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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.

Do you know which Spanish town gets the most rain? And it's not in Northern Spain!
10 September 2021

Would you live in a town that rains every other day? If you are one of those people who love the rain, this town may be perfect for you. This Spanish town in the province of Cádiz is located in the northeast of the province, in the reserve area of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.

The name of the town is Grazalema and its rainfall rate is the highest in Spain, registering more than 1,962 mm of average annual rainfall in the municipality. To put that into perspective London has an annual rainfall of around 592mm!  And the average for the whole of the UK is 885mm per year. So more than double the UK average. In addition, it is unsurprisingly the home to the source of the Guadalete River.

It is the first mountainous area to encounter the humid Atlantic winds which enter from the southwestern coast, causing the town of Cádiz to have high rainfall. As the water passes through the low and warm lands, this air cools as it increases in altitude, causing the clouds that will later drop the rain.

 

 

Grazalema has a considerable variation of monthly rainfall according to the season. The rainy period of the year lasts for 8.5 months, from September 10 to May 28, with a sliding 31-day rainfall of at least 0.5 inches.


Within the municipality, we encounter a Cadiz village with its urban centre that was declared a Historic Site, where you can see various buildings built according to the typical popular architecture.

It also boasts several churches that must not be missed. The first of them, and the most important, is the 18th century Baroque Church of Nuestra Señora de la Aurora, accompanied by the Church of the Incarnation, from the 17th century but renovated in the 19th. We can also find the Church of San Juan, from the 18th century, followed by the Church of San José, from the 17th century. Without forgetting its only hermitage from the 20th century, under the invocation of Our Lady of the Angels.

Benamahoma is the name of the district which the arabas called 'Ben-Muhammad', meaning "sons of Muhammad." In this municipality, the Islamic influence can be seen in the peculiar layout of its streets. You can also go through the Museum of Textile Crafts where you can see artisan objects such as numerous collections of blankets. The town is famous for its traditional handmade blankets.

 

Without forgetting the fabulous traditional Cadiz cuisine, in Grazalema, you can taste numerous typical dishes. A wonderful example would be the Grazalema soup, a stew broth made with egg, chorizo, bread and mint. Some of its other specialities are the 'tagarninas' or the very typical roast lamb.

 

 



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Espadrilles - A Summer Classic
02 September 2021

You may swear by them or recently discovered them this Summer, but shortly it will be time to put them away for next year. I have a couple of pairs, and I just love them. They are so simple yet so versatile in style. The espadrille has been around for centuries maybe even thousands of years. The Archaeological museum of Granada owns a pair of espadrilles that were found on human remains inside the “cueva de los murcielagos” (the bat-cave). It is estimated that these shoes are around 4000 years old. Clearly, they are a very primitive version of today’s 'alpargatas'.

 

 

This light sandal, as we know it today, made with jute rope or braided hemp and with linen fabric, originates from Spain, where, already, they were being worn around the XIII century by the King of Aragons’ infantrymen. Its name is derived from “esparto” which is a kind of plant that was originally burned then braided to make the soles. The town of Cervera del Rio Alhama in La Rioja is considered the birthplace of Espadrille manufacturing.

It was during the XIII century that the production of these shoes truly spread. Since it is a handcrafted shoe, making the treads employs many workers. The alpargatero’s (or Espadrille maker) only job was to make the rope soles, while the seamstresses sewed the fabric and the band. At the beginning of the XIX century, Mauléon (a French city located in the Atlantic Pyrenees) began selling them in vast quantities. The first people to wear them were the catalano-aragonese military soldiers then subsequently by the priests. Around 1880, most espadrilles were sold to mine workers, but they were also exported to South America. It was the time of the “hirondelles”, which were young girls from the aragonese valleys who came to work in the espadrille factories between the fall and winter seasons.

 

Around 1950, fashion evolved and this forced alpargata makers to reinvent the shoe with a more sophisticated design that was better suited to the times. This contributed, during the 1960s, to a special order of shoes for the Parisian festivities by the most celebrated designer of the time, Mr. Yves St-Laurent. He asked for an espadrille with a heel, which had never been done before. Suddenly, it was all the rage! Today, almost all the women who live in the southern regions have a pair of alpargatas with heels and ribbons that tie around the ankle.

Today, espadrilles are still extremely popular both in France and in Spain, especially in the summer. People seemed to like it because of the sole, which is 100% natural, molds itself to the shape of the foot, and allows the skin to breathe. The simplicity of this shoe makes it very versatile and therefore easy to match with all sorts of different styles. If the espadrille has already been around for 4000 years then it’s not about to go out of fashion now!!

 



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Why is Barcelona built on a perfect grid?
24 August 2021


Have you ever stared at a map of Barcelona and noticed the perfect grid-like pattern of its streets? While relatively new cities like New York are famous for their carefully engineered square grids or blocks, this design is somewhat unexpected in millenial cities like Barcelona. But, here’s how the streets of Barcelona got their carefully panned distribution.


As it happens, Barcelona wasn’t always such a clear-cut city. In fact, to get an idea of what Barcelona used to look like from above, you need only to look at a map of the Gothic Quarter: a maze-like network of streets shooting out of one another in every direction with no regard for parallelism or perpendicularity. It is clearly visible in this birdseye photo. A neighbourhood by the port surrounded by perfectly planned 'blocks'.

 

 

Like so many old cities, Barcelona’s first streets were arranged at random - houses were simply built and residents had to find a way to get around them. What’s more, Barcelona was a walled city right up until the 19th century and, by then, the population was quickly outgrowing the confines of its ancient walls; at the time, Barcelona had a population density twice that of Paris.

Faced with the challenge of finding a solution to Barcelona’s overcrowding and increasingly insalubrious living conditions, one Catalan architect came up with a new idea. Ildefons Cerdà proposed to unite the old city of Barcelona with several smaller towns and villages which surrounded it, such as Gràcia and Sarrià.

What’s more, to design this extension of the city- or 'eixample' in Catalan - Cerdà set out to study the way residents lived in the urban space surrounding them. He paid attention to things like fresh air, green spaces, modes of transport and proximity to markets. Known as ‘urban planning’ today, this way of thinking was revolutionary at the time and Cerdà’s proposal was ridiculed by many.

 

 

After carefully studying the city and its residents, Cerdà proposed to build the Eixample as a strict grid pattern of equally sized blocks. Long, wide streets cut across the blocks to facilitate transport and navigation. Additionally, each of the blocks was made into an octagon, with chamfered corners giving the impression that they were ‘cut off’.

According to Cerdà, this detail would provide greater air circulation in the streets, higher visibility around corners and would make it possible for trams to easily turn the corners of the blocks. The blocks were also all oriented in a North West-South East direction so as to ensure that each household received enough natural light each day.

One of the other features of Cerdà’s pioneering design was the provision of green spaces in the centre of each of the blocks. These gardens were designed to provide recreational spaces for the residents and a place to enjoy the outdoor air away from the roads. Though many of these interior patios have since been used for other constructions purposes, Cerdà’s concern for green spaces is one that is once again of interest to Barcelona’s local council. In fact, Barcelona’s city council has announced its plan to create ‘superblocks’: a group of nine existing blocks between which traffic will be limited in favour of pedestrianised areas and green spaces. 

 



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A Brief history of Spanish Vinegar
22 June 2021

Wine vinegar probably came into use in the Iberian Peninsula at around the time when the Iberians were starting to trade with the Phoenicians. Vinegar-making most certianly dates back at least as far as the first Iberian-made wine.

Texts from the Roman period mention vinegar as a substance in habitual use, and some also report on its production and trade. Given that Hispania, and more specifically its constituent province of Baetica (present-day Andalusia), was the main supplier of wine to the Roman Empire, it seems likely to have supplied it with vinegar, too. The first written reference to this appears in the writings of Columella (4-70AD) in the 1st century.

The main Hispanic grape varieties came from the southern and eastern parts of the colony. One of the most prized was one that Pliny (61-112AD) refers to as balisca (though the Iberians called it coccolobis), of which there were two varieties, one that turned dry as it aged and another that became sweeter. There was also a red grape of lesser quality known as aminnea.

One of the best-known wines came from Turdetania (an area that occupied part of present-day Andalusia, including the Jerez area, in Cádiz). It was regarded as a luxury product and was sold in amphorae bearing the inscription vinum gaditanum (wine of Cádiz). Another famous one, mentioned by Pliny, was lauro: held to be one of the best wines in the world, it is thought to have originated in the Liria region, in present-day Valencia.

It makes sense to suppose that areas that produced wine of such quality, and in such quantity, would also have been sources of fine vinegar, though trade-related documents to prove this are few and far between. However, vinegar (acetum) was one of the most highly regarded condiments and preservatives in Roman cuisine and medicine. 

A container of oil (lagoena) , a salt cellar (salinum) and a bottle of vinegar (acetabulum) were regarded as essentials in the home of a citizen of the Roman Empire. The custom survives to this day, and all restaurants in Spain have a receptacle holding different containers of vinegar, oil, salt and pepper at the disposal of customers for seasoning the food if they think it needs it. 

Apicius’ cookery book mentions different categories of vinegar, designated according to their source or flavouring: for example, vinegar from Ethiopia, Syria and Libya; vinegar flavoured with cumin (cuminatum) , aniseed (anetatum), coriander (coriandratum) , and laserpicium (laseratum) .

Not all the different kinds of vinegar used in Roman cooking were wine-derived, however, one favourite was pear vinegar (mentioned in a recipe by Palladius (408-431? - 457/461?), and there were also marrow, bluebell, fig and other fruit vinegar.

In a pattern inherited from the Greeks, vinegar was still consumed in drinks, sauces and preserves. Oxymel, a mixture of vinegar and honey, was still drunk, and one particularly noteworthy sauce, known as oxigarum, was made by adding vinegar to garum; oxycrate, a mixture of water, honey and vinegar, was believed to be an effective treatment for gastric ailments; a mustard sauce (noted by Palladius) was composed of mustard seeds, honey, oil from Baetica and strong vinegar; and there were other sauces for fish, seafood and meat of various kinds. 

The taste for acidic and sweet-and-sour flavours is clearly reflected in Apicius’ recipes: a third of them include vinegar or other acidulates among their ingredients. Vinegar was, of course, still used as a preservative, either in an acid solution in which foodstuffs were immersed, or for boiling some meats (such as duck and other fowl), and certain vegetables (such as helenium and bulbous vegetables).

One of the commonest uses for vinegar in the Roman Empire was as an additive to the water that soldiers drank in the absence of wine. It gave the water a bitter-sweet taste, and the acetic acid served as a disinfectant and kept it drinkable. The acidulated water drunk by Roman soldiers was that period’s equivalent of a soft drink and was known as posca, the word used for the liquid with which the compassionate soldier moistened the lips of Jesus on the cross as described in the New Testament (Mark: 15, 36).

In Europe in the Middle Ages, the habits and customs of the Ancient World continued as far as vinegar was concerned: mixtures with honey (or other sweeteners) and vinegar (oxymel) were still made as sauces for meat and fish, as recipes of that period reflect. For example, the first known Spanish cookery book, the Libre del Sent Soví, written in Catalan in 1324, includes a recipe for a sauce to go with venison consisting of a mixture of “salt, vinegar, arrope [grape must boiled down to a thick concentrate, as sweet as honey] in regular proportions”. This common combination of flavours appears again in the (unknown) author’s advice in a recipe for lamb’s intestines: “Season with salt, bitterness and sweetness”. Oxigarum was still eaten, too, and furthermore, the taste for acidic flavours in cooking became accentuated - a phenomenon that is one of the principal distinguishing features of medieval cooking in Europe.

The Moors who invaded the Iberian Peninsula from 711 on were also fond of acidic flavors in their food: they used fruits such as acidic apples, bitter oranges, pomegranates and other tart fruit. Despite the Koran’s prohibition against drinking wine, some periods were more permissive than others in Muslim Spain and vine growing was never abandoned altogether. Great care was taken, too, of Jerezana grapes, which were famed for their fleshy fruit and were eaten both fresh and dried (as raisins).

The acid-tasting condiments most frequently used in Spanish cooking were grape-derived: verjuice (the juice of unripe grapes, the most acidic of the edible acids) and vinegar. Over-acidity in food was corrected with honey or, later, cane sugar. Vinegar was used for boiling olives, capers and various vegetables, for making sauces and for marinating meat and fish. The marinade consisted of a mixture of sour milk, vinegar and morrî, a type of garum made from the guts of various fish in Al Ándalus. It was also used straight in salads, which were dressed then as now, as encapsulated in today´s popular saying: “La ensalada bien lavada y salada, poco vinagre y muy aceitada” (Salad should be well washed and salted, with just a little vinegar and plenty of oil). Another traditional use for vinegar that was carried through to the medieval period was its therapeutic application: the importance of dietetics from the 14th century on reinstated vinegar as a purgative and digestive aid.

 

 

During the Modern Era in Europe, the medieval preference for flavors with an acidic edge waned slightly, yet mildly acidic elements remain a feature of half the recipes of the period. This enduring predilection for bitter-sweet flavors is still in evidence in post-1750 Colonial Spanish cookery, in which vinegar plays a part, mixed with cane sugar or added as a finishing touch to many dishes. Other traditional uses for vinegar start to be recorded in the dietetic recipe books known since the 16th century by the generic name of ‘libros de mermelada’ (marmalade books), which contain recipes for marmalades made with honey or cane sugar, preserves in vinegar, sauces, spiced wines, and soaps, perfumes and remedies. The reason for this interweaving is that, from the 16th to 18th centuries, cane sugar, honey and vinegar were regarded as dietary remedies. Vinegar was believed to open the pores, thereby helping to convey food to all parts of the body.

Vinegar was a traditionally home-made product that the big sherry companies started to produce (retaining artisan production methods) from the 18th century on. As a rule, winery owners segregated wines afflicted by picado (acetification) into separate cellars so as not to spoil those around it. Vinegar, though a necessity, was perceived as a black mark against a bodega rather than a contribution to its kudos. Therefore vinegar was usually only for domestic use, and it was not until the mid 20th C. that sherry vinegar was exported. Nonetheless, some of the big firms started to devote attention to it.

In the course of the 20th century, sherry vinegar developed into one of Spain’s three regulated Designations of Origin for vinegar. It is made by entirely artisan methods, which entitles it to 3% of residual alcohol and a minimum acidity of 7% by volume. This vinegar gradually acquires a dark mahogany color as it ages: it is made from grape varieties Palomino Fino, Palomino de Jerez (a variety that is becoming increasingly scarce), Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel (all of them whites). Only two types of vinegar are marketed: Vinagre de Jerez, which has been aged for a minimum of six months, and Vinagre de Jerez Reserva, aged for a minimum of two years, but generally much older than the stipulated minimum, sometimes as much as 50 years old, such as Gran Capirete.



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Considered Spain's Most Beautiful Castle - Loarre Castle
20 May 2021

 

In Huesca, on a very big rock, the castle of Loarre has resisted the passage of time for a thousand years. It is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Aragon and, furthermore, it can boast of being one of the best-preserved Romanesque fortresses in Europe. It has been a castle, a fortress, a royal residence, a monastery and even a movie set, so it could tell us stories of kings, clergymen, nobles and movie stars.

At 1,070 meters high, it has a fantastic panoramic view over the Hoya de Huesca region. It is a watch-post castle although it lost its military character a long time ago as the Reconquest progressed. Its good state of conservation allows us to imagine what life would have been like within its walls, taking us to another time thanks to its particular beauty. In fact, according to a macro-survey carried out by the Lonely Planet travel guide in which more than 60,000 travellers participated, Loarre Castle has been recognised as the most beautiful castle in Spain, even ahead of the Alcázar of Segovia, the Castle of Cardona, in Barcelona, and Butrón, in Vizcaya. 

Loarre Castle can tell us about ten centuries of history. It began as a royal palace, later it became a monastery and, currently, it is one of the most striking tourist attractions in Huesca.

 

 

To understand its evolution, we must go back to its beginnings, when in the year 1020 King Sancho III "El Mayor" of Pamplona decided to build it at the gates of the Pyrenees to turn it into a defensive bulwark against the Muslim power. The central nucleus of the castle belongs to this period. A religious component was added with the founding of the monastery of San Agustín towards the year 1071 this involved adding buildings to the initial construction. On the death of the monarch, his son Pedro I built Montearagón as head of the congregation, because of this, Loarre was left without its monastic essence. During the 12th century, the crown fell into oblivion and from this moment on it passed into the hands of different nobles. In the 13th century, it was entrusted to the Order of St John and in the 16th century its inhabitants moved to lower lands and the castle was effectively abandoned.

In 1906 Loarre Castle was declared a National Monument, today it is also classified as an Asset of Cultural Interest, in 1913 it received a restoration that helped to preserve its integrity and between 1996 and 2009 important maintenance works were also carried out, allowing it to shine today in all its glory and, without a doubt, proud of the fact that it is one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Spain.

 The castle wall dates from the 13th century and surrounds the entire enclosure, except where the rock acts as a natural defence. Its perimeter is 172 meters and it is defended by circular towers and a rectangular one. Once inside the castle, the first thing that catches your attention is not the construction itself, but the views over the plain of La Hoya de Huesca. Only then do you fully understand the reason for its location.

After leaving behind the old Albarran tower that belongs to the monastic extension and which at the end of the XI century served as the watchtower over the horizon, we reach the main door that gives us access to the military compound through a staircase covered by a vault. As we go up, to our right is the crypt of Santa Quiteria, a small space for worship and burials with access to the church. The church of San Pedro, from the end of the 11th century, is the space that best tells the story of the old monastery and maintains its Romanesque style in all its splendour. Inside you will undoubtedly notice that the columns are decorated with fantastic figures, plants and scenes from the bible.

 

 

 

From the church, you can continue on to the monastery pavilions where there were first monks and then noblemen. Like any good castle, there is no shortage of dungeons or weapons rooms either. And finally, we come to the door of the old castle, that of Sancho III El Mayor going back to the 11th century. This will lead to the weapons courtyard where we can visit the church of Santa María, the Mirador de la Reina and the wells, with a capacity for 80,000 litres of water. And finally, you will reach the Torre del Homenaje, the highest point of the castle which is 22 meters high and the one of the most difficult to access, constructed with five floors and designed to be a refuge in case of a siege as it is connected to the castle only by a drawbridge and designed to be impenetrable.

 


If you visit the castle of Loarre keep in mind that today, and due to sanitary restrictions, it is only open on weekends and national holidays. But it is planned that as of June 1, 2021, it will reopen its doors daily and the numerous complimentary activities that entertain the little ones will start again. 

If you want more information check out the castle website 

http://castillodeloarre.es/en/



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Preserved Fish - One of Spain's Specialities
06 May 2021

Good practice and respect for the age-old tradition of preserves combined with the use of state-of-the-art technology has placed Spain among the top countries in the world ranking of the preserves industry.

But preserving did not replace salting the fish until the end of the 19th century, although the seed was planted back at the beginning of this century. In 1810, Frenchman Nicolás Appert revealed his method for preserving food using thermal sterilisation. Shortly thereafter, Peter Durand patented the tinning container.

But it was English engineers Bryan Donkin and John Hall who purchased the patent and opened a preserves factory where they packaged mainly meats and vegetables. France was where the practice of preserving fish and shellfish began.

In Spain, the origins of this industry go back over two centuries. The Galician Sea inlets were one of the main areas for salting fish, while the Catalan migrants arriving in the 18th century to commercialise sardines brought new technology with them.

The turn of the 19th century was a glorious time for the preserves industry in the Galician ports due in part to Spanish neutrality during World War I.

Up until 1936 the preserves industry had experienced a period of growth but the self-sufficiency policies at the hand of Franco resulted in Spain closing itself off to the rest of the world and shortages of raw materials forced preserves companies to fold. With this in mind, the growth of the transformational preserves industry of the Galician Sea inlets at the beginning of the 20th century was far superior to other relevant areas such as Asturias or Cantabria, with the latter specialising in marinades.

Albacore tuna belly in olive oil
Tuna belly in olive oil is one of the many delicacies obtained from the reputed Albacore tuna due to its supple texture and its tremendous flavour. Its smooth and delicate texture makes it very pleasing to the palate. It is a very nutritious fish, rich in protein, polyunsaturated fats, omega 3, vitamins and minerals. The best Albacore tuna are caught along the Cantabria Coast and the flavoursome bellies are removed and preserved in olive oil, making a delicious treat.


 

 

Albacore tuna in olive oil
The albacore tuna in olive oil preserve is considered the best of the tuna family in Spain and in other international markets such as the US and France. Towards the end of June, fishermen catch the best specimens of albacore tuna in the Cantabrian Sea, although the season lasts until the beginning of autumn. Since the mid 20th century, this white-flesh fish with mild flavours and textures has taken on greater significance in the fishing industry.

 

Atlantic Chub Mackerel in olive oil

 

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic chub mackerel (caballa del sur) and its quality are guaranteed by the Protected Designation of Origin of Caballa and Melva in Andalusia and its traditional flavour takes us to the southernmost part of Spain. The catching region is between the months of April and September. This fish preserve began to be refined when the preserves industry was flourishing in the region, at the end of the 19th century. The traditional flavour of the Atlantic chub mackerel is unique to the south of Spain. It is advisable to buy it preserved in olive oil, presented as perfectly firm fillets. As to the nutritional characteristics, it has a high protein, omega 3, and vitamin and mineral content.

 

Cantabrian anchovies in olive oil
This semi-preserved salt-cured fish with an intense flavour that is rich in omega-3, was brought to Spain by the Italian craftsmen who found the best specimens of bocartes (anchovies) in the Cantabrian Sea.

The term bocarte is another name given to this species due to the large mouth it uses to feed on marine plankton (boca=mouth in Spanish). The ideal time of year to catch anchovies for preserves is during the spring months.

Despite the fact that the Basque fleet – mainly from Bermeo and Ondarroa – catches the most anchovies, Cantabria is the region that leads in the production of anchovy preserves. Santoña is, in fact, the town with the greatest tradition of this activity and is where the industry is most highly concentrated. However, both Asturias and Galicia produce high-quality anchovy preserves in addition to the Basque Country.

But the origin of anchovy preserves is with the Italian craftspeople who came to Spain at the end of the 19th century in search of the fish that had become scarce in their waters, and because the best quality ones could be found in the Cantabrian Sea.


Clams

Clam preserves reign over all the others. This mollusc satisfies even the most refined palates due to its delicate and succulent taste. It offers the most aromatic sea flavour that you can find. The best clams are caught in the Rías Gallegas (Galician Sea inlets).

Noia and Arousa are significant clam-catching sites, although high-quality clam specimens are also caught in the towns of Ribeira and Aguiño. Clam season starts in October and the gatherers collect the best specimens for use in preserves during this month.
This delicacy provides many benefits since it is very low in calories but rich in high-quality protein. It is one of the foods with the highest iron, iodine, phosphorus, and calcium levels.

The historical evolution of clam products is similar to that of the cockle, although it has always been superior and is the most choice preserve.

 

Coastal anchovies


Anchovies are small oily fish with silver bellies that live in saltwater. Preserved anchovies are received fresh from the port and are then are cut, eviscerated, and cleaned by hand in brine. Next they are steamed in a cooking tunnel. The result is a product with a smooth texture and intense aroma. It is canned in olive oil.


Cockles


The best cockles and mussels are those caught in the Rías Baixas area where the season starts in October. Shellfish have always represented one of the major dietary staples of the Galician coasts. In the 1940s, the packaging of this preserve began, along with mussel industrial processing, reaching its peak with the economic boom of the 1960s.

Cockles are rich in iron, practically fat-free, very low in calories and offer a high-quality protein content. Packed one-by-one using the traditional method, they have an intense sea flavour.

 

Hake roe in olive oil

The world of canned seafood has been getting more sophisticated. Today we can talk about preserves that go beyond the usual mussels and tuna. That’s where hake roe comes in.  It is obtained from the animal during spawning season and is a delicate and highly valued food with a smooth texture. The roe is sorted, washed, and boiled, sliced or with the outer sac removed, and preserved in olive oil.
Just open and serve! Even though it doesn’t need any condiments you can find hake roe on the market seasoned with lemon, hot pepper, or cayenne pepper.

 

Mussels in marinade


The use of mussel-harvesting ponts in the Ría de Arousa Inlet from the 1940s onward gave rise to one of the most typical preserves in Spain. Marinating shellfish is the most traditional conservation method, as this technique was used in the past for its preservation. The best product is normally harvested from September to November, coinciding with highest production levels. The “Mexillón de Galicia” or Galician Mussel has its own Protected Designation of Origin, due to its excellent quality.

 

Razor clams
Razor clams get their name from the shape of their shell, which is like a blade. They are one of the Galician Sea’s jewels, owed to their succulent and prized flesh. Although they can be found in other Spanish seas, razor clams are mostly found in Galicia. They inhabit sandy coastal areas and spend most of the time burrowing in a vertical position. Their burrows can reach a depth of up to 50 centimetres. On the sand they leave a distinctive shape of the number 8.
They are dug year round with the diving method, although experienced and daring shellfish gatherers have a trick that is both surprising and foolproof: they place a handful of salt next to the hole where the burrowed razor clams live.
The colour of this shellfish ranges from white to light brown with brown or red strips. The shells, when stretched open display very fine vertical and horizontal fissures.
If eaten fresh they can be served grilled with a little olive oil or simply a bit of lemon. However, as a preserve, they are an excellent choice, ideal at any time of day.

 

Sardines in olive oil


The sardine is the most veteran of all the preserves and the most traditional one in Spanish pantries. It was the first fish that was put through the preservation process at the beginning of the 19th century. Although the technique for making preserves comes from England, it was Frenchman Nicolas Appert who made the system available to all households in 1810. It is of French origin, specifically Nantes, which is why this fish preserve was referred to as “Nantes-style sardines” for such a long time.

The area for catching sardines spans the entire coast of Spain but the Galician coast is particularly abundant in this type of fish. In fact, by the beginning of the 20th century, the predominant sardine fishing area was the Galician Sea inlets.
It is a noble seafood, humble yet flavourful. Truly a great food. To determine the quality of this product, the fat content of each sardine must be considered. The more polyunsaturated fats, the better the flavour is. Peak sardine catching season is from summer onwards, but especially between the months of September and November; an optimum time for fishing.

This fish is very nutritionally complete and healthy. Its high protein, omega 3, calcium and phosphorus content has made sardine preserves in olive oil a staple in Spanish pantries.


Squid


This cephalopod mollusk (the smallest of which is called chipirón in Spain) is one of the most popular sea preserves. n the canned goods market, it is usually found cooked in its own ink, stuffed or cut, or accompanied by the unmistakable spicy sauce américaine. For a complete and delicious meal, all you have to do is open the can and enjoy the contents with rice. In addition, squid is often prepared with garlic or accompanied by the fantastic simplicity of olive oil.

 

Tuna Mojama


Mojama tuna is the star of salt-curing and is considered a delicacy in Andalusian cuisine.This fish preserve is prepared with large pieces of red tuna as a raw ingredient. This type of tuna is traditionally caught using the age-old art of fishing of the almadrabas, a practice that has been preserved throughout centuries in the area surrounding the Gibraltar countryside and is still used today. 

The fish is dried in special drying tunnels for at least 18 days. The result is a unique product reminiscent of salt-cured ham due to its texture and appearance, but that retains that unmistakeable sea flavour in its layers. The way it is sliced is of key importance in the tuna mojama product, just as with salt-cured ham, and it is done with extreme care in the Andalusian preserves industry.

 

Urchin caviar


 

Urchin roe is a highly valued food. They are extracted from the animal, washed, and sorted, then canned as is.
They have an intense sea flavor and an attractive bright reddish color. There’s nothing like urchin if you are looking for the greatest concentration and expression of the sea in a food.
Thanks to its production in preserves, you can enjoy this delicacy during the off season, any time of year, and anywhere.

 


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Patron of the Kingdom
28 April 2021

 

The Real Monasterio de Santa María del Puig was declared a National Artistic and Historic Monument (Asset of Cultural Interest) in 1969. It stands in the town of El Puig, in the area known as the Horta Nord of the Region of Valencia, only 14 km from the city of Valencia.

The monastery was built in the style of a Renaissance religious building with Herrerian influence, with four towers as defensive features. It was founded by the order of King Jaume I, known as The Conqueror, in 1240. Its historic importance comes from the fact that this was the setting for the definitive confrontation in the conquest of Valencia in 1237, the Battle of El Puig.

The monastery was founded on the orders of King Jaume I. While the king was in the town of El Puig preparing to besiege the city of Valencia, San Pedro Nolasco, founder of the Order of Merced, unearthed a stone carved icon of the Virgin Mary that had been buried under a bell on the hill where the monastery stands today. The king regarded this find as a miraculous event and proclaimed Santa María de El Puig as the Patron of the Kingdom of Valencia, ordering a monastery to be built to house the image and appointing the Mercedarians as guardians of the sanctuary in perpetuity. No trace remains of the initial building, which would have been a simple chapel dating back to the Reconquest, except for the entrance to the present-day church, which is not in its original location.

The purpose for which the monastery has been used has changed a number of times over the years, as it has been a church, a prison and a school. Nowadays, part of the building is still occupied by the Mercedarians and the other areas serve as venues for cultural and political events.

Inside, you can visit the cloisters, the Royal room, exclusively for use by Spanish monarchs when they visit Valencia, the Jaume I Gothic room, where a reproduction of the king's sword is on display alongside a section of facsimile documents, and the Salón de la Cerámica (Ceramics room), housing numerous ceramic items dating back to the Romans, the Iberians and other periods in history.

 

 



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What is the origin of Spain's famous Tapas?
14 April 2021

 

The tapa is one of the definitive symbols of Spanish gastronomy. Exported to much of the world, it is increasingly common to come across a tapas bar in the most unlikely places on the planet: it's quite understandable, everyone likes to eat, drink and a good chat. But despite the considerable international success of the tapa, the specific origin of this gastronomic act is still unknown: why did the famous Spanish tapas emerge?

Most of the versions about the origin of the tapa put its etymology in relation to the act of 'covering' (tapar = cover). In this sense, it is said that since ancient times there would have been a custom associated with taverns, bars and food outlets: putting food - generally ham or cheese - on top of the jug or glass, usually wine. And why on top? Tradition states that the piece of food would prevent insects or dust from entering the wine and that it would retain its flavour longer. It makes sense, doesn't it?

However, there are those who point out that this traditional explanation has a weak point: if the lid covers the wine, what covers the lid?. The insects or the dust would end up on the piece of food something and that would not be too pleasant either.

On the other hand, the term 'tapa' has coexisted for many years with another that refers to a very similar concept: the pincho or pintxo, more common in northern Spain. It would be a "lid" that includes a toothpick to facilitate its handling. Unlike the traditional tapa that is accompanied free with the drink, the northern pincho is not free and it is the diner himself or herself who takes it directly from the bar, where the trays of pinchos are usually displayed.

So when does the concept of a 'cover' appear in literature? In the book 'El Lazarillo de Tormes' drinks were already covered with food, but the name 'tapa' does not appear. Likewise, in Don Quixote or in some of Quevedo's works the same concept is also present, but with different names: 'Callings' in the case of Cervantes' writings, the idea being of 'calling' one's thirst, and 'Warnings' in the case of Quevedo: an aperitif that prepared you for the main dish that was coming later.

The truth is that the Royal Academy of Language has no evidence that the word 'tapa' appeared in any cookbook before the 1930s, pointing out that it is an 'Andalusianism', a term that would emerge in southern Spain and then it would be exported to the rest of the country... and then to the whole world.

Despite the fact that the word 'cover' is less than a century old in its current sense, the legends about its origin go back much further in time. Here are some of the possible 'mythical' origins of the Spanish tapa...

1. Back in the 13th century, Alfonso X El Sabio saw fit to put into practice a decree to ensure the health of the population: he ordered the inns of his kingdom to serve some food accompanying the wine they served in order to 'soften' the effect of the alcohol on the patrons. Apparently, the king had previously been prescribed a glass of wine to treat an ailment and not seeing it clearly, he decided to add a little food ... making him feel much better.

2. Another version of the term could have arisen in a tavern in San Fernando where the Catholic Monarchs stopped off: there were so many flies in that 'shack' that the king asked for a slice of something to cover the wine: “here you have your 'cover', your majesty " he is claimed to have said. 

3. In the second half of the 16th century, the French term étape was borrowed and used as 'tapa' in the realm of war: it would refer to the soldiers' rations during a march that lasted more than one day. In this sense, the 'tapa' would have been the place where this snack was made and 'tapear' would be the action of eating it while resting briefly.

4. Just as the modern hamburger could have arisen, the tapa could also have been born from the need to transport the food and drink more comfortably: they say that the gentlemen of the private clubs of Seville went out to order drinks from the nearby 'tablaos' placing a slice of sausage on top so they could free up a hand...practicality.

5. During the 20th century and returning to Andalusia where it is more than likely that the origin of this divine aperitif originated, Alfonso XIII was travelling through Cádiz when he decided to stop at the Ventorrillo del Chato inn by the beach (still located in the same place). He ordered a Jerez wine and the innkeeper quickly came with the glass and a piece of ham that he had placed on top of it to prevent sand on the beach from being blown into the wine by the wind.

Be what it may, the truth is that tapas have become an emblem of Spanish gastronomy, one of Spain's most beloved customs, does it really matter how it originated? I don't think so.



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A Napoleonic victory with the help of the Poles
25 March 2021

This whitewashed Spanish church may be small, but its walls hold memorials to a mighty event in military history. Its plaques and stunning stained glass window pay tribute to the Polish cavalrymen who charged their way into a victory over the Spanish forces during the Peninsular War.

In the early 18th century, Poland lost its independence and was divided and ruled by its not-so-friendly neighbours, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. Most of the Polish Army was absorbed into the armies of the occupying countries. However, many Polish cavalrymen, known as uhlans, took off to France and fought in the Napoleonic Wars alongside the French army.

 

 

Alongside the French, the Polish cavalry took part in many of the most notable battles of the Napoleonic period. They were the first unit of Napoleon’s army to enter the Moscow Kremlin during the emperor’s invasion of Russia. However, perhaps their most notable success (and certainly the best known) is the Battle of Somosierra, which occurred during of the Peninsular War.

 

 

During his advance on Madrid, Napoleon was blocked on November 30, 1808, by 9,000 Spaniards in the valley of Somosierra in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Because of the tough nature of the terrain, the Spanish forces could not easily be outflanked. Impatient to proceed toward Madrid, Napoleon ordered his Polish light cavalry escort to charge the Spaniards. Despite losing two-thirds of their numbers, the Poles succeeded in forcing the defenders to abandon their position.

  

On the exterior the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, a small chapel which lies directly at the side of the old Madrid to Burgos road (now by-passed by a tunnel carrying the A1 Autovia), you can see a memorial to the event. The Polish government placed a brass plaque onto one of the church’s walls in 1993 to honour its valiant fighters. The event is also marked by a plaque inside the hermitage and by the gorgeous stained glass window, which depicts a Spanish artilleryman and Polish uhlan on either side of an image of the Madonna.

 



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The Capital of Spain moved between 10 cities
03 March 2021

Although there are those who still think that Madrid has always been the capital of Spain, the truth is that it has not. Throughout the history of the country and for different historical reasons throughout it, the capital moved in the past to other cities such as Toledo, Valladolid, Cádiz or Valencia, among others. All this together with the first capitals that were part of the peninsula at the time of ancient Visigothic Hispania, at the time of the Roman Republic or at the beginning of the Kingdom of Spain that originated after the reconquest in Covadonga (Asturias). These are the cities that have been the capital of Spain:

Cordoba


Córdoba was founded by the Romans during the second century BC, and it also became the capital of Hispania in times of the Roman Republic, as well as the Betica province during the Roman Empire. But its moment of splendour as a capital occurred during the Muslim domination of the Iberian Peninsula when it rose as the capital of the Emirate of Córdoba. A history that has also led it to become the city that houses the most titles of World Heritage Sites and thanks to authentic treasures that still live on today such as the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, its historic centre, the Fiesta de Los Patios or the palatine city of Medina Azahara, among others.

 

Barcelona


Barcelona was the first capital of Hispania Goda and it was reinstated several times specifically during the Visigothic period. Known at that time as Barcino, present-day Barcelona was a Roman city until the arrival of the Goths. Few remains from that Visigoth period are currently preserved in Barcelona, but most of what has been preserved can be seen in the archaeological basement of the Barcelona History Museum. Another important moment in the history of the city would be in 1937 when, in the middle of the Civil War, it was decided to move the headquarters of the Republican Government to Barcelona.

 

Cangas de Onís


In addition to being known as one of the must-see visits if you travel to Asturias, as well as for the Covadonga Cave, the Basilica and the famous lakes of Covadonga, Cangas de Onís was the first capital of Asturias and according to Asturians, it was also the first capital of the Kingdom of Spain. It was precisely in Covadonga where Don Pelayo won the battle against Muslim troops in 722, thus initiating the Reconquest. In Cangas de Onís, Don Pelayo first established the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias and later that of Spain.
 

Toledo


Toledo has had its role as capital in two moments in history. The first was in the year 567 when King Atanagildo decided to move the capital of the Spanish Visigothic Kingdom from Barcelona to Toledo. In this way, Toledo became the capital of the Kingdom of Spain. Hundreds of years later, between 1519 and 1561, Toledo once again became the capital of the Spanish empire with Carlos V, but they would finally end up in 1561 with the Cortes moving to Madrid.


Madrid


The history of Madrid as capital begins in May 1561 when Felipe II makes the decision to establish the Court permanently in this city. A decision that would forever change the history of the city, which at that time was just one more city in the kingdom. One of the main reasons associated with this decision is the geographical centrality of Madrid with respect to the rest of the peninsula, although this change has also been linked to political and love affairs on the part of Felipe II.

From this moment the accelerated growth of this city began, although it should be noted that between 1601 and 1939 the Cortes passed in different periods of time from Madrid to other cities such as Valladolid, Seville, Cádiz, Valencia or Burgos, the latter two, coinciding with the instability of the Spanish Civil War. It is finally in 1939 when the capital city returns permanently to Madrid.

 

Valladolid


For the city of Valladolid, history took an unexpected turn in 1601 after the advisor of Felipe III, the Duke of Lerma, managed to transfer the Court of Madrid to Valladolid. An unexpected event that made Valladolid the capital of the Empire from 1601 to 1606. An event that also brought this city its moment of maximum splendour.

 

Seville


Seville was the capital of Spain specifically for two years and at the same time that the Napoleonic wars occurred (between 1808 and 1810). In those years, a large part of Spanish territory was invaded by Napoleon's troops and Seville was one of the places where they fought with the greatest force against these troops. It was specifically on December 16, 1808, when Count Floridablanca, president of the 'Junta Central', summoned the Junta to Seville, from which time Seville became the Spanish capital, the Real Alcázar being the headquarters of the  'Junta Central'. This came to an end in January 1810 when Seville finally surrendered to the French army.

 

Cadiz


In addition to being the oldest city in Spain and also in Europe, its foundation being located eighty years after the Trojan War around the 13th century BC, Cádiz also became the capital of Spain after the transfer of the Cortes and after the handover of Seville to the French. Its period as capital city ran from 1810 to 1813 and it was in this city where the Spanish Constitution of 1812, La Pepa, was proclaimed.

 

Valencia


Valencia also experienced its time as the capital of Spain, something that occurred between November 1936 and October 1937, after the Council of Ministers made the decision to move the capital and due to the dangerous approach of Franco's troops to Madrid. A moment in history that corresponded to the Second Republic and in the midst of the Civil War. A new capital that happened from one day to the next. The current headquarters of the Cortes, the Palacio de Los Borja, was converted to the republican centre of operations.

 

Burgos


After the government of the Republic moved between 1936 and 1939 from Valencia, to Barcelona and Gerona and Figueras, finally, Burgos ended up holding the capital of Spain between April 1 and October 18, 1939, coinciding with the end of the Spanish Civil War. This resulted in Burgos becoming the capital of nationalist Spain after the coup against the Republic.



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