Things that go bump in the night

Image

We’ve become quite good at detective work since moving to the Mallorcan countryside; you have to be when you live in an old finca like ours. Strange things happen from time to time and, if we didn’t work out the reason for them, we’d probably go mad. And there is always an explanation eventually.

All manner of things have piqued our curiosity. One of the earliest mysteries was the occasional pile of empty almond shells found around the terraces and garden. Who was eating our almonds and shedding shells in neat little heaps around the place? A Mallorcan neighbour gave us the answer: it was what’s known here as (wait for it) . . .  an almond-eater. These cute-looking little rodents – with facial markings that make them look as though they are wearing bandit masks, and a tail topped with something like a pom-pom – certainly live up to their name. They’re incredibly shy and we seldom see them . . . just evidence of their presence.

Then we had the incident with the vanishing *butano. In the course of a week, The Boss had to replace the butane bottle that powers our shower room water heater three times. No, we hadn’t suddenly become super-obsessive about showering every hour. It took some considerable thought, mess, and money, to sort that little mystery out. I’ll tell you about it in a future episode on this blog.

The latest in many strange occurrences happened just this last Thursday evening. I was working at the computer, and The Boss was watching TV when, suddenly, we heard the strangest rumbling noise from outside. It was like nothing we’d ever heard before – and most evenings in winter there’s nothing much to hear except a generator somewhere.

My immediate fear was that someone driving down the lane had swerved to avoid one of the cats that have adopted us, and driven into one of the old dry stone walls. It might have explained the noise. But, as The Boss pointed out, we hadn’t actually heard a car (few pass this way in the winter once darkness has fallen). Nevertheless, we rushed outside, armed with a torch probably powerful enough to confusing incoming aeroplane pilots, to scan the lane. Nada. Satisfied that neither human or feline had been injured, I returned to the warmth of the house, while The Boss scoured the terraces around the house, finding nothing out of order.

It was only this afternoon, having been out all day yesterday and this morning, that we worked out what had made the mysterious noise we’d heard. At the bottom of our field is an old abandoned finca, which was where one of our Mallorcan neighbours had been born. It’s been empty for years and, over the past year in particular, the roof had become rather dilapidated. See https://livinginruralmallorca.com/2012/10/03/ripping-off-the-roof-at-last/ for an image of what it used to look like. Every time the wind was strong or we had heavy rain, a tile or two would fall to the ground.

Now, there is no roof at all. The entire thing has collapsed into the upper floor of the old house, and only the four walls remain standing. The strange rumbling noise we’d heard suddenly made sense: it had been the sound of roof tiles and old beams crashing down.

I’m just hoping that the next strange noise we hear isn’t the rest of the place finally falling to the ground.

* For those who own or rent property in Spain, and use butane gas for heating or cooking, there is good news: the cost of one of those orange metal bottles of gas has been frozen by the Spanish goverment at 16,10 euros. It had been due to increase in price on January 1st, 2013, to 19,06 euros.

Advertisements

Five go with us into the winter – part 3: the logburner

Not such a blast from the past - our old almond-shell-burning stove

Not such a blast from the past – our old almond-shell-burning stove

When we moved into our finca in Mallorca there was a traditional metal open fireplace in the sitting room. We’d been looking forward to cosy winters in front of a log fire, roasting chestnuts, as we enjoyed a glass or two of one of the delicious Son Sureda Ric (www.sonsuredaric.com) wines, produced in our region of Mallorca.

We had a small supply of logs delivered and lit our first fire with great excitement, but it wasn’t long before we had to open all the doors and windows because of the smoke billowing around the room. Somewhat counterproductive when you’re lighting a fire to keep warm!

The Boss soon got to grips with the fireplace, but meeting its demand for logs became difficult. Because it was an open fire – and our home is exposed to the north winds that often whip up the valley – the wood burned very quickly and little heat seemed to come into the room.

Norwegian Good

So we invested in a Norwegian Jotul woodburner, which has filled our winters with warmth and pleasure – and is one of the best things about winter in Mallorca. It’s very economical with logs and, even better, will burn slowly 24/7 if we want it to. Not only does it give us heat, I often cook jacket potatoes inside it, and make soup that sits in a large pan on top of the stove, slowly cooking through the morning so that it’s ready for lunch. Oh, and it makes a useful plate-warmer too!

One of the things left behind in our finca by the previous owners was a Hergóm stove. It no longer worked, having at some stage had its stovepipe removed, but at one time it would have been used to burn almond shells – a handy fuel on an island with so many almond trees. I’ve tried to persuade The Boss that we should recommission it and install it in the bathroom, but to no avail.

However, I gave the old stove a bit of a spruce-up and it’s become a purely decorative feature in our home – a rustic reminder of how homes like this would once have been heated. Except that on one of our visits to Leroy Merlin – a DIY store on the outskirts of Palma – we saw one of these stoves for sale. It looked exactly the same as ours at home, and had a price tag of 300 euros. So much for nostalgia . . .

Nuts about Mallorca

Our neighbours prepare to harvest their almonds

The repetitive clink-clink coming from the direction of the nearest farm means that it’s almond-harvesting time again. Mallorca’s countryside is renowned for its numerous almond orchards and, in particular, the magnificent sight of the almond blossom in late January/February. The locals say their almonds are the best in the world, and I wouldn’t dare disagree.

Fill ‘er up

Almonds have been a fantastically useful crop for a long time here. In the corner of our dining room is an old Hergom stove (sadly no longer operational) in which almond shells used to be burned to heat the house. I’ve even read that, back in the 50s, some people here ran their cars on burning almond shells. I have an image of passengers shelling almonds furiously as the driver progresses, so that their final destination could be reached. Given the record prices of petrol and diesel right now, it could be time to return to this practice.

Let them eat cake

The almond is a highly nutritious nut and the Mallorcans have plenty of recipes incorporating almonds – one of which is one of the island’s best sweet treats, known locally as gató. This is a delicious almond cake, usually served with almond ice cream. It should be made without flour, making it suitable for those on a gluten-free diet, but if you visit Mallorca and want to order this when eating out, it’s wise to confirm that no flour has been used. My father is a coeliac and during his visits we have sometimes come across versions that have some flour in them – presumably because flour is cheaper than almonds.

Almond oil can be used in cooking and also makes a wonderful natural moisturiser for the skin. I recently paid less than 3 euros in a pharmacy for a bottle of almond oil and a little goes a long way (especially if, as I did, you knock the bottle over and spill some!).

Bringing home the harvest

There are several ways to harvest almonds and most of the folks in our valley use the traditional methods: large nets are placed on the ground around the tree and long metal poles are used to bash a hailstorm of nuts to the ground. It looks like the kind of job that ought to require a hard hat, but health and safety rarely seems a consideration here. The more sophisticated farmers – or those with large orchards – use a tractor fitted with a device to shake the tree and a strange attachment resembling an upside-down umbrella, that catches the nuts.

As for us, we have nine almond trees on our land, although not all produce the sweet variety. Being the main consumer of almonds in our household (I have them every morning with fruit and yogurt for breakfast), it falls to me to harvest our nuts. Any day now, I’ll be out there, knocking the almonds from the branches using the plastic handle from my kitchen broom. No chink-chink here . . . more of a dull thud and a curse when an almond bounces off my head.

And then comes the laborious task of removing the nuts, first from their fibrous husks and then their shells. Given the speed at which I manage this part of the job, it’s a good thing we’re not depending on the shells for car or home-heating fuel . . .