A flavour of 19th-century rural Mallorca

Visiting Manacor on Saturday, February 2nd, we were surprised to see a large group of people wearing traditional period costume, gathered around a memorial stone. All soon became clear when we realised what day it was. These local people were honouring Antoni M Alcover, who became the parish priest of Manacor in 1886 but is best known today for having collected and written down more than three hundred traditional folk tales – known locally as Rondaies – from around Mallorca.

Antoni Alcover i Sureda was born into a farming family just outside Manacor on February 2nd in 1862. On this day, flowers are laid at the memorial stone and people in local costume of the 19th century come to celebrate the life and writings of the man often referred to as Mossèn Alcover. The town of Manacor has a number of events around the anniversary of his birth, including public readings of his stories.

Traditional Mallorcan dress

Local Manacor people wearing the traditional dress of Alcover’s era to celebrate the anniversary of his birth

We spoke to this group of people, proudly wearing the clothes of Alcover’s era. We are always fascinated by the locals’ willingness to dress themselves in traditional Mallorcan costume at every opportunity. I wouldn’t mind betting that most people have period garments hanging in their closets; we’ve certainly seen a few hanging in our local dry cleaner’s from time to time, freshly pressed for their next outing.

These garments would probably have been the ‘Sunday best’ of their time and not what your average rural Mallorcan would have worn when cultivating the land. I like to think that farming folk of that era would have worn more comfortable – and lighter – garb when working outdoors. The authentic 19th-century wardrobe looks a little warm for the Mediterranean climate!

Alcover didn’t just gather folklore from Mallorca; he also made notes for what would eventually become  the Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear. The first volume of this magnum opus was published in 1930 – two years before Alcover died.

If you’re interested in reading some of the folk stories collected by Alcover, a selection of them is published in English in a volume entitled The Best Folk Tales of Mallorca, published by Editorial Moll in Palma.

Jan Edwards ©2019

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No Smoke Without Fire in our Rural Mallorcan Valley

Bonfires are blazing at the bottom of our valley. We can’t see the flames from our finca, but smoke has been billowing from different parts for days. In summer, when the merest whiff of smoke tickles our nostrils, we’re outside peering all around in case a wildfire has broken out. Bonfires are forbidden in wooded areas such as ours for almost half the year and only barbecues are likely to be creating smoke during these months.

Bonfire smoke

Smoke billows from down in the valley

In the autumn and winter months, farmers and gardeners choose calm days to burn their mounds of combustible unwanteds. We sometimes see vertical columns of smoke making a lazy ascent towards the sky and can usually work out from its location which neighbour is having a burn-up. But the smoke that’s been wafting daily over our valley is not from ordinary bonfires.

Our torrente after the clearance

Our local landscape has changed dramatically as a result of the clearance work

Prevention is better than repair

I wrote a while back about the appalling floods that caused the loss of 13 lives in the northeast of Mallorca – the area known as the Llevant. As well as the tragic loss of life, property and roads suffered damage that in some cases is still being dealt with.

Since that incident, work has begun to ensure that the area’s torrentes – often-dry stream beds – are cleared of vegetation and widened to accommodate even excessive rainfall, such as that which fell on Sant Llorenç on October 9th.

For several weeks, enormous earth-moving vehicles have been trundling along the torrente at the bottom of our valley, ripping out trees and shrubs and reshaping the banks. The vehicles have fallen silent now and all that remains is for the workmen to burn the mountains of vegetation they’ve removed along the route of the stream. The bonfires have been happening for days and will probably continue for a while. Although they aren’t particularly close to our finca, our black car is dotted with ash particles – but it makes no sense to clean it yet.

Any excuse for a BBQ

Tomorrow evening the aroma of smoke will also hang over Manacor, our nearest town – but it won’t have wafted from our valley. The 16th of January is the eve of Sant Antoni and it’s traditional for fires to blaze in the streets during this much-loved fiesta. Tomorrow, butcher’s shops and supermarkets will do a roaring trade in Mallorcan sausages and pancetta, to be cooked alfresco over the roaring flames of the fires dotted all around town. And maybe also in our rural valley. Pass the BBQ sauce…

Jan Edwards ©2019

What to do with surplus home-grown produce

Beetroot ready to use

Sadly these didn’t come from our finca garden

After we’d bought our finca in rural Mallorca I had dreams of creating a vegetable garden, once we had set up home here. I would pluck sweet cherry tomatoes from their vines, unearth golf-ball-sized new potatoes, and harvest plump peppers for my culinary creations. Alas, it was not to be: the shallow layer of soil on our land disguises a foundation of rock – unsuitable conditions for a budding veg gardener.

I did once try to grow potatoes here. The several plants looked healthy enough above the ground, but when we eagerly dug up our spud bounty, it amounted to just five potatoes.

I do know, though, of people whose gardens produce such an abundance of fruit and veg that they can’t possible eat, freeze, or otherwise preserve it all. If they can’t give away the surplus, it goes to waste. Such a pity.

Trade your surplus

Anyone living in Mallorca with surplus home-grown produce this January may be interested to hear about ‘Beetroot Barter’ – taking place in Palma de Mallorca later this month.

‘Beetroot Barter’ is the brainchild of Sylvia Wynans, whose Facebook page Wholesome Living is worth perusing. Even after making a supply of chilli paste, Sylvia had lots of chillis left over and it prompted her to think about the amount of surplus home-grown produce that goes to waste.

Her thoughts led to the idea of a food-trading event, at which backyard ‘farmers’ across Mallorca could swap their surplus produce for someone else’s.  As the idea was formed, Sylvia realised the initiative needed a name and asked her husband for ideas: “The first thing he said was ‘Beetroot Barter’,” she told me. “We love beets!”

She then had to find somewhere to hold the event and turned to British businesswoman Justine Murphy of mymuybueno Deli in Palma de Mallorca – who loved the idea and offered Sylvia her premises as the venue.

Need to know

If you have a glut of home-grown goodies from your garden and would like to be part of the inaugural ‘Beetroot Barter’ (and perhaps help shape future events), here are the details:

Date: Saturday, January 26th

Time:  11:00-13:30h

11:00-12:00h – Allocated for a group discussion to design the guidelines for trading and organising similar events elsewhere (Sylvia would love to see this initiative spread to towns and villages around Mallorca – and indeed beyond our island). Anyone with food-retail, marketing, or other relevant experience, is welcome to join the discussion.

12:00-13:30h – Trading time. Swap your oranges for apples, your eggs for home-made jam, or simply donate your surplus produce for the benefit of others.

Venue:

Food at mymuybueno Deli

mymuybueno Deli

mybuybueno Deli* in Palma de Mallorca. Located in the centre of the city (on the first floor of the building opposite the main Correos or post office), the Deli is a very short walk from the Antoni Maura underground public car park.

*address is C/ Tous i Maroto 5B.

The event is free to enter, but you are asked to spend 8€ in the Deli (which serves delicious food that’s all made there and is free of lactose, gluten, and refined sugar).

Take your own shopping basket or boxes: no single-use plastic will be available for packing.

For more information, see the Beetroot Barter page on Facebook.

Hear Sylvia talking about this initiative on Saturday 12th January on Table Talk on Mallorca Sunshine Radio 106.1FM or streamed online at the station’s .com

 

Jan Edwards©2019

A Menu of Mallorcan Food Memories

Sobrasada in the supermarket

The ubiquitous sobrasada

Before we moved to rural Mallorca in April 2004, we tended to eat in the hotels where we stayed for holidays here. The cuisine would have been international, rather than Mallorcan, and I didn’t eat like a local until the day we began our lives here as expats.

Our plane touched down in Palma de Mallorca around lunchtime the day that we arrived and we headed straight to Manacor, to try a restaurant recommended as “fantastic value” by a British couple we’d met. In this establishment we would eat a three-course lunch – with wine – for five euros. Five euros! We might have paid the equivalent for two packets of gourmet crisps in a gastro pub back in Oxfordshire. It did, indeed, sound like a bargain and this proved to be the eatery’s real appeal.

Sensory overload hit us as soon as we entered the restaurant. The large dining room was packed with people and the buzz of conversation made me think of worker bees in a hive. Waiters bearing plates aloft weaved between the tables and the customers zoning in on the dessert buffet table. Unfamiliar aromas wafted from the kitchen whenever the door swung open.

A flustered waitress showed us to one of the few vacant tables, where we studied the short menú del día and made our choices before settling back to take in our surroundings. The ambience was different from anywhere we’d eaten out in Oxfordshire, but we had little time to make comparisons: the starters we’d chosen arrived on our table only minutes after the order went through to the kitchen.

For our main course, we ate roast suckling pig – a traditional Mallorcan dish that features on numerous restaurant menus. When expertly cooked, the meat melts in the mouth – and the crackling…well, it crackles in a most satisfying manner.

The quality of any dish depends, of course, on the ingredients used and this is related to the price paid. Having paid very little for our three-course lunch, we were not too surprised by the standard of food we ate that day. Suffice to say that we never went back to this place – which closed its doors a few years later.

The Mediterranean Diet according to Mallorca

One of my first impressions of Mallorcan cuisine was that it was as far removed from the much-lauded Mediterranean diet as Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quatr’ Saisons in Oxfordshire was from the above-mentioned eatery.

I could see that olive oil, olives, and tomatoes were healthy local ingredients common to both the traditional Mediterranean and the Mallorcan diets. Combined with the local rustic bread, these ingredients become the popular snack dish pa amb oli (‘bread and oil’). As fast foods go, pa amb oli ticks a few boxes for healthy eating.

But the amount of pork and piggy-derived products in the local diet surprised me. Roast suckling pig is only one example. That ubiquitous Mallorcan coiled sweet pastry known as the ensaïmada? See it being made and you discover that lard is an important ingredient.

Freshly baked ensaimada – a Mallorcan sweet treat (although laced with lard)

Then there’s sobrasada – the cured paprika-flavoured pork sausage that is almost a staple of the Mallorcan diet (and sometimes even makes an appearance in an ensaïmada!). The most common way to eat sobrasada is to spread it thickly on a slice of rustic bread. It would be some months before I discovered that this emblematic Mallorcan product – which has protected geographic status – adds a delicious note when cooked and used in gourmet cuisine.

The role of the pig in the Mallorcan diet became even more evident when we found a good local butcher’s shop, where one counter displayed an array of embotits – cured meats and sausages – all originating from the porker from Mallorca. Pork, lamb, and chicken were pretty much the only options on the fresh meat counter and all had been reared on the island. A neighbour in our valley owned a pig farm and a wagon would pass our house almost daily, taking another batch of squealing piglets to their doom.

Pride in Mallorcan produce

I soon became aware of the importance of the fresh-produce market to Mallorcan shoppers. In Manacor, we often had to dodge the wayward wheels of Rolser shopping trolleys, as we strolled around the stalls admiring the colourful displays of seasonal produce.

Market stall fruit and veg

Seasonal Mallorcan produce on a market stall in November

Early experiences of fruit-and-veg buying at our local market taught me that Mallorcans are rightly proud of their island’s rich bounty of produce. It was a revelation to see shoppers asking stallholders where this fruit or that vegetable had come from before they bought. Not Mallorca? Then the shopper would be unlikely to add it to their straw basket or pull-along shopping trolley.

We have always bought most of our fresh fruit and veg from a family-run greengrocer’s in Manacor’s market square. When we moved here, the shop’s operation was overseen by the elderly matriarch – a tiny but feisty lady in her eighties, with a wicked sense of humour. Her main role in life seemed to be keeping an eye on me to make sure I didn’t commit the sin of buying fruit and vegetables that weren’t cultivated on Mallorca; I needed whipping into Mallorcan-shopper shape. If my gaze lingered too long on plump peppers from the Peninsula, she would shake her head and wag her finger at me, before guiding me by the elbow to the peppers from her beloved island.

The Mallorcans’ loyalty also extends to eating traditional dishes. They may have frito mallorquín or sopes mallorquines at home, but these classics are also some of the most popular choices on traditional Mallorcan restaurant menus.

Variety may not be the spice of life

In our first few months here, Mallorcan neighbours invited us to their home for a buffet supper for a fiesta, adding that guests usually contributed an ensaïmada for the dessert table. Thinking that my fellow guests would appreciate a bit of variety, I made and took a tarte tatin. Though I say so myself, it looked irresistible – but not as irresistible to the locals as the seven Mallorcan ensaïmadas also on offer.

Whether eating out or shopping for food, doing it like a local gives an authentic taste of Mallorca.

This article originally appeared in the supplement Eat Majorca, published for last month’s World Travel Market in London, by the Majorca Daily Bulletin on behalf of the Council of Mallorca.

©Jan Edwards 2018

Devastating floods in Mallorca

Post updated Thursday, October 11th

Our beloved adopted island of Mallorca is in mourning. Twelve people are now known to have died as a result of flooding in the east and northeast area of Mallorca, known as the Llevant. A five-year-old boy (whose mother died) is still missing. Amongst those who lost their lives – in what must have been terrifying circumstances – were two British tourists, who died in a taxi. Today they were named as Delia and Anthony Green, aged in their 70s, who were on their way to their hotel in Cala Bona.

October usually brings a few storms – often heavy – but Tuesday’s was something else. We had torrential rain, thunder, and scary sheet-and-fork lightning for several hours. Remembering a previous storm that disabled our solar electricity system inverter at great expense, The Boss switched off all related equipment and we sat by candlelight for a while, reading from our Kindles, and listening to the rain – thankful to be indoors.

A disaster in the making

At about six o’clock on Tuesday, October 9th, the banks of the Ses Planes torrente in the nearby town of Sant Llorenç (population just over 8,000) burst under the weight of water: 257 litres of rain per square metre fell on the town. Water and mud surged through Sant Llorenç, inundating some properties to the depth of an average adult’s shoulder height and sweeping away vehicles in the streets as though they were bath toys. The town also lost electricity and phone connections during the storm.

We didn’t realise what was going on outside our valley until we switched our power back on and were able to access the Internet again. The photos and video footage we saw from Sant Llorenç were shocking and, frankly, unbelievable. The storm has been described in the local and international media as ‘biblical’ – such is the devastation.

Many people sought shelter on the rooftops of their homes or in trees; once rescued, they were taken to shelter in the Miguel Angel Nadal sports centre in Manacor. Tennis star Rafa Nadal also provided accommodation at his famous Tennis Academy. It will be some time before many of the locals can return to their homes.

Other Mallorcan towns also affected

Sant Llorenç was by far the worst-affected part of the region, but Artà, Son Carrió, and the east-coast resort of S’Illot also suffered flooding and three of the deaths were in Artà and S’Illot. Cars were swept into the sea in Colonia de Sant Pere (one of our favourite coastal places in Mallorca).

Today, several major roads remain closed. Just outside Artà – on the highway towards Ca’n Picafort – part of the road has been washed away, leaving an enormous hole that makes the route impassable. The scale of this disaster is hard to take in; it’s the worst in Mallorca for 29 years and the third major flood in the Llevant area in the past 100 years.

The town and its environs are littered with wrecked cars and other debris – piled up in places. Although the floodwater has receded, it has left behind a thick layer of mud.

On Wednesday morning, 80 officers and seven vehicles from Spain’s Military Emergencies Unit (UME, Unidad Militar de Emergencias) arrived on the island to join local emergency services and the Civil Protection Unit to help search for missing people and collaborate with what will be a massive and complicated clear-up operation.

By yesterday lunchtime the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, had flown to Mallorca and was in Sant Llorenç to see the devastation for himself.

A British crew from ITV arrived yesterday to film in Sant Llorenç, so UK readers of this blog may see the latest horrendous footage for themselves. Because Mallorca is a popular holiday destination with Brits, this story has been well covered in the UK media and we had calls, messages, and emails throughout the day from friends and family in the UK checking that we are OK. I have also done UK radio phone interviews about the flooding on LBC, BBC WM, and BBC Berkshire, and one on a Tenerife radio station.

Tomorrow, Friday – the start of the holiday known as Puente de Pilar – King Felipe VI and Doña Letizia are visiting the town of Sant Llorenç to meet those affected.

If you believe in God, please say a prayer for all those whose lives have been affected by this terrible flooding. Mallorca is in mourning – and will never forget October 9th, 2018.

ENDS

©JanEdwards 2018

One funeral and a wedding

Butterfly in Mallorca

A summer sight at our finca

Followers of this blog will have noticed a lack of posts recently, but that’s been down to time pressures. I started producing and presenting a new weekly radio show in Mallorca back in April and am also in the middle of an online novel-writing course. Then there’s other family and finca stuff…

Ten years after I had the idea for my first novel, I am finally making some progress in writing the story.  You could have guessed correctly that the Work In Progress is set mostly in Mallorca – this island we love and call home.

My hope is that having made this endeavour public, I’ll be spurred on to keep writing until I can type ‘The End’. Meanwhile, The Boss and I are also trying to stay cool in the heat of the Mallorcan summer, amidst everything going on.

Goodbye Miquel

We had a visit from one of the local farmers the Sunday before last. Hairy-handed José (to distinguish him from any other José we know) came to tell us that a friend and neighbour from the valley had passed away on Friday and his funeral would be on Monday – the next day. Funerals happen very soon  after someone dies here and I am amazed that the arrangements can be made and people informed in such a short space of time.

We wanted to pay our respects to the late Miquel, who had been a kind neighbour – particularly in our early years of living in the finca. Occasionally he would bring oranges in the back of his old white van from an orchard he owned somewhere. Most went to his sheep in the valley but he occasionally brought us some of the best-looking oranges, hooting his van horn outside our gate to alert us to his arrival.

On one occasion Miquel invited us to his apartment in Porto Cristo (just one of his homes) for a paella lunch with him and his wife. We felt honoured to be invited – particularly as some people had told us that mallorquíns don’t usually invite foreigners into their homes. That hasn’t been our experience, by the way, and we have enjoyed warm hospitality from several of our mallorquín neighbours.

When we arrived at their immaculate apartment for lunch, we were a little surprised not to smell anything cooking. Miquel’s wife was relaxing in an armchair and we all sat having a drink and a pleasant chat for a while. Then, suddenly, Miquel leapt up and said he had to go. We had no idea where to, but he returned shortly afterwards carrying a large paella pan covered with foil. He had ordered and collected a paella from….wait for it….the local Chinese restaurant! And it was delicious. That’s one of our favourite memories of Miquel.

What to wear?

We hadn’t been to a funeral in Mallorca before and had no idea what to expect. Our good friends and neighbours Maureen and Peter had known Miquel a lot longer than we had, so we arranged to go to the church together. But what to wear? Obviously something of a sober hue.

I remember reading guide book advice about visiting churches in a Catholic country: no shorts; shoulders – and perhaps upper arms too – should be covered. We also had to bear the heat in mind. Having discounted everything from my summer wardrobe, I resorted to black trousers and a dark-blue long-sleeved blouse from Jan’s Autumn/Winter-Every-Year collection. (I must buy some more clothes).

The Boss wore dark suit trousers, white shirt, black tie, and shoes – but decided that the suit jacket would be just too hot. It wouldn’t do to collapse, overheated, at such an occasion. Maureen looked suitably respectful in a long black dress and cardigan; Peter – whom we never see in anything but  shorts during the summer – wore smart trousers, shirt, and shoes. The Boss loaned him a darker tie from a hoard that rarely sees daylight here. We were all appropriately attired.

When we arrived at the church, it was standing room only at the back – which gave us a good view of the congregation. What a surprise: there were lots of women of all ages in shorts and strappy tops or dresses, men in t-shirts and shorts, and comparatively few wearing dark clothes. Things have obviously changed since my days of travelling with a local guide book!

The short service was in mallorquín, which we didn’t understand, and was unlike any funeral we’d been to in the UK. We left the church rather bemused, but at least we had paid our respects to a man who, during his eighty-plus years, had clearly been well known and respected in a wide community. DEP (Descanso En Paz – Rest In Peace) Miquel.

Never too old…

Happier (and surprising) news reached us yesterday: our farming neighbour Pedro – allegedly 91 years old – has just remarried. He had been a widower since 2015. We have seen him occasionally in recent months on his tractor, but doubt that the new Señora Pedro will be riding ‘pillion’ on the ancient agricultural vehicle, as the late Margarita used to.

©Jan Edwards 2018