they did not ascend to the luxurious heights envisioned by Columbus.

The Spanish palate, deeply influenced by Roman, Gothic, Moorish, and Jewish cuisines over the centuries, developed a preference for subtler flavours. While chillies did make their way into Spanish gardens and kitchens, they were often utilized in their milder forms. The adoption of spices such as saffron, garlic, and paprika, which provided depth without overpowering heat, mirrored Spain’s overall culinary ethos that favoured harmony and subtlety over fiery intensity.

Regional Variability and the Socioeconomic Divide

Regionally, the use of chillies in Spain varies significantly, with certain areas incorporating them more into local dishes. In parts of the Canary Islands, for instance, chillies flavour many traditional recipes, showcasing a warmer embrace compared to the mainland. However, the overarching theme across Spain leans towards a preference for milder spices and fresh ingredients.

The socioeconomic status of chillies, branded as a staple for the economically disadvantaged, played a role in their culinary positioning. This classification, along with the eventual debunking of their once-touted medicinal properties, relegated chillies to the margins of Spanish high cuisine, embedding them instead in the fabric of every day, home-cooked meals among the common people.

The Modern Spanish Palate and Chilies

In contemporary times, while global cuisine has increasingly celebrated the versatility and heat of chillies, Spanish cuisine remains steadfast in its traditional preferences. Exceptions like the 'Pimientos de Padrón', a mild pepper famed across Spain, underscore the complex relationship the country shares with chillies. Such culinary choices reflect a broader philosophy that emphasizes the quality and inherent flavours of fresh, local ingredients over the addition of external spices.

Spain's reserved dance with chilies is emblematic of a culinary tradition that values subtlety, freshness, and history over the seductive heat of these global favourites. The story of chillies in Spain is not just about an ingredient's failure to dominate but rather a testament to the richness of Spanish cuisine, offering a lesson on how cultures adapt, incorporate, and ultimately define their culinary identities. Though chillies may not reign supreme in the Spanish kitchen, they hold a distinct place in the country’s gastronomic landscape, marking the paths of global exchange, cultural preservation, and culinary evolution that continue to define Spain’s epicurean legacy

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The Story of Spanish Leather
Saturday, January 27, 2024

The story of Spanish leather is as rich and dimensional as the material itself. From the Moorish influence in the Medieval period to the emergence of globally renowned brands in modern times, the journey of Spanish leather is steeped in history, innovation, and craft. Today we will explore the Spanish relationship with leather goods throughout centuries and delve into how the tiny town of Ubrique came to epitomize luxury leather craftsmanship.

From Prehistoric times to the Moors: Early Leather Work

Spain's relationship with leather can be traced back to prehistoric times when our ancestors used animal hides for their survival. However, this connection evolved significantly during the period of Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula from 711 to 1492.

The Moorish influence, owing to their sophisticated knowledge of leatherwork and tanning, grew primarily from the city of Cordoba. The art of guadamecí, an intricate technique of embossing and painting on leather, was introduced by them, laying a vital foundation for Spanish leather craftsmanship. Under the Moors, Spanish leather became a coveted asset due to its high quality, striking designs, and rich colours. It acquired a luxurious status and became an emblem of prestige and opulence. The term cordwainer, an old English word for shoemaker, originating from the city of Cordoba, underscores this profound historical influence.

Renaissance and Baroque Periods: A Blend of Art and Religion

With the Reconquista reclaiming Spain from the Moors, the leather industry started reflecting Christian influence. The Islamic decorative patterns and symbols gradually gave way to Christian imagery and designs, marking the religious and cultural shift of the country.

The Renaissance and Baroque periods witnessed an artistic transformation in leather goods, with heightened experimentation in new techniques and designs. A noteworthy development during this epoch was gold and silver embossing on leather, a symbol of wealth and nobility. Prestigious families across Europe increasingly sought Spanish leather, contributing to a surge in demand for high-quality, handcrafted items. The art of bookbinding also saw commendable advancements, producing ornate and beautifully finished leather-bound manuscripts that are revered to date.

Industrialization and Revival: The 19th and 20th Centuries

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Spanish leather industry saw unprecedented growth, with complex manufacturing processes enabling the mass production of leather goods. The fusion of artisanal roots and modern advancements birthed distinct designs that contributed to Spain's unique leather identity.

However, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and subsequent dictatorship considerably hindered the development of the leather industry. Yet, as Spain began to resurface on the global stage post-1970s, the industry saw a revitalization, especially in the high fashion sector. Brands like Loewe and Camper came to the forefront, reflecting the international success of Spanish craftsmanship and placing Spain firmly on the global map of fashion luxury.

Ubrique: A Luxury Leather Haven

Nestled in the southern region of Andalusia lies Ubrique, a town that significantly shapes the narrative of the global luxury leather industry. Despite its humble size, Ubrique’s influence is titanic, servicing many of the world’s top luxury brands with its exquisite leather goods.

Ubrique’s roots in the leather industry date back centuries. Still, its international recognition grew in the mid-20th century, primarily due to the town's deep understanding and mastery of the craft. The artisanal tradition was transferred through generations, nurturing an intimate knowledge and a unique approach to the craft that has come to define Ubrique.



Ubrique’s artisans are prized for their impressive skills in handweaving, embossing, and stitching. Their unparalleled craftsmanship has attracted the world’s leading fashion houses, such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Michael Kors, and Chanel, all of whom frequently outsource their production to Ubrique. This continuous partnership is a testament to Ubrique’s consistent quality and supremacy in the luxury leather market.

Ubrique's dominance has significantly impacted the local economy, with most inhabitants directly or indirectly involved in the leather industry. It also bears the responsibility and challenge of upholding its quality and consistency amidst growing and evolving global demands.

Modern Spanish Leather and the Road Ahead

Today, Spanish leather is synonymous with high quality, imaginative design, and exceptional craftsmanship. With significant contributions from regions like Ubrique, Spain exports leather products at a large scale, ranging from bags and footwear to accessories.

As sustainability and environmental consciousness rise in global discourse, Spanish manufacturers are taking considerable strides to incorporate cleaner production methods and greener materials, such as vegetable-tanned and chrome-free leathers.

Spain's relationship with leather goods, evolving lovingly over centuries, narrates a tale of tradition, craftsmanship, and innovation. Towns like Ubrique have significantly steered the course of this journey by servicing and satisfying the most discerning tastes in luxury leather. Balancing the preservation of tradition with the objective of furthering sustainability, Spain remains poised for continual growth and leadership in the industry.

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What if Spain Became a Republic?
Saturday, January 20, 2024

There's been growing discontent in Spain towards the monarchy represented by King Felipe VI. This feeling has been magnified by a series of scandals involving the former King, Juan Carlos, and allegations of financial impropriety. The re-emergence of public sentiment questioning the monarchy's relevance in Spain's contemporary political climate, combined with the ongoing tensions between Catalonia and Madrid over matters of independence and autonomy, have set a peculiar stage for Spain's future.

Historically, Spain has seen such a transition before - moving from a monarchy to a republic in the 1930s. However, the Second Republic only lasted for about five years before it succumbed to a civil war and a dictatorship. Transitions, especially ones that involve such a dramatic shift in governance and power, are complex, unpredictable, and fraught with challenges.

Such a transformative change would not just mean abolishing the monarchy and introducing a republic, but also the creation of a new constitution - a powerful document that represents a country's values and sets the path for its future. Each of these transformations brings its own set of uncertainties, hurdles, and potential revolutionary shifts.

If imagined as a procession of events, what would this cardinal shift look like?

"Once upon a time in the not-too-distant future, the land of Spain experienced a shift in political and social sentiment. Citizens began to seriously question the monarchy's relevance and wondered if a republic would better serve the needs of the people. What began as a whisper transformed into a bold movement, shaking every corner of the country, from the streets of Madrid to the beaches of Valencia.

As the push for change gained momentum, Spanish politicians of all stripes took notice. They recognised the thirst for reform, and Spain's parliament held a historic debate regarding the path forward. After lengthy deliberation, they agreed that discussing a transition from a monarchy to a republic was inevitable. The government decided to form a diverse cross-party group, called the Committee for Constitutional Change, representing the people's will and the multiplicity of perspectives within Spain.

Under the guidance of the Committee, the process commenced with a series of public consultations across the country. These consultations served as a platform for the citizens to voice their opinions and concerns. The Committee members listened intently, adjusting their stances with the evolving perspectives of the Spanish people.

Following an exhaustive consultative phase, the Committee submitted a proposal to parliament, recommending a public referendum to decide the fate of the Spanish monarchy. The government, acknowledging the importance of public input, scheduled the referendum for six months later to provide ample time for Spaniards to weigh the pros and cons of such a monumental shift.

In those six months, the nation found itself consumed by intense debate over the merits of a republic and the appropriate place for the monarchy in modern Spain. Families and friends discussed heatedly around dinner tables, passionate arguments spilt out into streets and plazas, and expert opinions found their way to newspapers, television screens, and social media.

Finally, the day of the referendum arrived. As the sun rose over Spain, millions queued up to cast their votes at polling stations. The country held its breath, anticipating the outcome of this historic moment. The results trickled in late into the night, with the nation on tenterhooks. In the end, the people of Spain chose the path towards a republic, embarking on a new chapter in their storied history.

After the dust settled, the Committee for Constitutional Change convened again to form the Constituent Assembly, which was given the mandate to draft a new constitution for the Republic of Spain. The assembly included representatives from a wide range of political parties, regions, and socio-cultural backgrounds, ensuring that the new constitution truly represented the people of Spain.

Months of arduous work went into the drafting process, as the assembly debated the country's values, rights, and future governance structure. Finally, a new constitution emerged that enshrined the principles of democracy, transparency, and social justice. Upon presenting the constitution to the parliament and securing its members' approval, the Constituent Assembly dissolved, marking the successful conclusion of its mission.

The new Republic of Spain prepared to elect its first President, who would serve as a symbol of national unity and embody the values of the republic. A spirited and fiercely contested election resulted in the selection of a charismatic president who pledged to shepherd Spain into a new era of progress and inclusivity.

With the new constitution in place and the president inaugurated, the Spanish government reformed its institutions one by one, and a fresh wave of change swept the nation. Spain, now a republic, strode confidently towards a promising future, built on a resilient foundation of democracy, freedom, and the collective aspirations of its people.

And so, Spain journeyed onward into its new era, guided by the spirit of progress and the dreams of its diverse citizenry. Although challenges and uncertainties remained, the nation embraced the path towards a more democratic and inclusive future, creating a new legacy for generations to come."

Resembling a story straight out of history, this imagining hears the echoes of Spain's current debates and the whispers of a future yet to come. However, whether fiction turns into reality depends on numerous intertwining factors, including evolving public sentiment, political will, legal routes, and Spain's socio-economic climate. That yet remains an unfolding tale within Spain's richly woven history. 

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Spain's Gastronomic Traditions of the Three Kings
Saturday, January 6, 2024


The tradition of The Three Kings, or Los Reyes Magos, is a key part of Spanish culture which brings to life Biblical stories recounting how, following Jesus's birth, magi from the East journeyed to the famous nativity in Bethlehem to bestow gifts upon the infant. The festivities are now marked across Spain with multitudinous celebrations, the holiday even honoured nationwide on the 6th of January. On the preceding day, parades are held in all areas during which candies and sweets are distributed to spectating children and adults alike, courtesy of the kings' impersonators.


Undeniably, one of the most deeply-rooted gastronomic customs is the delicious Roscón de Reyes, a sugar-coated cake with countless variations, recipes, and fillings. It is commonly enjoyed as a snack or dinner on the eve before Three Kings' Day and traditionally includes a hidden surprise. Tradition lends credence to various legends surrounding this surprise, ranging from bestowing good luck on the fortunate discoverer to, in some cases, mandating them to foot the bill for the sweet cake.

On the morning of the 6th, children awaken to gifts the magi have left overnight. A crucial part of the festivities holds that refreshments be kept for the visiting Kings, nourishing them on their long journey. Family traditions play a role in deciding what foods to leave out, from cookies, sweets, and fruit to chocolates. Asprocan, the Association of Organisations of Banana Producers of the Canary Islands, are advocating for people to adopt the custom of leaving 3 Canary bananas to help the kings replenish their energy.

Adding quaintness to the tradition, children leave a shoe out for each family member, hoping to have them filled with candies and treats. Those children who have been naughty during the past year typically receive coal. In recent times, bakeries have seized upon the trend of crafting 'sugared charcoal'.

In several Latin American countries, unique rites and traditions complement the celebration of the Three Kings' holiday. In Mexico, the customary Rosca de Reyes is also enjoyed. In Peru, the event is utilized to dismantle the Nativity, and in Puerto Rico, children traditionally collect fresh grass on the 5th to ensure the magis' camels are also fed.

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Discover Why the Spanish Eat 12 Grapes for NYE...few know the real reason
Thursday, December 28, 2023


Traditions have always aroused a lot of curiosity in me because there is always a reason for them, nothing just happens by chance. Every year I celebrate the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes and many years ago I wondered why they actually did this and nobody really seemed to know why. Still, to this very day, I am yet to meet a Spaniard who knows the story..... so I always end up telling it, every year!

The very short version of the story, which is pretty much common knowledge, is that wine farmers from Alicante and Murcia promoted the tradition in 1909. They were eager to sell on their large surplus of grapes from the incredible harvest they had had that year. However, although this story has some truth to it, the real origin dates back even further.

If we define the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes as when twelve grapes are eaten in the Puerta del Sol at 12 am on December 31, which is basically the general understanding, the first written testimony of this goes as far back as January 1897 when the Madrid Press published that in "Madrid it is customary to eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes twelve, separating the outgoing year from the incoming year…" this means that at least in 1896 it was done, and probably many years before that for it to be considered  “customary” by the local press.

The plausible explanation for why someone decided it was a good idea to get cold the last night of the year waiting for a clock to strike 12 strokes and choke on a dozen grapes goes back to 1882. That year the mayor of Madrid, José Abascal y Carredano, decided to impose a tax of 5 pesetas for all those who wanted to go out and celebrate the Three Kings on the night of January 5. The purpose of this was not to stop any tradition or start any new ones but to stop the general public from raising hell and getting drunk through the night – this should not be confused with the festive floats and processions which were in the afternoon and open to everyone. 

However, it did deprive the vast majority of the locals of partying that night, except for those that were well off, of course. This obviously led to the people rebelling and trying to find a way to let off steam so New Year’s Eve became the night of preference for partying and an opportunity to make a mockery of the recent bourgeois traditions imported from France and Germany. The local newspapers frequently published how the upper class now celebrated the New Year by drinking champagne and eating grapes during the New Year’s Eve dinner, so as an act of protest the working class would congregate in the Puerta del Sol and eat grapes as the clock struck twelve.

This behaviour quickly spread and popularised in the capital, to the point that in 1897 the merchants of the city advertised the sale of “Lucky Grapes” and within just a few years it was known as far away as Tenerife.  Now, this is when the Levante wine farmers come on the scene, taking advantage of their surplus production in 1909, they carried out a national campaign to embed and enhance the custom throughout the country and were thus able to sell all their harvest.

Clearly, it worked and today there are few who do not welcome the New Year with 12 grapes in their hand and eat them to the sound of each stroke as it counts down to the New Year. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, many don’t finish them in time and it does take a bit of practice but it is the effort that counts, no effort – no luck, well at least that’s what those who don’t succeed tend to say… 

For those who cannot be in the Puerta del Sol, they will follow it on television, normally on La Primera which tops the national audience ratings year after year with around 8 million viewers, some 6 million more than second place. Being such an important occasion some people spend a few extra minutes to remove the seeds or peel the skins off their grapes all in an attempt to improve their chances of swallowing them in time. My best piece of advice is: buy small seedless grapes and you’ll have no problem but they are not easy to come by as the traditional grape variety for New Year's Eve is the Vinalopó from the Valencian Community, the one promoted by the wine farmers back in 1909, so if you can't find seedless try to avoid the large juicy ones or you’ll be in trouble and may well choke your way into the New Year, try and pick the smaller ones and at least remove the seeds…. Good Luck and wishing you all a Happy New Year!


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Spain's Christmas Characters
Friday, December 22, 2023

Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men have earned their well-deserved reputation, but they are not Spain's only protagonists during Christmas. Although less known, there are other very peculiar characters who always visit us around these times. From the Olentzero to the Caga Tió, the one who doesn't bring gifts still brings peace and love, something less materialistic but equally important. Discover more about these interesting Christmas characters, maybe one of them will visit your home in the coming weeks....


Basque Country: Olentzero

Olentzero is a coal miner who brings presents on Christmas Eve to those living in the Basque Country and Navarre. Towns, cities, and neighborhoods normally have a procession the day before Christmas with a doll that represents him. Although the origin of this tradition is unknown, some sources indicate that it comes from the winter solstices, when the doll would be set on fire to symbolize the burning of the old to make way for the new; a renewal for the following year. The tradition of fire still continues today but in the modern version the character is someone who comes down from the mountains to announce the birth of Jesus.



Asturias: Guirria and Anguleru

This is said to be one of the oldest traditions of the municipality of Ponga. Every New Year's Eve, the boys ride out on horseback accompanied by this half man-half demon character and they roam the streets looking for single women. The character kisses these women as it throws ashes at the boys. But it's not only the Guirria who steals kisses. Single people over 15 years old, both men and women, are paired up by pulling names from jars and they promise to have dinner together one night. Another tradition that still remains today despite the passage of time occurs on the last night of the year and that is when the Guirria and his court go door to door asking for a Christmas bonus. Asturias also has another character who is called l'Anguleru. This character comes from the Sargasso Sea and, like Santa Claus, arrives on Christmas Eve bearing gifts for the little ones. 

Catalonia: Caga Tió and Caganer



Although it may be a bit difficult for the rest of us to understand, in Catalonia children not only receive a visit from Santa Claus and the Three Kings, but also that from a log. It is not just any log, in fact, it is magical and it's called the Caga Tió. It arrives at homes on December 8th and stays until Christmas. During this time, it is always covered by a blanket and is fed daily with food scraps, fruit, and bread. On Christmas Eve, the children sing a traditional song while they hit the Caga Tió with a stick. As a result, this curious character "poops" gifts. The origin of the tradition is said to have come from the logs burned in the earthen fires at home since they provided everything the home needed: heat, light, and even a place to cook. Although the gifts were initially little things like sweets or candies, today the Caga Tió gives all kinds of presents. 

This character, however, is not the only one with a scatological nature in the Catalan Christmas. Every year the famous Caganer, the figurine of a young herder defecating, appears in the nativity scene. In recent years caganers have been characterized as some of the year's most famous people. This is a tradition that now appears in nativity scenes throughout Spain.

Galicia: O Apalpador

Galicia also has a curious character whose presence during the holidays has recently reappeared although its origin is very old. It is Apalpador, a first cousin of Olentzero, who has the strange habit of coming down from the mountains to pat children's bellies and see if they have eaten well during the year. The figure of this coal miner with a big belly and a red beard lives in the Galician mountains near the regions of O Cebreiro, Os Ancares, and O Courel. He comes down from here on Christmas Night and New Year's Eve. Originally, it was said that he visited homes on these special days to see if children were being well fed and if not, he would leave some chestnuts for them to eat (now he usually brings an extra present too). We can find a very similar character in Ecija, Seville. We are talking about Tientapanzas, the character who visits children at night to see if they have eaten well and then informs the Three Wise Men whether or not they deserve gifts. This tradition resumed in 2004 and since then even a parade through the village streets is held to greet him. 


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The Origin of Churros in Spain
Saturday, December 9, 2023

Spain has bestowed upon the culinary world a plethora of favoured dishes. Among them, the churro, a unique doughy delight enjoyed widely across Spain and the world, stands tall. Typically savoured at breakfast or as dessert, often paired with hot chocolate, churros have warmed hearts and homes and merited many queries about their genesis.

The genesis of churros is wrapped in a shroud of mystery and is subject to various theories. Some believe that churros can be traced back to Portugal and Spain's merchants who encountered 'youtiao,' a similar fried dough breakfast treat during their expedition to the East, China to be specific. Intrigued by the concept, the merchants introduced it to their homeland, adding their unique twist in shaping the recipe into the churros we know today.

An alternate popular theory suggests Spanish shepherds residing in mountainous terrains as the creators of churros. The lack of lush pastures and remoteness from bakeries prompted these shepherds to cook a doughnut-style food over the campfire. The carefully piped dough was easy to prepare and provided a meals-on-the-go option for the nomadic lives of the shepherds. Some conjecture even suggests that 'churro' derives its name from 'Churra,' a breed of sheep whose horns the churros were made to resemble.

Adding another layer to the theories floating around, culinary historian Michael Krondl argues that even if the Chinese fusion theory can be considered, the churro must have been a form of evolution of the 'buñelos,' a deep-fried dough ball popular within the Arab Andalusian cuisine during their rule in Spain. This variety of fried dough has been commonplace in Mediterranean culture since Roman times.


No matter where they came from, churros have solidified their place within Spanish culture for centuries, evolving into slightly sweetened, crunchy treats you could find around the clock. Churros in Spain are typically had during breakfast, dusted with sugar and served with a thick hot chocolate.

Spain's various regions have their spin on the plain churro. In Andalusia, you'll find 'calentitos,' while in Catalonia 'xurros' are thinner, often knotted. Churros made their way from Spain and were twisted to local tastes globally as they became increasingly popular. You could find churros filled with different desserts such as dulce de leche, cajeta or caramel made from goat's milk in Mexico, and fruit fillings in Cuba. Argentina offers churros filled with chocolate, vanilla, or café con leche.

The exact origin narrative of Spanish churros remains slightly blurred across history, subjected to numerous social, and cultural integrations. But their worldwide popularity is proof of their appeal and gastronomical wonder. Whether savoured on Spanish streets or at hometown fairs, their location seldom matters. The joy that the soft-on-the-inside and crunchy-on-the-outside brings is universally shared.

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Ricardo Tormo and Bultaco
Friday, December 1, 2023

Ricardo Tormo, a true icon of motorcycling, was responsible for the resurrection of the Bultaco brand in the world of motorcycles thanks to his victories in the World Championship.

Early Years of Ricardo Tormo

Born in Spain on September 7, 1952, Ricardo Tormo started his motorcycling career from an early age. His talent and skills on the track led him to compete in different categories, quickly demonstrating that he was destined to make history.

The Bultaco Brand in Trouble

The Bultaco brand, founded in 1958, was known for manufacturing high-quality, high-performance motorcycles. However, over the years, the company faced various adversities which led to its near extinction. Despite being a recognized brand, the lack of victories and positive results in the sports field tarnished its reputation.

The Encounter between Tormo and Bultaco

It was in 1976 when Ricardo Tormo met the representatives of Bultaco, who proposed he be part of their team and compete in the World Championship. Aware of Tormo's great talent, Bultaco believed that, under his leadership, they could achieve a renaissance in the world of motorcycling and regain their lost glory.


The World Championship and the Resurrection of Bultaco

Ricardo Tormo agreed to join Bultaco and, with great dedication and teamwork, they managed to develop a competitive motorcycle. In 1978, Tormo competed in the 50cc category of the World Championship, where he showcased his ability to control the Bultaco in each race.

Victories started to accumulate and, in an unexpected turn of events, Ricardo Tormo and Bultaco won the World Champion title in 1978 and 1981. The duo had brought prestige and success back to Bultaco, becoming emblematic examples of overcoming adversity and resilience.


The story of Ricardo Tormo and the resurrection of the Bultaco brand in motorcycles continues to be an inspiring example in the world of motorcycling. Today, Bultaco remains active in the market as a lifestyle brand and now as an electric bike builder, and Ricardo Tormo's name is remembered as one of the greatest riders in the history of motorcycling. A legacy that will endure in the imagination of motorcycle enthusiasts. 

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Bronze Age Menorca
Saturday, November 11, 2023

The Biniadrís cave is a forgotten cavern in the rock that hadn’t been touched for thousands of years. In an almost inaccessible hole in the rock face, measuring just 10 square meters were a great number of human skulls covered with dirt. Some had a perfect orifice drilled into the cranium, indicating that they had been trepanned. 



The cave was discovered in 2013 in the island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands. So far, the archaeological team has identified the bones of around 100 people belonging to the island’s Talayotic period during the Bronze Age. The cave was used from around 3,300 years ago until around 2,600 years ago as a burial site – “a sacred space” where mysterious funeral rituals were carried out.

However, they don’t know how they got the bodies to the cave but it appears that they were wrapped in a kind of linen shroud and carried on their backs. They were placed in the centre of the cave, covered with red ocher and left there until they had to make room for another body. Then the old remains would be piled up against the sides of the cave.



The archaeological team which has just published the first results of their research has photos of one of the most impressive discoveries in Biniadrís: a perfectly preserved lock of hair dyed with red ochre powder. They would cut a lock of hair from the dead and placed it in a tube that was made of leather or wood or other materials. In the lids of these tubes, which were made of bones, they carved a series of almost perfect concentric circles. However, it’s impossible to know what these ceremonies meant to them. In the same period, the Assyrians worshipped Enki, the god of fresh water; and the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, god of the afterlife. Like thousands of other beliefs that prompted generations of wars, they no longer mean anything.

The archaeologists have also discovered buttons made of bone in the cave, similar to those from a duffel coat that suggest that the bodies were dressed. The buttons were pieces of craftsmanship that were perhaps passed down from generation to generation, according to archaeologist Manuel Altamirano.

In their report, the team describes five trepanned skulls bearing practically perfect holes. Some of these holes are scarcely big enough to fit a pencil through while others are as big as three centimetres in diameter. The lips of the holes suggest that the bone regenerated after the operation and the individuals subjected to the surgery carried on living. Trepanation was a common medical operation dating back to Neolithic times, undertaken to relieve the pressure of meningitis or strong headaches. The trepanations were performed by people with a certain know-how. According to the archaeologists, they made the holes with a stone tool using it like sandpaper and then employed a point. They would have had some kind of painkiller to avoid the pain.

The Biniadrís cave is the last mysterious corner of the funeral territory known as the Cales coves in the Alaior region of Menorca where, in 1990, other caves were found containing evidence of similar burials, such as Es Mussol, Es Càrritx and Es Pas. But, even within this extraordinary framework, Biniadrís is exceptional due to the quality of the remains. The digs will continue next summer – the cave still has much to reveal about the trepanned redheads.

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