Verhalen: South from Granada

Over de film naar het boek, Al Sur de Granada, schreef ik al onder Gelul » Films. Daar ook een link naar informatie over het boek en over de auteur. En zie ook hier Verhalen » The Face of Spain.

Die auteur, Gerald Brenan, was losjes lid van de Bloomsnury Group, en kreeg in zijn Spaanse dorpje mensen zoals Virginia Woolf en Bertrand Russell te logeren. Hij maakte tea voor zijn Engelse gasten: boeren boter, honing in de raat, cake, jam en "bessen-brood" waarmee krentenbrood is bedoeld.

Zijn huiseigenaar had als favoriet ontbijt Migas van mais, een soort polenta, met sardien erop en daarover warme chocoladesaus.
Olijvenpluk in januari. "Indian corn": mais. "Vetches": dat is of tuinboon of voederwikke.
Ook een mooi stukje: oude boer kan het niet over zijn hart krijgen om zijn zieke ezel af te maken, en duwt deze dus dan maar het ravijn in.

Hieronder een stuk uit het boek, over het eten.

De omslag van het boek, met daarop een guitaar spelende zigeuner, en een toekijkend meisje.

Not fat from the kitchen was the store-room, and this was an important place. Every autumn we hung from its ceillng two or three hundred pounds of thick-skinned grapes, which kept fresh till April, though getting sweeter and more shrunken all the time. There would also be several hundred persimmons from two trees that grew in the garden: picked after the first frost, they ripened slowly and were eaten with a spoon when they went soft and squashy. Quinces were also kept there, as well as oranges and lemons and apples, and pots of marmalade and cherry jam and green fig jam, which I had taught Maria how to make. And there were always one or two of the famous Alpujarra hams, which kept through the summer if they were rubbed every week or two with salt, Then came the vegetables -dried tomatoes and egg plants, cut into slices and laid out on shelves, pimentoes hung from the ceiling, jars of home-cured olives and of dried apricots and figs, chick peas and lentils and other sorts of beans in espuertas or large frails. And upstairs in the azotea were onions, for olla sin cebolla, u baile sin tamborln, a stew without onions is like a dance without a tabor. None of these things could be obtaincd in the shop, but must be storcd through the year or bought at a higher price from a neighbour.

I was forgetting honey. This bad to be fetched from a bee­keeper who lived close to the Cotijo Colorado, an hour's journcy or more away. He moved his hives on mule-back up and down the mountain to catch the thyme and lavender and rosemary and other aromatic flowers as they came out, and every spring I paid him a visit with a donkey and brought back two arrobas, that is fifty pounds, in two orsas or amphorae. Somtimes, passing through a lonely barranco, one would come on his hives -twenty or so earthenware pipes, each weighed down with a stone. This was a neighbourhood to be avoided, for Spanish bees are much fiercer than English ones.

Meat we got only occasionally, whenever a kid was killed. Few people eat it except on feast days, but fish came up on mules from the coast on most nights of the year -sardines, boquerones, jureles, and pulpos or cuttle-fish - and was sold by the man who brought it at the house door.

The merits or otherwise of Spanish cooking are a matter on which people cliffer. My experience is that, taking it on its most humble level, it contains a few admirable dishes and two or three deplorable ones. The dish I liked best at Yegen was known, from the pot in which it was cooked, as cazuela. This was a stew of rice, potatoes, and green vegetables cooked together with either fish or meat and seasoned with tomatoes, pimentoes, onions, garlic, powdered almonds, and sometimes saffron. The method of preparing it was to begin by frying the rice and some of the other ingredients in olive oil and, when it had acquired a golden tinge, to add water. The potatoes and green vegetables were then thrown in, and the result after twenty minutes simmering was a sort of mess which had to be eaten with a spoon. Ncxt to this in order of merit I would place the famous paella, which is the natlonal dish of Valencia. Shell­flsh, chicken, pimiento, and rice are the principal ingredients, and thete are no potatoes. It is cooked in a very large, flat fryingpan ti11 all the water has been absorbed, and is then eaten elegantly with a fork.

Several stages lower in the list came the vegetarlan dishes - olla gitana, ropa vieja ot old clothes, lentil and bean pottages, string beans with eggs, various sorts of omelettes, and at the very bottom the natlonal dish of Castile, which is known as puchero. This is a boiled affair, not unlike the French pot-au-feu, of which the essentlal ingredients are pork, chunks of tocino or bacon fat, potatoes, turnips, and chick peas. The chick pea, from which Cicero took his name, is a yellow bullet which explodes in the inside into several cubic feet of gas, while if the cook knows her job properly she will see that the meat is boiled till lt has no taste left and that the fat, a yellowish white in colour, is rancid. A Spaniard feels when he eats this dish that he has vindicated his toughness of fibre. He has not degenetated from the breed of men who conquered a continent with a handful of adventurers, wore hair-shirts day and night ti11 they stuck to their flesh, and braved the mosquitoes of the Pilcomayo and the Amazon.

Our range of vegetables was so large that we could play many variations on a small number of dishes. We could regale ourselves with salads almost all the year round and in summer sip that delicious salad soup, the Andalusian gazpacho. The winter form of this was a poached egg floating on a mixture of water, vinegar, and olive oil among small pieces of bread. A humble clish, costing at the most twopence, I found it made a pleasant introduction to a meal when one was tired. But how have I managed to forget that most characteristic of Spanish foods -bacalao or salt cod? Enter any grocer's store in the Peninsula, and one will see a row of flat, kite-shaped objects, a dirty white in colour, hanging like the mummified vermin on a gamekeeper's gallows or like faded, unbleached clothes on a line, from a cord stretched below the ceiling. This is the dish that when cooked gives out a smell like the lion-house in the zoo, but when well cooked and of good quality is as delicious as it is nuttitive and sustaining. It is both the food of the rich and the food of the poor, but since, unfortunately for me, the poor were in the great majorlty at Yegen, the bacalao sold there was of the worst quality. Also Maria, whose natura! talents ran to herb medicines and plant dyes, was Jittle versed in cooking.

Our snow-cured hams, which were eaten raw, were famous, and sometimes we could buy trabbits, hares, and partridges. The rabbit is believed to have given its name to Spain (the Phoenician word for that anima! is sapan), but today it is scarce. Since the forests were cut down it has had no cover from the hawks, which have multiplied in the Spanish sierras, at the expense of the birds and animals that used to live on them. But when one got these rabbits they were delicious and both leaner and gamier than their northern relatives. Our partridges belonged to the large red-legged species, abundant on the dry hills and barrancos, but difficult to approach within gun range. They wete usually shot in an unsportlng manner with decoys, without any regard to the season, and this gave rise to a cutious and unedifylng avian display. When the decoy was a female and the approaching male was shot and killed, the caged bird would dance and crow and flap its wings in delight and triumph. But when the decoy was a male, lt would droop dejectedly and remain silent.

I have passed over two dishes unknown to Western cooking, though 1n more primitive times they were common enough. The first of these was gachas, a porrldge of wheat flour simmered in water, which used to be known in England as hasty pudding. In the mountain farms and at shepherds' bivouacs it formed the principal aliment, being eaten three times a day for months on end with milk. In the villages it was taken with fried sardines, tomatoes, and pimentoes. The second was migas, which is also a sort of porridge, but frled in olive oil, garlic, and water. It could be made either of wheat or maize flour or of breadcrumbs. The poor eat it with the invariable sardines, the cheapest and dullest of the Mediterranean fishes and often the only one to reach our village, while the rlch liked to pour hot chocolate over it. My landlord, as I have already said, took it with both chocolate and fried fish, stirred up well together.

Almost everyone agrees ahout the excellence of Spanish bread. The loaf is very close textured, but it has a taste and sweetness like no other bread in the world. This, I imagine, is hecause the grain is entirely ripe before being harvested. Besides loaves we had roscos, or rolls made in the form of rings, and tortas, which are flat cakes made with wheat flour, sugar, and oil. The poor, and sometimes the rich too, ate maize bread, and in the mountain farms they ate black hread made of rye. For shepherds it had the advantage of not going stale.

There are some curious customs about bread which were strictly observed in my vlllage, and indeed through the whole of Andalusia. Before cutting a new loaf it was proper to make the sign of the cross over it with a knife. If a loaf or rosca fell to the ground, the person who picked it up would kiss it and say 'Es pan de Dios' ('It's God's bread'). Children were never allowed to strike it or treat it roughly or to crumble it on the table, and it was considered shocking to offer even stale crusts to a dog. When once I jabbed my knife into a loaf, I was reproved and told that I was 'stabbing the face of Christ'. Bread was, in fact, sacred, and this, according to Dr Américo Castro, is not, as one would suppose, a derivation from the cult of the Sacrament but a notion borrowed from the Arabs. Butter, on the other hand, was unknown. Manteca meant either lard or rancid dripping worked up with garlic and eaten by workmen in the coast towns with bread. This is explained by the fact that we had no milch cows. Even in the north of Spain there are said to have been none till the Flemish influence at the time of Charles V brought them in, and it is only in recent years that they have been kept in Andalusia, In the nineteenth century the wealthy families of Malaga used to import barrels of salted butter from Hamburg, and on that account they became known as la gente de la manteca, or 'the butter folk'. It was a luxury that set a stamp on one's social position, like having a car today.

Many wild plants were eaten in our village, and I will single out a few of them. Everyone who has visited southern Spain in the spring will have sampled the thin, bitter asparagus. This is never planted in gardens, hbut is picked from a tall thorny plant that grows on every mountain slope in southern Spain that is not too far from the sea. At Yegen we got it from men who came round selling it. Another very common plant everywhere is fennel. The Italian cultivated kind, which has a large cdible root, is not known in Spain, and we ate the leaf and stalk of the wild species. It formed a frequent and, I think, pleasant ingredient in soups and ollas. Another plant which I strongly recommend is colleja, a sort of bladder campion whose botanica! name is Silene inflata. The young shoots are picked hefore the flowering stems get under way, and eaten in omelettes. For salads the womcn picked borraja, that is, the young leaves of the common sowthistle, vinagrera or F1rench sorrel, and chicory.

At the risk of being tedious I will add that on the coast and in the interior plateaux the country people are greatly given to thistles. Por example, the young stems of that superb golden thistle, Sco!ymus hispanicus, in Spanish tagornina, are taken in stews in spite of the fact that they make some people come out in spots, while the heads and roots of the milk thistle, Si!ybum marianum, were eaten in large quantities all through Andalusia during the famine that followed the Civil War.

Many people at Yegen had a neurosis about eating. Quite a number of women of the poorer sort seemed to feel an antipathy for food, and would rather be offered a cup of coffee than a good meal. Others were ashamed of being seen to eat, and if compelled to do so in public would sit in a corner with their backs to the room. I once knew a family of welt-to-do people, of partly gipsy descent, each of whom cooked his own food and ate it at a separate table, with his back to the others. One must expect such feelings to arise in a country where for many people food is scarce and any sort of eating an act of daring and extravagance, Old women in partlcular developed the sort of prudery about it that in other countries they develop about sex.

The genera! rule, except among the rich, was for the head of the family to eat first by himself. For this he did not draw up to a clining-room table, but had a mesilla or little low table placed in Oriental style in front of him,. His children ate on the ground, squatting in a cicle round a pot or fryingpan, while the women of the house took thelr food last and in a hurried, scrappy manner. Sometimes, however, there would be several grown men in a family, and then they ate out of a common dish placed on a table between them. This was the custom too in ventas and posadas, and whenever parties of friends went off to the fields for a festive picnic. According to the novelist, Juan Valera, the Andalusian upper classes always ate in this way down to the middle of the nineteenth century. Naturally, as I have already said, there was an etiquette about this. Everyone selected his segment and ate till the partition separating it from his neighbours' had become thin, Those who had delicate tastes then laid down their spoon, leaving it to the coarser appetites to eat right through.