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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.

Loarre Castle - One of the most beautiful castles in Spain
Friday, September 8, 2023


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

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Hemingway's Affinity for Spain: A Love Story Etched in Literature
Friday, September 1, 2023

Ernest Hemingway, a titan of 20th-century literature, is highly revered for his profound contributions to the literary world. Known for his adventurous spirit and mastery of evoking emotion through his works, Hemingway exuded a special fondness for the country of Spain - a love-affair that significantly influenced his writings. His relationship with Spain was intricately woven into his life and work, colouring his experiences and creating some of his most formidable literary triumphs.

Spain: A Mosaic of Romanticism and Valor

Hemingway first ventured into Spain in 1923 and was immediately captivated by its vibrant culture, the charm of its towns, its passionate people, and the thrilling spectacle of bullfighting. These experiences laid the groundwork for his fascination and undying love for Spain, which he called the "last good country left."

The allure of Spain's bullfighting tradition, in particular, was an enduring fascination for Hemingway. It was not just the pomp and spectacle that intrigued him, but the symbolic dance of life and death that unfolded in the arena. He saw it as a representation of the broader human experience, embodied in the matador's graceful movements, courage, and fortitude in facing the mighty bull.

The Spanish Stories

Hemingway's adoration for Spain seeped effortlessly into his writing, infusing his narratives with genuine passion and authenticity. This was especially evident in "The Sun Also Rises" (1926) - his first major novel. Here, he portrayed the Fiesta of San Fermín in Pamplona with such vividness and life-like accuracy that it became an iconic piece of literature, immediately associating Hemingway with Spain.



Later in his career, the Spanish Civil War deeply moved Hemingway. A testament to this was "For Whom the Bell Tolls" (1940), one of his most famous novels. It was set in this harsh context, chronicling the complexities and tragedies of war through the narrative of a young American involved with the anti-fascist guerrilla fighters. The novel was a direct outcome of Hemingway's personal experiences as a journalist covering the war for the North American Newspaper Alliance.



A Lifetime Affair

Hemingway's relationship with Spain lasted a lifetime, influencing not just his work but his personal life as well. He held an unyielding fascination for the country's culture, traditions, and landscapes. Additionally, Spanish society - both its virtues and its flaws - offered a well of inspiration for his protagonists.

His connection to Spain resonated with his readers, transforming Pamplona's running of the bulls into a popular tourist attraction and cementing Spain's place in global literary consciousness for future generations.

Ernest Hemingway's love for Spain was not merely a whimsical affection for the exotic. It was a relationship marked by depth and understanding, a deep-rooted connection that played out across his life and work. Through his stories, we come to know Spain - its harsh realities, its enchanting traditions, and its resilient people - just as he came to know and love it. Thus, Hemingway's relationship with Spain is more than just a peripheral influence; it is a testament to his ability to profoundly interweave his lived experiences with his visionary storytelling.

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Tapas - A Symbol of Spain
Wednesday, August 30, 2023


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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Spain's Sandal that inspired Yves St-Laurent
Friday, August 18, 2023

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 or alpargata 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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Morella, The King's Town
Sunday, August 6, 2023


Morella's geographic location has been key over the course of centuries. A Town of passage, a crossroads between the Ebro Valley and the Mediterranean, linking Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia, Morella has witnessed important events throughout its history. Since prehistoric times, times of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews, Christians ... everyone saw in this place a fortress with a strategic position. The shape of the city, its castle and walls have witnessed the passing of the likes of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, who fought two battles in this region to serve the Muslim king of Zaragoza in the eleventh century.


The medieval Christian conquest converted Morella into a town of privileges. Morella was conquered by Christians in October 1231, although on January 7th, 1232 when King James I came triumphantly into the city after tough negotiations with the noble Blasco de Alagón, whom the king had promised could keep as much as he conquered. But the king wanted the walled city and his knight said that "Morella is no place for any man of the world, but for a king because it was as good as a county with their possessions".



The splendid medieval town is marked by being the axis of the Crown of Aragon, and that Morella would always belong to the King. In 1270 it became part of the Kingdom of Valencia and in the Valencian Parliament, it still occupies the place of the protocol of being 'First Villa' of the Kingdom, just behind Valencia and Xativa. The medieval times were rich, with a society of multiple trade unions, goldsmiths, silversmiths, sculptors, weavers, blacksmiths, and merchants who already travelled to places like Greece, Italy or North Africa. 

Another historic moment the city has witnessed was the Compromise of Caspe and the Western Schism. In 1410 Martí l'Humà died without an heir, deciding that his successor would be elected by nine commissioners, one of them was from Morella, Domingo Ram, who, in 1412, when they decided that Fernando de Antequera would be the successor, was bishop of Huesca. In 1414 they met in Morella Pope Luna (Benedict XIII), King Ferdinand I and Fray Vicent Ferrer with the aim of ending the Western Schism, during which time there were three different Popes. The negotiations lasted fifty days without solution, The King and Vicent Ferrer left the obedience of Pope Luna, who remained in Peniscola isolated until his death.

The Succession War also took place in Morella too. During this conflict, local authorities remained with the Borbon side, but two Austrian occupations resulted in the destruction of the neighbourhood of San Miguel. After the bombs, Morella was left with only 1,800 inhabitants but to the astonishment of all, they rebuilt the town. The Decreto de Nueva Planta repealed the existence of the Kingdom of Valencia and Morella came to enforce the laws of Castile.

The Carlist War I is one of the most decisive episodes in the history of Morella. The governor of the town and the Baron de Herbers proclaimed king Carlos V in 1833. The statement did not last long and for two years resisted the area as a small independent state led by General Ramón Cabrera. The wars fought here and in Catalonia predicted more wars in the new liberal state. Reformed the military organization in the area creating the General Command of Maestrazgo (1849-1871) reaching Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia and Morella was its capital, as it was done later to maintain the capital of the province of Castellón and south Tarragona (1871-1879). But once the Third Carlist War finished the military province returned to conform to civil boundaries. Ramon Cabrera, the Tiger of Maestrazgo came to deserve the title of Conde de Morella. After the conflict and after marrying a British noble went into exile in London, repenting of so much bloody battle. In the British capital, there is a street dedicated to Morella, the one where the general lived.

The textile tradition of Morella is one that has lasted to the present day, especially wool, one of the oldest economic activities in this city and the whole region. This activity dates back to the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages, Morella was literally a textile factory; the wool sheared from their flocks was by the workshop and spindle in every household. The city had hundreds of looms. They wove carpets, fabrics and clothes, cordellats, barraganes and tartans, wool, cotton, linen... At that time, Morella traded with other Mediterranean countries, especially Italy, which provided them with textile products.

Later, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century, the most important products were bags, belts, blankets of Morella, blankets for the mules and shepherds. There are still some industries that you can visit that produce blankets, belts, bags and beautiful colourful paintings of great quality. It is a creative handcrafted activity, handed down from generation to generation.



During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the population lived exclusively from textile production and derivatives such as dyeing, thanks to important industrial complexes such as the Factory Giner that established an important connection with the Catalan industry.

The blanket of Morella is unique in its design, its horizontal stripes and the combination of colours. They are made of wool and cotton and are available in various establishments that sell craft products and clothing. These fabrics have evolved in terms of functionality and we can buy them not only as blankets or quilts, but also to create curtains, table runners, cushions, bags, even clothing and accessories for cultural and festive costumes.


Another reason to visit Morella is the new Morella Astronomical Observatory, located in the Torremiró rest area, highway N-232 allows one to look at the sky in the middle of nature. It is a privileged place without light pollution, with excellent conditions for observing the night sky. A high-quality telescope allows us to see the stars, the rings of Saturn, the craters on the moon, meteor showers, tears of San Lorenzo ... Throughout the year there are guided tours. The Centre is coordinated by the local association Astromorella and for any questions, contact the Tourist Office of Morella. They often organise observation nights which cost around €8 a person.



Tourist Info Morella
San Miguel square
Tel. 964 173 032

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Don Quixote: The Birth of the Novel
Saturday, July 29, 2023


Considered one of the foundational works of Western literature, Don Quixote is often cited as the first-ever written novel. Its unique narrative structure and exploration of groundbreaking themes make it an exceptionally influential piece of literature that continues to shape the medium of storytelling.


Don Quixote was written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. It narrates the adventures of a man who, after reading too many chivalric romances, decides to become a knight-errant.

A Novel Form

What sets Don Quixote apart as the first novel is its extensive use of character development, plot complexity, and internal consistency. It shocked the 17th-century audience with its new kind of storytelling that centered not on episodic, plot-driven tales, but on nuanced, ever-changing characters and intricate narratives.

  • Character Development: Prior, characters were generally static, archetypal figures who did not change throughout a story. In Don Quixote, characters undergo substantial personal growth and transformation, establishing a new standard for character portrayal.

  • Plot Complexity: Instead of linear, predictable plotlines, Don Quixote introduced complex and layered narratives. It employs plot twists and unexpected story arcs, keeping the reader in constant suspense.

  • Internal Consistency: Don Quixote maintains internal coherence wherein the events follow a logical, believable sequence. This is different from the episodic storytelling prevalent in the pre-novel literature.


Don Quixote explores themes that were revolutionary for its time:

  • Reality Vs. Perception: The theme of illusion versus reality is a central topic, with the protagonist mistaking ordinary objects and people for extraordinary beings and feats.

  • Humor: Through its use of satire and humor, the book criticizes the popular literature of the time and provides commentary on societal norms.

  • Heroism: Don Quixote's misguided self-image as a valiant knight sparks discussion about the nature of heroism and virtue.


Don Quixote, as the harbinger of the modern novel, has had a profound impact on literature. Its themes, plot structures, and character development techniques have been imitated, deconstructed, and reinterpreted by a multitude of authors since its publication.

The book stands as a pioneering masterpiece that is a testament to the enduring power of narrative innovation. It remains not only a monument in the history of literature but also a living influence on the novels of today.

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The History of Vinegar in Spain
Saturday, July 15, 2023

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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The Shearing of the Beasts
Saturday, July 8, 2023




Last weekend, the young “aloitadores” of Sabucedo, Pontevedra, gathered the wild horses, placed them in a “curro”, shaved them and branded them...

La Rapa das Bestas (The Shearing of the Beasts) is a popular festival which has been in existence since the 18th century. It consists of gathering the wild horses in the mountains, placing them in a “curro” (corral or enclosure), shaving them and branding them. All of this is held in Sabucedo (Pontevedra, Galicia) on the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday of July.

The “curro” in Sabucedo is the most famous of its kind, and its unique feature is that no ropes, sticks or other devices are used to tame the animals. The “aloitadores”, the ones charged with holding the beasts while they are being shaved, may only use their skill and body to perform the job.


Another specific feature of La Rapa das Bestas in Sabucedo is that the “bajada”, or the leading of the horses to the place in Sabucedo, is an integral part of the celebration itself, and hundreds of people from Galicia and beyond participate in it. In 2007, La Rapa das Bestas was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest.
On Saturday morning (the first day), very early and before climbing the mountain, a stirring mass is held where they address prayers to Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of Sabucedo, to ensure that no accidents or other unfortunate events happen during the festival.






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History of Spain's Relationship with Rice
Thursday, June 8, 2023



Reliable sources seem to credit Alexander the Great (356-323BC) with having introduced rice into Mesopotamia in the latter half of the 4th century BC. According to Strabo (Greek Geographer: 64BC-24AD), by the end of that century rice was already an established crop in the Euphrates valley. From Persia, it spread to Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt.

Alexander personally sent samples of rice (orýza) to Greece around 320BC, although it was not a success as a crop. It was considered a very exotic species of plant in Greece; it was used primarily in medicine, especially as rice water, but was barely used as a food source. Although Athenaeus and Sophocles (496-406 BC) mentions that rice flour could be used to make a bread called oríndes, it is by no means certain that they were referring to the same seed.

The Romans became acquainted with rice via the Greeks, as the Latin version of its name (oryza or oriza) reveals, but they imported it from Syria and Egypt. It continued to be an exotic product, being used mainly in medicinal compounds since infusions made with rice (‘rice water’) were believed to exert a calming effect on intestinal ailments. However, it was beginning to crop up in the occasional culinary recipe during this period: Apicius mentions using rice flour, or fecula (starch), to thicken a sauce.

Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Arabs introduced rice into Morocco, Spain, Madagascar and Sicily. It did not acquire importance in Europe, as either crop or foodstuff, until the Arab peoples implanted it firmly in the Iberian Peninsula after 711. However, there is a school of thought that maintains that rice reached Spain earlier - in the 6th century - from Byzantium.

The first big rice fields in Spain, and Europe, were planted by the Muslims of Al-Andalus in the river deltas of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir. Around the 10th century (during the caliphate of Abdurrahman III), rice-growing began in areas of Spain’s east coast (Levante) such as Valencia’s Albufera and the municipalities of Catarroja, Ruzafa, Silla and Sueca. During the 11th century, the plantations were expanded and irrigation systems improved as a result of population growth caused by an influx of Andalusís who had migrated up from the south after the fall of the caliphate and the concomitant civil war. The Spanish name for rice – Arroz – derives from the Persian orz, to which the Arabs prefixed the particle al. Al-orz subsequently evolved into ar-orz and ar-ruz, in which form it appears in a 13th-century Hispano-Mahgrebi manuscript. The word arroz makes its first appearance in Castilian Spanish in 1251 in a translation from Arabic of a collection of oriental stories entitled Calila e Dimna, commissioned by the figure who would later become known as Alfonso X, the Wise (1221-1284).

Because it was such a difficult crop to grow, rice remained a luxury product throughout the Middle Ages. Noteworthy among traditional Arabic-Andalusí recipes are those for dishes in which rice is cooked (over the fire or in the oven) in fresh milk or almond milk, which can be sweetened and flavoured with various spices. The usual thing was to grind the rice grains before cooking so that the end product resembled sweet porridge. A late medieval cookery book from the Kingdom of Aragón, the oldest of its kind in the Catalan language, includes this same recipe for cooking rice with almond milk and cinnamon.


The Christian reconquest of the Levante by the army of Jaime I of Aragon (1208-1276) between 1232 and 1245 wrought drastic changes to Valencia’s rice fields. For one thing, rice was perceived as Muslim food, the growing of which took up space that could be devoted to traditionally Christian products; for another, the medical and dietary theories that were starting to take shape, especially from the 14th century on, caused links to be detected between the wetland environment where rice was grown and public health problems. Proximity to the rice fields was believed to cause illness and, furthermore, food grown in muddy, foul-smelling conditions could not be nutritionally beneficial. In some places, therefore, prohibitions concerning rice-growing were issued intermittently in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, especially after the expulsion of the Spanish Moriscos in 1609, during the reign of Philip III (1578-1621). Against all odds, however, it did not disappear completely as a crop.

From the 16th century on, descriptions of meals eaten at the Spanish Court make quite a frequent mention of a dish called 'manjar blanco': this medieval sweet rice dish (recipe and instructions below) - a favourite with the aristocracy - was made with ground rice flour, shredded poultry meat, almonds and cane sugar. Over time, the recipe discarded the meat element and it became the dessert dish that is still eaten in certain parts of Spain (such as Montblanc, Tarragona and other municipalities in Catalonia), a kind of solid custard (or blancmange) made with rice flour, ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and water.

In the 17th century, the expulsion of the Moriscos combined with the European economic crisis triggered a dramatic drop in the population of Spain, the knock-on effect of which decimated demand for certain crops, including rice. Even so, documentary evidence dating from halfway through the century attests to the existence of rice fields in Murcia, on the fertile banks of the Segura River, and beside the Argos, in Calasparra.

The 18th century, by contrast, saw an increase in population, which tripled in Valencia between 1718 and 1787, and farming and rice growing thrived once more in consequence. Rice plantations increased in size in Valencia and Murcia, creeping ever closer to centres of population in defiance of official bans. The epidemics of tertian fever (malarial fevers so-called because of their repeated three-day pattern and caused by Anopheles mosquito bites) that occurred as a result claimed many lives. After the worst outbreak of malaria, in 1804, rice fields were forced to retreat further away from the towns.

In the first thirty years of the 20th century, rice-growing began to take on a significant role in Valencia’s economy. This was particularly true from the First World War (1914 – 1918) on when demand increased for all types of cereal, among other essential products, destined for the rest of Europe. It was this fact that lay behind the Spanish Government’s attempt to limit rice exports so that domestic demand, which was also growing, could be met. During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the post-war period, consumption of rice increased still further.

However, from the 1940s on, production started to decline in Spain’s eastern provinces such as Valencia and Murcia (the water for whose rice fields was provided by the rivers Turia, Júcar and Segura) in favour of such new regions as Seville, Extremadura, Huesca, Zaragoza, Navarra and Tarragona, where the crop was implanted mainly along the banks of the rivers Ebro, Guadiana and Guadalquivir.

From the 1960s on, cultivating and harvesting processes became increasingly mechanized, and producers found themselves gradually having to raise the quality of their product to meet the demands of a now better-off public. They also started to grow long-grain rice varieties which until then had not been a cost-effective option.


Manjar Blanco - Medieval

The recipe was first referenced in "The Book of Sent Soví". It does not specify the quantities or the timings. However, in other references, it is mentioned that the quantity of almonds is the same as that of the broth and the elaboration process is better detailed. If you fancy discovering a medieval Spanish recipe just follow these steps:


1 litre of chicken broth.
1 kg of Almonds
A tablespoon of sugar.
Rosewater .
Rice flour.


We prepare a broth with the chicken's quarters and boil them slowly for about 2 hours, strain it and remove the fat - let it cool and once all the fat has risen to the top, scoop it off.

We add the chopped and peeled almonds to the broth and we boil it for about 20 minutes, then strain the mixture in a cloth strainer pressing until all the liquid comes out, put it back on the heat, add a tablespoon of sugar, and a splash of rose water and without stopping slowly mix in the rice flour until obtaining the thickness of cream and add salt to taste.
Shred the chicken meat off the bone and sprinkle on top and serve.


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The modern train is thanks to Spain...
Friday, June 2, 2023

Ever wondered why Spain has one of the best railroad systems in the world and always has had?

Well, it’s because they effectively invented “modern” rail travel and have been innovating for decades.

The “Tren Articulada Ligero Goicoechea Oriols” (TALGO) appeared in the 40’s and is considered the first “modern train” in history. It was a revolutionary train, in design and function that concentrated on aerodynamics, style and comfort with speed for the first time. The first time it was revealed it must have created a real stir, similar to a futuristic prototype car being revealed at a car show.








However, Talgo trains are best known for their unconventional articulated railway passenger car that uses a type similar to the Jacobs bogie that Talgo patented in 1941. The wheels are mounted in pairs but not joined by an axle and the bogies are shared between coaches rather than underneath individual coaches. This allows a railway car to take a turn at higher speed with less swaying. As the coaches are not mounted directly onto wheel bogies, the coaches are more easily insulated from track noise.  For many decades TALGO dominated the world market controlling event eh North American railroad market from the 60’s through to the 80’s, in fact many trains still running today are TALGO’s. Alejandro Goicoechea was the creator of this train that changed the face of rail travel globally. The Talgo I was built in 1942 in Spain. The coaches were built at the "Hijos de Juan Garay Fábrica" in Oñati and the locomotive was built at the workshops of the "Compañia de Norte" in Valladolid. It was built as a prototype, and it was used to set several railroad speed records.


Talgo II coaches and locomotives were first built in 1950 at the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF) works in the United States under the direction of Spanish engineers, and entered service on the Rock Island Line, servicing the Jet Rocket train, between Chicago and Peoria, Illinois. One was also trialled on the New York Central Railroad until 1958 but saw little success. Talgos were also built for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad for its "John Quincy Adams" train from (New York City to Boston, Massachusetts), and the Boston and Maine Railroad for its "Speed Merchant" train, running between (Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine). Soon afterwards, Talgo II trains began running in Spain, and were successfully operated until 1972.


TALGO continued to develop trains and is still one of the major contenders in the global market. Today they manufacture all types of trains including the Talgo 350, which entered service as the RENFE AVE marking the company's entry into the high-speed train manufacturing market. Tests with the prototype commenced in 1994 and Talgo 350 trains have been operating at a top commercial speed of 330 km/h since 22 December 2007.  It has recently launched a very high-speed train called the AVRIL (Alta Velocidad Rueda Independiente Ligero - Light Independent Wheel High Speed), which can travel at 380km/h.



Things have moved on a bit, haven't they?

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