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!

The fiestas continue in January on Mallorca

I remember January in the UK as a rather dull month, after the Christmas and New Year festivities. It’s all a bit different, since we came to live in rural Mallorca . . .

For a start, the Spanish celebrate the arrival of The Three Kings – who bring gifts to children on the night of January 5th (the 6th – the Christian festival of Epiphany – is a public holiday here).

By the time the gift wrapping is in the local paper recycling bin the Mallorcans are already gearing up for the Sant Antoni Abad fiestas, celebrated on January 16th and 17th (the Saint’s day).

No cold feet for Antoni

Antoni was not a Mallorcan, but an Egyptian monk who lived in the desert. The Devil – disguised as a woman – visited him there and tried to tempt him with ‘her’ charms. Antoni’s way of resisting temptation? He walked across some burning embers to suppress his lustful thoughts. That would do it . . .

A few centuries ago, when rye crops in the agricultural area around Sa Pobla were decimated by a poisonous fungus, the islanders remembered Sant Antoni and the power of fire to overcome evil spirits. Believing that these spirits were to blame for the loss of their crops, they lit bonfires to ward them off.

The bonfires continue in the 21st century, as part of the fiestas to celebrate the Saint’s day (January 17th). These are fiestas for the towns and villages with a rural heritage, and our nearest town, Manacor, is one of several places on Mallorca that really make the most of this fiesta.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

On a country walk recently we spotted some people preparing for Sant Antoni.

Manacor goes to town

The main event is on the evening of the 16th, when bonfires are lit and effigies of the Devil are burned. Locals indulge in torrades, cooking botifarrons and other types of sausage over fires, and local brews such as hierbas – the famous Mallorcan herb liqueur. There’s music, traditional Mallorcan dancing (ball de bot), and it’s all very jolly. Many Mallorcans have told us that this is their favourite fiesta of the year.

Manacor council has published a 24-page brochure (in mallorquín) for the Sant Antoni 2015 festivities, also available online at http://www.manacor.org. It’s a lavish affair, detailing the programme of Sant Antoni-related events (which started on January 9th and end on 17th). Oh, and for those who like a sing-song, the words of the traditional Sant Antoni songs are helpfully included.

There’s a competitive element to the fiesta too, with monetary prizes for the best bonfires, floats, costumes, and more.

The programme shows the route of the procession of floats, bands, dignatories, and demonis (devils) on Friday 16th, starting at 7pm. At 8pm the first bonfire is traditionally lit outside the Rectory in the town centre – and after that all the other bonfires can be lit. At 10.30pm, there’s dancing in the Plaça de Ramon Llull. It’s a long night, but with an early start next morning for many . . .

It’s not over until it’s over

 

Taking his dog to be blessed

Taking his dog to be blessed

Pets on parade

Pets on parade

On January 17th – the feast of Sant Antoni Abad (the patron saint of animals) – locals bring their pets and animals to be blessed by the local priest. It’s a colourful and often cute procession of humans and animals, walking, riding on horseback, or on floats. In Manacor, the procession assembles at 9.30am, for the 10.30am parade. (Times, and even the day, may vary in different towns and villages). After the blessings, it’s time to go home and recover: January 17th is a public holiday in Manacor.

Apart from the public events, there are many Sant Antoni celebrations in small rural communities and we are spending at least part of the evening of the 16th at a farm in our valley, invited by our Mallorcan neighbours to join in their fun.

As they say in these parts, molts d’anys.

 

London luxury comes to our Mallorcan Christmas

One Christmas, early in our time on Mallorca, a courier’s van arrived outside our gates. We assumed the driver was lost and trying to find a property somewhere in the valley. Much to our surprise, the parcel he had to deliver was for us. We weren’t expecting anything – and certainly not something from the company whose name was emblazoned on the side of the box: Fortnum & Mason.

Having established that the large box was indeed addressed to us, we waved goodbye to the driver and rushed indoors to find out who had sent us such a superb parcel.

Gourmet goodies

It turned out to be from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina, who live in Oxford. They have been coming to stay with us for a holiday or two every year since we’ve lived here and seem to love Mallorca and the finca nearly as much as we do. Their generous gifts from Fortnum & Mason have continued each Christmas and their carefully chosen selection always adds some gourmet luxury to our Mallorcan festivities.

The DHL driver no longer drives out to the valley to deliver to us. Instead, he rings us at the finca and arranges a time and venue for a meet with The Boss. In a car park in Manacor, the latter exchanges his signature for whatever parcel is being delivered. When the driver rang today, saying that he had a parcel for us, I fixed up the rendezvous and was just about to tell him what type of car to look out for, when he stopped me and said he knew. One thing we’ve discovered about the Mallorcans – certainly in our area – is that they have incredible memories for details like this.

Our unexpected parcel turned out to be another generous gift from our friends. Aren’t we lucky to have such great friends – and such delicious treats to add a touch of luxury to our Christmas in rural Mallorca?

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

 

Tasting the fruits of our olive tree

It’s that time of year when I reach into the back of my cupboard to find the jars of Christmas mincemeat that I made the previous year – to put in this year’s Christmas cake. (I always use Delia Smith’s Last-minute Mincemeat Christmas Cake recipe because it takes only one-and-a-half hours to cook – so doesn’t use too much butano gas).

Treasure from the deep

I have deep kitchen cupboards and only short arms, so it’s not unknown for me to encounter things back there that I’d forgotten about. Like the olives from our young tree, which I picked and preserved a while ago. Quite a while ago, as it happens. When I pulled out the jar (just the one; we had only 22 olives that harvest) I read on the label that I’d preserved them in December 2010. We did try them during spring 2011, but they were unbelievably bitter and The Boss had even suggested that we throw them away. Well, there’d been too much effort involved (yes, even for just 22 olives) so I buried the jar at the back of the cupboard and decided to leave them a little longer.

Four years later, the olives had human contact once again when I retrieved them from the buried treasure in the dim and distant back of the cupboard. We had some with our lunch one day. The Boss’s verdict? “They’re almost pleasant.”

Another year in the cupboard and they may just make the grade . . .

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