A chill in the air

Woolly jumpers in the lane!

It’s turned rather chilly on Mallorca today. It’s all relative, of course, because the 11 degrees C we have at the moment outside at our finca, would probably be welcome right now back in the UK.

Watching this afternoon’s weather forecast on IB3 TV – covering the Balearics – I saw a selection of photos sent in by viewers over the past few hours. One of these images showed a thin layer of snow lying on the ground up in Mallorca’s Tramuntana mountains, around the Gorg Blau reservoir.  Brrr . . .

A vested interest in the weather

Another sign of winter has just been spotted. Local farmer Pedro, who just trundled up the lane on his ancient tractor – moving his sheep to a different field – was wearing his warm-looking hat with the substantial ear flaps, rather than the jaunty battered straw number that graces his head for much of the year. On the basis that Mallorcan farmers seem to be able to predict the weather as well as any meteorologist, I’m off in search of my thermal vests . . .

Each to his own . . .

This will do nicely

Although Mallorca has recently been enjoying some mild autumn weather – complete with glorious blue skies and warm sunshine – the rest of this week is expected to be wet and, at times, very cold. I even heard the ‘minus’ word mentioned in connection with temperatures on IB3 TV’s weather forecast – and am hoping that because it’s broadcast in mallorquin, I might have misunderstood what the forecaster was saying!Winter on the way

Like seasoned country folk, we prepared ourselves for winter a while ago. We have been to our local woodyard to stock up with logs for the woodburner, had diesel delivered for the generator and, of course, now have roof insulation – which should make this winter a lot less difficult than in previous years.

Our outdoor cat family is also preparing for the worst, by seeking out – and claiming as their own – the cosy little nooks that will give them shelter from inclement weather. Last winter The Boss created a set of ‘apartments’ for the feline family, from some redundant old pine cabinets. With the addition of a few old cushions, these little shelters should keep the cats cosy again this winter.

Room for a little one?

This year, there’s an extra cat to accommodate: Shorty, the cute ginger kitten that came into our lives in August, and memorably bit (twice) The Boss’s finger, has made himself completely at home here. He’s still not too sure about the cat apartments, but has claimed the outside recessed area of our small dining room window, between the shutter and the rejas (the traditional iron bars used for security in Spanish windows). An old cork bathmat, cut to shape by The Boss, means he won’t feel the chill of the concrete beneath him.

Once the really cold weather comes though, Shorty won’t be able to resist his favourite place: cosying up to the large black and white male cat Beamer – the mellow-natured alpha male of our outdoor feline family. That’s when yours truly isn’t giving him a cuddle . . .

Another tap bites the dust . . .

In all the recent excitement of having our rural finca in Mallorca re-roofed, we were tolerating – rather than tackling – a small domestic irritation. And, like many problems we’ve had since moving to the Mallorcan countryside, it was water-related.

Here be a dragon

When we first moved here, the kitchen was little more than a room containing an old stainless steel sink, a gas-powered fridge/freezer (don’t ever go there), some pine shelves and a small pine cupboard topped with a slab of marble. Oh, and of course there was the gas cooker, which – for reasons you can probably imagine – I christened ‘the dragon’. Who needs eyebrows anyway?

Within a few months we’d sourced ourselves a fitted kitchen, which transformed what would have been Delia Smith’s worst nightmare into something any of Mallorca’s five* Michelin-starred cuisine-producing chefs would be happy to do a turn in. (Oh, I wish!).

We chose a very stylish kitchen sink, with the appearance of stone, and a smart matching tap. Rather expensive but, we thought, you don’t replace such things every five minutes. However, the water in Mallorca is very hard and contains a lot of cal – or lime – and it’s a pesky nuisance when it comes to clogging up water-using appliances, including taps.

Cal claims another victim

In February 2011, the kitchen tap started spewing water everywhere like a fountain in a force 10 gale. We called Cito, owner of the local plumbing firm we’ve used since we bought the finca. We’re such regular customers that Cito treats us like best friends; if he sees us in town, there’s always a frenzy of kissing and hugging. So when Cito declared that our tap was beyond repair, we knew it wasn’t just a ruse to sell us a new one, rather than repair the existing one.

Plumber Miquel Angel knows our kitchen very well indeed

We took his recommendation and bought one that cost more than we really wanted to pay, but were assured that the manufacturer was a good one. The shiny chrome version (alas, the one that had matched the sink was no longer being manufactured) was duly installed.

Water, water, everywhere . . .

Some six or seven weeks ago, we returned home to find a large pool of water on the kitchen floor. We couldn’t blame Minstral, our Birman cat; he’s never yet been caught short on the way to his litter tray. It didn’t take long to realise that the water was leaking from a joint on the tap, running along the back of the worktop, under the dishwasher and then cascading onto the floor. Our very own indoor waterfall . . .

Not wanting any further disruption from workmen, we lived with this situation throughout the roofing job by wrapping a sponge around the base of the tap to soak up the leaking water. Not ideal. On Monday this week we finally called in Cito and, on Tuesday morning, Miquel Angel – one of his employees – came to sort out the problem. Once again, it seemed that the tap was unrepairable and a new one was fitted. The good news is that Cito believes the leaky tap probably had a manufacturing fault, so he’s returning it to the company for repair or replacement. Meanwhile, he’s only charging us for the labour. Now that’s what I call service . . .

FOOTNOTE

Michelin-starred cuisine at Es Fum restaurant in Costa d’en Blanes, Mallorca, prepared by chef Thomas Kahl . . . sadly not for my lunch today.

Yes, you did read correctly: Mallorca has five restaurants with Michelin-starred cuisine. The latest awards were made in the Michelin Guide Spain & Portugal 2013 last evening in Madrid.  And there are also three restaurants with the Bib Gourmand, offering “high quality, affordable cuisine.” The island also has around 60 wineries – a number of which produce stonking prize-winning wines – and a host of products loved by gourmets way beyond our shores. Mallorca is often negatively portrayed in the British tabloid press, but please believe that there’s more to this Spanish island than the resort of Magaluf and its well-publicised problems. The great gastronomy is just one of the many reasons to visit Mallorca.

Pass the ladder, it’s time to get off my high horse . . .

A pressing matter

Twenty-two Mallorcan olives rolled around in the bottom of my bucket. Hardly what you’d call a crop, but – after several years of letting the olives from our young tree rot on the ground – I was determined to do something with the harvest of 2011. Google revealed some instructions for turning my hand-picked crop into a (very small) jar of olives steeped in rosemary-infused oil.

Biting the bullet

To this day, they’re still as hard as bullets and, according to The Boss (and he’s right), inedible. So I’ve pushed the jar to the back of one of the kitchen cupboards – where they’ll probably remain until the dreaded (and hopefully distant) day when we have to move out of our rural idyll for something less high-maintenance. By then, they might make a decent housewarming gift for whoever is lucky enough to buy our little finca . . .

Our friends Annie Sofiano and Martin Page – fellow Brits who moved to Mallorca to open an agroturismo (a country B&B) called Finca Son Jorbo (www.fincasonjorbo.com) – have had much better luck with their crop of olives. But dealing with their 306 olive trees (as opposed to our two) was a lot harder than they originally expected.

Having ignored the trees during the first six years of developing their business, they eventually decided to turn their attention to the neglected trees. “We knew that our farming neighbours were driving past and looking at them pointedly,” says Martin, “So we felt shamed into doing something.”

A Mallorcan masterclass

The tranquil Finca Son Jorbo – with its 306 olive trees

Martin’s farmer neighbour Miguel first gave the former TV production manager a three-hour masterclass in pruning. Then Martin set about pruning his trees, with Annie gathering and clearing the trimmings away to their bonfire site. It took six bonfires to burn it all. The subsequent weeding by hand, applying fertiliser, and spraying the trees to kill the olive-eating bugs, took the couple a considerable amount of time: “It was extremely hard work – especially for an interior designer from Birmingham!” Annie admits.

Miguel told them when the olives were ready, but reaping the harvest was done almost entirely by Martin and Annie. Once again, their generous Mallorcan neighbour offered his help, lending them some crates, the use of his trailer, and introducing Martin to the local tafona (olive press). To Miguel’s amazement, the couple had picked 400 kilos of olives, with little help: “It’s traditional here for the whole family to get involved,” Annie explains.

From olives to oil

It took four visits to transport the whole harvest to the tafona. On Martin’s last visit, Annie and his parents (who were staying with them at the time) came with him. They’d all spent the morning in Palma and, although Martin changed from his smart going-out clothes into working togs before going to the tafona, Annie went as she was. “As we were getting out of the car at the farmyard, I turned to her and said ‘lose the pashmina’,” Martin says. “In any event, she definitely got some funny looks!”

They paid around 27 cents a kilo for the pressing, which resulted in 63 litres of olive oil,  taken home in 10 large plastic containers, to sit in the cellar until they’d searched the Internet and bought bottles, tops, and a machine for sealing the tops.

As friends who’ve been lucky enough to enjoy some of their delicious Finca Son Jorbo olive oil, we’d suggest the effort had been worth it. Annie’s view? “The whole thing’s been a learning experience, but we know we’ve gone up in our Mallorcan neighbours’ estimations.”

You won’t be surprised to know that I haven’t mentioned my own olive endeavours to any of our neighbours . . .

No doubt Annie and Martin took advantage of Finca Son Jorbo’s pool

This article is an abridged version of one I wrote for the weekly edition of The Telegraph, published in March 2012.

Read more about Spanish olives on http://www.olivesfromspain.co.uk.

Olives, anyone?

It’s always interesting to visit another rural part of Mallorca, because the landscape varies so much on the island. This weekend, the village of Caimari (near the mountains) is the location of the Fira de S’Oliva – a twoday celebration of all-things-olive.

When we last visited this event I was intrigued to see olive oil ice cream for sale on one of the stalls: “Must try that,” I said, digging into my purse for some change. “I’ll treat us.” It turned out not to be much of a treat for The Boss, who abandoned his cone in disgust after just one rather reluctant lick. I, however, thought it was delicious.

The emblem of the Fira de S'Oliva in Caimari

The emblem of the Fira de S’Oliva will be seen everywhere in Caimari this weekend

Green, black, and liquid gold

Although our tastes in ice cream may vary, we both enjoy eating olives, olivada (the local version of tapenade), and olive-studded bread, and we use virgin olive oil in the kitchen and at the table. So the temptation to do something with our own olive harvest eventually became too great . . .

Next time I’ll tell you about my attempt at preserving our olives – which doesn’t quite compare to the scale of the olive project successfully carried out by some Engish friends here.

Pork talk

Here are just a few reasons why our Mallorcan farming neighbours in the valley are so great:

They often give us fruit and vegetables they’ve grown. On one occasion, while I was out for a walk and passed the finca of Toni and Maria, they came out and presented me with the world’s largest watermelon. So enormous was this magnificent fruit, that I had to carry it up the hill, pressed against my stomach and supported by both arms. By the time I staggered through the gates at home, I had an inkling how it must feel to be heavily pregnant . . .

They’re generous about sharing their knowledge and advice – on occasions, unsolicited. The Boss was once up a ladder, giving our almonds trees a long-overdue pruning – not something of which he’d had a lot of experience. Pedro stopped while driving past our finca to tell him where he was going wrong  . . .

They’re very honest. One day we were talking – in castellano – to a local couple who farm in the valley and sometimes stop for a chat when they’re passing. “You’re like a real Mallorcan now,” Margarita told me. I puffed out my chest in pride – my Spanish was obviously improving.  “Yes,” she reiterated. “Just like a Mallorcan woman!” And with that she patted my tummy . . . a reference to the fact that quite a few Mallorcans carry just a little bit too much weight around the middle. Brutally honest.

They’ve never invited us to a matanza. We’ve been invited into the homes of several Mallorcans for meals and various social occasions, but thankfully we’ve never been invited to a matanza – the slaughter and butchering of the family pig(s). This traditional event, which takes place around this time of year at farms and rural homes all over the island, is one I’d rather not witness, thank you. It’s an occasion for family and friends to gather and join in with the messy business of turning a perky pig into a pantry (or freezer) full of porky products for the coming months. The thought of being elbow deep in a large vat of squidgy pig bits is not for the squeamish . . . and certainly not for me.

It’s for the matanza that our local supermarket has stocked up with the necessary accessories (string, paprika and a white powder that prevents rancidity) for turning Peppa the Pig (don’t let your little ones read this) into Mallorcan delicacies such as llonganissa, botifarró, and sobrassada – a well-hung cured pork product flavoured with a generous quantity of paprika.

Sobrassada is emblematic of the island and adds great flavour when used in cooked dishes. It’s also popular spread thickly on rustic bread but, personally, I’d prefer a well-made crispy bacon sandwich. If only I could find one on Mallorca . . .

Sobrassada spread on rustic bread – a popular Mallorcan snack.

Shop talk

Manacor, our nearest town on Mallorca, is at the heart of a very traditional agricultural community, which is reflected in what’s offered on menus in many local restaurants, and what’s available in food shops and supermarkets.

Supermarket sleep

When we first moved here, I really missed the vast range of goods that we’d been able to find in the UK in our local supermarket – where, I confess, most of our weekly shop was done. Back then, we preferred to use our free time – a precious and rare commodity – for activities other than trawling market stalls and individual shops for the next week’s food. The one-stop-shopping culture was so ingrained in me that, just after we moved here, I would often dream about being in Sainsbury’s or Waitrose, piling much-missed delicacies and ingredients into my trolley.

Slippering out to the shop

Before long I discovered that Mallorca offers a real bounty of fresh produce and interesting local food products, and our shopping habits changed. The fruit and veg market, and shops such as baker’s, butcher’s and fishmongers are where the bulk of our food expenditure now goes.

Manacor still has a host of small independent corner shops, offering popular food necessities, and frequented by locals from the immediate community. I once saw a woman in her dressing gown and slippers, emerging from one of these places – having popped out for a few essentials for her breakfast table.  Now that’s not something you see at Tesco!

There are still things we buy from a chain-owned supermarket, but it’s not as interesting a shopping experience as topping up your trolley in a UK superstore. Our local supermarket rarely changes its displays – not having learnt (unlike their British counterparts) that if you move stuff around regularly, customers might stumble across – and buy – something they didn’t know they needed/wanted, whilst trying to find what they were actually looking for in the first place!

New in!

New products on the shelves of our local supermarket are as rare as our wins on the Once lottery, and I have a kind of inbuilt radar that hones in on the rare new additions to the supermarket’s product range. And it was during our first November here that this radar picked up a rather unusual new display: rolls of red and white string, small bags of white powder (and not a sniffer dog in sight!), and large shiny bags of paprika. Back then, I had no idea why anyone would want to buy such things . . .

November additions to our supermarket range