Cold Dishes For a Summer in Mallorca

If you’re in Europe, you’ll be aware – from personal experience – that there has been a second heatwave. Yes, here in Mallorca, just as we were breathing a sigh of relief that the last one was over…wham!

As I write this, the sun has just disappeared behind some cloud; the weather is due to be cooler tomorrow and it seems to be getting in a little practice now.

No matter how cool it becomes over the summer months, little actual cooking is done in our finca’s kitchen. The ventilation isn’t good in there and using even just one gas ring on the hob makes the room feel like a sauna. I haven’t switched on the oven since the end of May. Our meals are a combination of cold dishes and food cooked on the BBQ (rather expertly, I must add) by The Boss.

Too hot for clothes?

On Wednesday this week – when the mercury was nudging 39 degrees C – I went to interview a mallorquín artist: a bachelor in his late fifties, whose rustic house didn’t appear to have changed over the thirty years he’s lived in it. How I missed the air-conditioned comfort of home, as we went from room to room looking at his numerous canvases – most of which were on the floor, stacked and leaning against lime-washed walls.

I thought I was going to melt in the heat. As he had taken some time to answer our knock on his heavy wooden front door – and was doing up the belt on his shorts when he did – I’d have bet money that he’d been all-but-naked before our arrival. It was far too hot in that house to wear clothes, if there were nobody else around to see your personal bits in all their glory.

Sticking to tradition

What? Watermelon in a gazpacho?

As the photographer and I were preparing to leave, to return to the cool of our respective homes, I mentioned (in Spanish) that I’d be making watermelon gazpacho that afternoon, as a neighbour was coming over for dinner. The artist looked horrified and told me – in no uncertain terms – that watermelon was for dessert and gazpacho should be made with tomato, onion, pepper, and cucumber; nada más (apart from seasoning and dressing, of course).

I explained that I’d found the recipe online in The New York Times and his eyebrows raised like a theatre-stage curtain. Over the years we have often found that mallorquíns – the older generation in particular – stick rigidly to culinary traditions.

“The proper ingredients are the same as for trempó,” he informed me, in Spanish, wagging a disapproving forefinger from side to side. The Mallorcan dish trempó is one of our favourites in the summer: a refreshing salad of these ingredients, made by chopping them up and mixing them with seasoning and dressing in a bowl.

Both gazpacho and trempó are dishes that we often have for a light lunch in the heat of the day. And it’s good to know that if we ever run out of teeth in future years (it could happen), we can just tip the trempó ingredients into the blender to enjoy the same flavours, in liquid form, as gazpacho.

I don’t think Mr Mallorcan Artist would approve of my plan to make a cherry gazpacho tomorrow. Let’s keep that one a secret…

Jan Edwards ©2019

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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

Back in front of the camera…

Earlier this summer I was involved in the filming of an Israeli foodie TV show in Palma, which was really interesting. I haven’t seen the finished show but know it was recently screened because a friend on the island – married to an Israeli – contacted me to say she’d seen me in it. Read about the filming here (post dated June 20th) if you’re interested.

Last Friday I was at it again, having been invited to be part of a ‘spot’ which will be screened on social networks at some future date. I’m not supposed to give away too much information, but one part of the shoot (which lasted most of the day and took us to four different locations) was a picnic at the lovely ermita at Vilafranca de Bonany.

Picnic

A hilltop picnic of Mallorcan products.

Ermita de Vilafranca de Bonany

A coachload of tourists has a quick look around. Film crew takes a break…

Setting up a shoot

Two of the film crew discussing camera angles, light…and wasps!

Who invited the wasps?

I was invited to take along a Mallorcan friend and Montse, one of our lovely neighbours in the valley, seemed thrilled to be asked along. She took on her role as picnic hostess with relish and we both had great fun – although the numerous gatecrashing wasps were a pain in the proverbial (but, thankfully, not literally).

The location is beautiful and The Boss and I have taken a picnic up there on several occasions. If you’re lucky – as we have been in the past – you may be the only people there, taking in the spectacular island views. On Friday, just as the camera was about to start recording, a coach full of tourists arrived but, after a quick look at the views (they seemed to avoid the ermita building itself), they were back on the bus and off down the hill’s winding lane. Peace had descended again on this special location.

If you have the opportunity to visit this place, do take it. It’s best approached from the Petra road off the roundabout with the ‘dancing statues’ near the Es Cruce restaurant, rather than through Petra itself.

©Jan Edwards 2017

Gathering fruits in May on Mallorca

May is the month that my father comes to visit from the UK for his spring holiday, so he can celebrate his birthday in company. For the past five years he has also brought his young brother (aged 84!) – my Uncle Ray – and these two widowers enjoy being waited on, relaxing in the warm sunshine, and having a few outings for sightseeing, drinks, and meals out.

My Dad is still pretty fit and often goes for long walks by the sea near his home on the south coast of England. Ray, who had a hip replacement op early last year, walks very little and seems to have lost a bit of confidence in striding out. While he soaked up the sun on our terrace (Ray couldn’t be a more apt name for this sun worshipper), Dad was keen to have the occasional walk around the valley.

A fruity experience

On our last walk we met Llorenzo, a friendly farmer down in the valley, who –  in typically generous fashion – invited us up to his orchard to collect ‘nisperos’ (in the UK we know them as loquats). This fruit – about the size of a small plum – grows in abundance on Mallorca, although it was originally from the Far East. Most ‘nisperos’ fall to the ground unpicked here, because there are only so many of them that you’d want to eat.

We stomped up over bone-dry land to an orchard of trees heavy with the fruits. Dad hadn’t tried them so Llorenzo picked one for each of us to eat as we stood there. Then he plucked a load from the trees and filled our now-sticky hands with the juicy fruits. It’s a wonder we weren’t followed by swarms of wasps as we walked home back up the hill …

How to eat a ‘nispero’

Loquats

Nisperos fresh from the tree

We’ve often seen this fruit on the market in Manacor but haven’t bought them because they often look bruised and a bit ugly. And, frankly, there are so many different fruits to enjoy on Mallorca. But, when ripe, they are quite delicious and juicy – although they have some pretty hefty pips inside. My tip is to peel off the skin first with your fingers and just pop them into your mouth (discreetly spitting the pips out once you’ve eaten the fruit). Plenty of recipes exist for those who have the time and energy to prepare the fruit.

‘Nisperos’ may be messy to eat fresh from the tree but they’re packed with vitamins and minerals. So don’t be put off trying a few if you see them for sale on the market; beauty is more than just appearances!

Footnote: We recently stayed one night at the new Park Hyatt Mallorca, near Canyamel, and found this little pot of locally made (by a German) ‘nispero’ jam on the breakfast buffet.

Delicious jam made from 'nisperos'

Delicious jam made from ‘nisperos’

 

 

 

 

The fiesta of fire burns this weekend on Mallorca

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!

Life is never dull on Mallorca. If Christmas, New Year, and Three Kings were not enough celebrations for this time of year, this weekend is the Sant Antoni fiestas. January 16th – the eve of the Saint’s day – is when Mallorcans traditionally light foguerons (bonfires) in the streets and make elaborate effigies of the Devil to set ablaze. Mallorca’s famous dimonis take to the streets with their manic dancing and scary costumes, and people have a jolly good time, cooking food on outdoor torrades (BBQs). And because it can be surprisingly cold at this time of the year (although not this winter, so far), a few libations are usually taken – very often the famous bright green Hierbas de Tunel.

In our local town, Manacor, the Sant Antoni fiestas almost seem more popular than Christmas. For the past couple of weeks, stalls set up in town on Saturdays have been selling this year’s design of Sant Antoni sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats – and all at affordable prices.

The excitement is building. This morning, doing a few chores in town, we had to drive around a pile of earth in the middle of several roads, on which the bonfires for this Saturday night will be built. These piles will be increasing in number over the coming days. And several shops have incorporated Sant Antoni into their window displays.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni.

Hiper's stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Hiper’s stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us.

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock . . .

If you don’t know (and I confess that I didn’t until we moved to Mallorca), Sant Antoni was an Egyptian monk who, in the desert, was tempted by the Devil – cunningly disguised as a woman. The iron-willed monk didn’t succumb to these womanly wiles, instead walking on hot coals to take his mind off anything else getting too heated!

All this happened a long way from Mallorca, but stay with me. On the island during the 10th and 11th centuries, many folk were affected by a horrible skin disease caused by a poisonous fungus attacking rye crops. No cure was known, but the Mallorcans followed Sant Antoni’s example of using fire to fight the Devil that they believed had caused the disease.

The disease is long gone, but the fires burn on every eve of Sant Antoni, as the backdrop to much partying. And, on the Saint’s day itself, Mallorcans head for the streets again – to take their pets and other animals to be blessed by the local priest.

After the festivities of this weekend, things will quieten down . . . but not for long: Carnival this year falls on the first weekend of February!

 

Jammin’ on Mallorca

No, not the Bob Marley sort of jammin’. I’m talking about the preserves I’ve been making in recent days on our finca in rural Mallorca. We have reached that time of the year when there’s an abundance of fruit and vegetables ready for eating. It’s wonderful to have so much fresh produce available: the market stalls in our nearest town Manacor (and elsewhere) are positively groaning under the weight of it all.

Our not-so-productive garden

Our own finca‘s production has so far been limited to some lemons. We have dreadful soil and, although we could import some, because we’re located on sloping terrain, it would probably be washed away in the next heavy downpour.

There are signs that we’ll have a crop of figs later in the year (we had none at all last year) and, of course, there’ll be almonds in the autumn. But non-tree crops just don’t do well. Ours is probably the world’s only garden where mint doesn’t go mad and take over everything else!

The kindness of neighbours

We do, however, have generous neighbours whose land produces more fruit and vegetables than they can use. So far, we’ve had gifts of oranges, cherries, mulberries (very messy, those), apricots, plums, courgettes, onions, and lettuces. We’ve  juiced, frozen, made jams and chutneys, and eaten. From glut comes gluttony . . .

Pots of preserves.

Jams and chutneys galore.

All of the effort involved has made me realize one thing: Mallorcan country wives traditionally didn’t go out to work because they didn’t have time. They were too busy pickling, drying, bottling, preserving, and jammin’ . . .

 

 

Rural Sant Antoni celebrations on Mallorca

The first time we were invited to join some mallorquín neighbours at their farm for a Sant Antoni celebration, I spent some time planning what we should take as a contribution to the communal supper. I settled on a dessert – a classic tarte tatin – and was both surprised and delighted when it turned out to look like the best one I’d ever baked.

When we arrived at the farm that chilly January evening in our early time of living on rural Mallorca, I added our contribution to the long table, which was covered with platters brought by other guests. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for originality when I noticed that my tarte tatin was the only dessert that wasn’t a Mallorcan ensaïmada.

Get with the traditions!

Later that evening, when most platters were left with only ensaïmada crumbs, and my tarte tatin was barely touched (except by The Boss), it dawned on me that it was the tradition to end a celebratory meal with ensaïmada.

We were there again this year, but without a tarte tatin. As usual, the feasting was done at a row of long plastic white tables and chairs set up in the farm’s spacious garage/storage room, decorated with handwritten Sant Antoni-related messages. We shared this space with a couple of cars, and a large flat-screen TV that had been brought out so that guests – who also included a couple of Germans, another English couple, an Israeli and his South African wife, and a dozen or so Mallorcans – could keep an eye on the IB3 TV coverage of Sant Antoni events in Manacor. I don’t think anyone really paid the broadcast any attention: we were having too much fun of our own!

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Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Some impromptu singing at the BBQ by our hosts and some of their friends

Pass the ximbomba

Pass the ximbomba

This is how it's done

This is how it’s done

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

Sparklers added more fun to our festivities

After a very traditional Sant Antoni feast, a couple of bottles of home-made hierbas (the local herb liqueur) was passed around the table, and it was time for a sing-song and the playing of the ximbomba – an essential musical instrument for Sant Antoni celebrations, which looks a bit like a drum with a stick through the top of it. The playing method is rather suggestive – using a wetted hand to rub up and down the cane stuck into the drum part – and the resulting sound is the sort of farty noise that would have small English children giggling with delight. Several guests had a turn with the ximbomba – which isn’t as easy to play as its simple appearance may suggest. Every effort produced gales of laughter around the table – and prompted another toast with hierbas to the saint whose life we were celebrating. There would be sore heads in the morning . . .

Visca Sant Antoni! Long life Sant Antoni!