Friday, January 23, 2015

The joys of living in a natural park.

It's said that living in a natural park  has it's advantages. Advantages, I suppose, because it attracts grants for the local government to promote tourism and activities and in theory it creates employment.  Most of this  appears to be within the bureaucracy itself; park police, inspectors, pen pushers.

The disadvantages are more obvious to us; the slow paper movement, the rules and the bureaucracy for those who live within its boundaries. For example we could have started to prune and pollard our chestnut trees at the beginning of the month, but first we had to prepare a petition to do so, fill in the forms, and wait for one of the inspectors to roll up at an inconvenient hour. That took about one week. We have the nod, but now we have to wait for the paper permits to arrive. It's usually about three weeks to a month in all. Of course you will say that we should have filled in the application earlier, but all the business of paperwork puts people off and it's not always possible to be thinking of the business of the day, or the month when it is not the season; or else when the person who is going to do the work is not available.

Looking over the landscape it is possible to see areas that are worse administrated than they were before the creation of the park. Bureaucracy discourages smallholders from investing energy and money into the land, when it seems they are consistently banging their heads against a brick wall, being told that no, they cannot plant an olive tree, nor repair a shed.

Gardening is also a problem. Once we had put up a pergola, and the young 'townie' who turned up to ook our place over, informed us that we would not be allowed to plant anything to grow over it which was not native. We had been thinking of wisteria, or vitis cognitae for shade and colour. Whe  I asked what he would advise, he suggested brambles. On the other hand, the ministry of agriculture is giving out grants to remove brambles and to clear scrub....well this is only hearsay as we have never received them.

Grumble grumble.

Monday, January 19, 2015

De Matanza

It’s half past seven; Sunday night, and the mist on the hills has faded into darkness. We’re all up at the house again, and it’s hot baths and showers for everyone; to get rid of the smell of garlic and paprika, pepper, and pig’s blood.

After two days’ of work we have 8 Iberian hams and 8 shoulders  pre-salted and hanging in the shed, along with chorizos, morcilla tonta, salchichón and cañas de lomo.

Thank you all for your hard work, Jeannie, Celeste, Inmaculada, Juan David, Fingal, Ivan, Alex, Cristina, Joanna, and Ted, Jago and Charlie, Eduardo, Alquin and Joris; and thank you Tim for your lovely photos of an often unlovely activity.


Yesterday morning we were up at 8, supping coffee and toast before climbing up the hill to meet those not staying. Eduardo, Celeste and Juan David from Los Marines, and Inmacualada from Cortelazor. Later that morning we were joined by Alfredo from Seville, and Mercedes and Maria Jose from Jerez.

We had the Irish crew: Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen smokehouse, who arrived with one of his wonderful knives  and also Ted Berner and Ivan Whelan and also Cristina and Joanna  (from Dingle and Dublin respectively).

By 9 am the four pigs were slaughtered, and driven down to the workshed in the trailer. By midday the animals were butchered, the vet had passed them as being trichinosis free, and we were able to start separating the various meat cuts, removing excessive fat and sorting them into separate bowls for mincing and marinading for each type of sausage.

Lunch was prepared, with bottled tomatoes from our summer harvest, cooked up with olive oil, garlic, onions, oregano (which we’d picked in the forest and dried last June) and then with the addition of spare ribs of iberian pork, and one of the livers sliced into chunks.  This was cooked by me in a huge pot and took most of the morning. We served it up in ceramic bowls with slices of crusty country bread; cheese to follow; oranges and tangerines, and magdalenas and coffee.

Everyone sat down together and enjoyed the meal, accompanied by mosto wine from the Aljarafe of Seville.

Then back to work until dusk, and a jolly dinner at the main house.

Today we returned to the sheds after a breakfast of fresh Burgos-style black puddings (rice, cumin, onions, blood, salt and pepper) and Scottish black puddings (oatmeal, cloves, nutmeg onions, blood, salt, pepper and a pinch of dark cocoa), bacon and farm eggs.

For lunch we had the typical cocido, (onions and garlic, turmeric, chickpeas previously soaked overnight, peeled potatoes, salted pieces of spine, lung and tongue, boiled up slowly with a tablespoon of sweet páprika and a dash of black pepper and chilli). Otherwise lunch took the same format as yesterday, with a few people less.

By nightfall the bulk of the work was done.

For pictures of the work see Tim's blog:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Iberian Problems will be solved this week!

Well, there I was bragging about my wonderful greenhouse. We were going to have crunchy salads and fresh herbs for the Christmas invasion.
Alas, on the 20th December the Iberian pigs ran amok, broke through the fence into the lemon grove and barged their way into the greenhouse, ploughing through my carefully nurtured rocket, oakleaf lettuce, frilly Portuguese salads, escarole, mustard greens and chard. They knocked over my pots of seedlings and left a terrible mess.

Three days later I had settled the salads back into the ground, but now, almost a month later, they are only just beginning to recuperate, and emerge from a muddy sulk. The greenhouse door will never quite be the same. I have to confess it is not a proper greenhouse, only a metal frame with plastic stretched over the top....oh for something more beautiful!

The chief advantage of the escapade was that the pigs made their way into another part of the oak forest and stuffed themselves on acorns. Eccellent timing, as this is the very week they will meet with the grim reaper.

We have Fingal Ferguson, he of the Gubbeen Smokehouse, putting in a guest appearance, and Ted Berner and Ivan Whelan of Wildside Catering specialists in hog roasts (Here's a photo of some of the wild bunch). They will be helping and learning; making chorizo, salchichón, caña de lomo,  black puddings, and preparing the hams for salting. We are being joined by food blogger and chef Joanna Bourke from Dublin, and her friend Cristina, who both completed the Ballymaloe course last autumn.

There'll be two days of hard work, and the usual feasting: day one, tomato stew (our bottled summer tomatoes, dried oregano from the forest, and offal /organ meats) served with country bread, and manchego cheese and oranges for after. On the second day we make a massive puchero the Spanish version of a pot-au-feu, if you will, which has many versions. Ours is made  with chickpeas (garbanzos) and garlic, and belly fat, and spare ribs and espinazo, and turmeric and potatoes. Tim Clinch will be here to record everything on camera.

I hope to post pictures and will try to keep away from the gore for the more sensitive readers.

2015 an unhappy start to the New Year

The internet brings terrible news of murder from Paris, of chaos in Syria, of violence, of drifting boatloads of refugees in the Eastern Mediterranean, (and  here in the straits of Gibraltar); yet in spite of these horrors and the murmur of xenophobia throughout Europe we have to carry on with optimism and hope. There is no other way.

Truly the image which fills me with sadness is the smiling face of Ahmed Merabet. Let us hope that the mass demonstration of a determination to work towards unity will be of some comfort to the bereaved and will act as a counterbalance to the Pegida marches in Dresden.

It feels 'out of place' to be mentioning all this in our blog from the peaceful Aracena mountains, but it would have been equally wrong to pass through this week without mentioning it.