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Home / Don's Travels / Reflections on Spain / November, 2010

Reflections on Spain

Harvest Bounty

My family and I have traveled the byways of Spain over the years, and we take great pleasure in getting to know members of Spanish families whose livelihood is intimately linked with the earth. Whether they are churning milk from tended flocks, growing rice or peppers; pruning grape vines or olive trees, there is something basic and straightforward about their lives.

I recall some special moments when visiting Spanish suppliers. I remember my friend Fermín's face as he described with affection his favorite olive tree in whose roots he hid as a child. Another time, our saffron supplier José reflected that he learned to walk behind the plow. I also visited with Pedro, a maestro of Ibérico ham, to view his herd of Ibérico pigs as some of them were wallowing in a puddle next to some holm oaks. Later we enjoyed meeting his young son Jorge who was working as a partner with his father.

I find it refreshing to find people who do not feel all-powerful, but know that their lives are linked to the seasons, not only to their wits. Especially at this time of year, when we can see their preparations for winter, the words of the traditional harvest hymn come to mind: "All is safely gathered in ere the winter storms begin."

A vivid reminder of this is the message my dear friends Hans and Daida, who have adopted Spain as their home, left on their website. In Cataluña they produce superb artisan olive oils and exquisite olive oil soap wrapped by hand. We count on them without fail, and their products arrive like clockwork. I must admit most of the time we do not give it a second thought, but from Hans's vantage point as a producer, it is not that simple. He wrote:

On the 8th of March 2010 a severe unexpected snowstorm inflicted terrible damage in our county of Empordà... That day we had 16 inches of snowfall, a sticky kind of snow piling up high at sub zero temperatures even on thin electricity wires. At the end of the afternoon sudden gusts of wind made these lumps of ice swing, breaking everything brittle. In the 50 years we've known Catalonia we have never seen such havoc.

But it was the trees that came to bear the most of the suffering. Particularly the evergreens such as pines, holm oaks, cork trees, cypresses and of course olive trees that were more than decimated. On our property, dozens of solitary trees fell like matches, roots pulled and all. Our Arbequina olive trees kept themselves upright but left an estimated 2000 broken main branches, almost one third.

What nature inflicted on this day will take years to repair. Compared to other storms this was a small disaster. It certainly keeps you humble.

As city dwellers in the 21st century, our focus is not on the sweat and toil involved in producing the food we eat, nor the vagaries of weather, although we might read about the wheat shortage due to forest fires in Russia, or this year's short crop of corn in America. We do not give a thought about Hans's crops, or José and María so long as they have toasted enough saffron to meet our needs.

Facing the aftermath of inclement weather which affects the growing season, or not being able to find enough farmhands to bring in the harvest are all abstract concepts for many of us who are able to have more than enough of everything at the click of a mouse.

From the first days when primitive man learned to plant seeds and till the soil, harvest time has been a time of relief and rejoicing for all involved. Autumn marks the culmination of months of hard work in the fields: sowing the seeds; coaxing the young seedlings until they become strong enough to make it on their own; irrigating and tending the crops and finally bringing in the fruit of all that labor. As I write this I realize that I could easily use many of these same words describing those of us who are parents as we shepherd our children through many years of joy and toil, and then enjoy them as they reach adulthood.

Our unique Thanksgiving Day celebration in the United States draws from that harvest tradition of sacrifice and reward which forms the basis of our American myth of the stalwart and faithful English settlers of Cape Cod or Jamestown. They endured hardship, even starvation, until finally, they enjoyed the bounty of the soil, as they broke bread together, with the help of their Native American neighbors.

Because of the amazing abundance of foods available to us, we modern city dwellers tend not to focus on the vicissitudes of the farmer, but on the family feast laid out before us on the dinner table. There with our gathered family and other loved ones we enjoy the traditional plump turkey. I usually make a buttery bread dressing with rich broth and maybe some walnuts or mushrooms along with the celery and onions. Since my childhood was spent in Boston, I call upon Bell's Seasoning, a traditional New England staple since 1867, to add the final herbal touch, which will fill the kitchen with familiar aromas.

With the table filled with potatoes, yams, squash, chopped cranberry and mandarin orange relish, a big crunchy romaine salad, as well as cracked olives, pomegranates, clementinas, pecan, pumpkin and mince pies, we have before us a feast which could not have been duplicated by a king, much less a villager. In truth, the various ingredients on the table may have come from all over the world.

As you sit down to your plentiful table, I hope you be thankful for those who tilled the fields, prepared the ingredients and shipped them across the ocean for your pleasure. May you have a beautiful experience this Thanksgiving connecting with those whom you love.

Saludos,

Don


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COMMENTS

"Don, this is now one of my favorite pieces you have written. Last year at this time I was visiting in Spain with family and friends .. oh how I wish I was back there today. Understood, that Thanksgiving dinner at the Parador in Beilsa is not the same as here in the US, but I have never seen stars shine so brightly in the sky at night, a trade I was happy to make. Your story of the harvest and the hard working people of Spain, really brings life into perspective. Thank you and best wishes for a wonderful holiday season."
alexis, West Virginia

"Mr. Harris, After reading your reflections on the lost connection we Americans have with the foods we take for granted every day, I was struck with such a feeling of poignancy. I spent many of my summers as a child "helping out" on the farm of my great-grandfather. He was a French Alsation, the original immigrant of the family and a farmer all his life. The connection I gained with the foods we ate has stayed with me all my life. My passion is cooking and using artisanal foods when ever possible. We first were introduced to Iberico ham on a trip to the Caribbean. A French yacht purveyor had a deli and a supply of that ambrosia. We were smitten and on return to the states, through the net, found your incredible shop. I've lost track of how many converts I've created thanks to the ability to obtain the precious ham thru your shop. Last summer, we boated with friends to Williamsburg, it was a forgone conclusion that we would somehow visit La Tienda. We brought the brother of our friends wife with us to the store. I mentioned to him that I would love to have a La Tienda in No. Va. He remarked that he had met you on occasion. He and his wife work for the Williamsburg "organization"... Is there any future plans to open another La Tienda in the North? I am approaching retirement age and investing in a food connected interprise has long been not only my desire, but all the friends that I've introduced to the "exotic" foods I love. If you have any plans in the works, please keep me in mind. Hopefully, I wouldn't eat more than I would sell. Joyfully, Terry DuShole "
Terry DuShole, Fairfax, Va.

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Reflexiones en Español

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La Cosecha de Recompensas

Mi familia y yo empezamos a recorrer los caminos de España hace ya muchos años y hemos disfrutado enormemente conociendo a familias españolas cuyas vidas están íntimamente ligadas a la tierra. Tanto las que extraen leche de sus rebaños como las que cultivan arroz o pimientos, podan sus vides u olivos cuentan en sus vidas con algo fundamental y genuino.

Atesoro en la memoria de mis visitas algunos momentos muy especiales con nuestros productores. Recuerdo la cara de mi amigo Fermín mientras describía con cariño su olivo preferido en cuyas raíces solía esconderse cuando era pequeño. O cuando nuestro proveedor de azafrán, José, nos refería cómo aprendió a andar detrás del arado. También recuerdo bien a Pedro, maestro del jamón ibérico, y su piara de cerdos de pata negra que se revolcaba en los charcos bajo las encinas. Más adelante pudimos conocer también a su hijo, el joven Jorge, que trabaja como socio con su padre.

Me resulta edificante hallar a gentes que no se creen invulnerables sino que saben que sus vidas están ligadas a las estaciones, no sólo a sus habilidades. Especialmente en esta época del año en que vemos cómo se preparan para el invierno, me vienen a la memoria las palabras del tradicional himno de la cosecha: "Todo está recogido y a salvo antes de que comiencen las tormentas invernales."

La dramática nota sobre el mismo tema fue este mensaje que mis queridos amigos Hans y Daida, que han adoptado España como patria, dejaron en su página web. Desde Cataluña, producen unos soberbios aceites de oliva artesanos y exquisitos jabones de aceite de oliva envueltos a mano. Contamos con ellos indefectiblemente y recibimos sus productos con exquisita puntualidad. Debo admitir que muchas veces no la apreciamos en lo que vale, pero desde el punto de vista de Hans como productor, esa puntualidad no resulta tan sencilla. Hans escribió:

El 8 de marzo de 2010 arreció una inesperada tormenta de nieve que causó terribles daños en la comarca del Empordà… Ese día cayeron 32 centímetros de nieve, una nieve viscosa que se amontonaba a temperaturas bajo cero incluso sobre los tendidos eléctricos. Al final de la tarde, súbitas ráfagas de viento sacudieron estos montones ya de hielo que lo destrozaron todo. En los cincuenta años que llevamos en Cataluña nunca habíamos presenciado semejante desastre.

Pero fueron los árboles los que sufrieron las peores consecuencias. Especialmente los de hoja perenne: pinos, encinas, alcornoques, cipreses y por supuesto los olivos que fueron mucho más que diezmados. En nuestra propiedad, docenas de árboles solitarios cayeron como cerillas, arrancadas de la tierra sus raíces. Nuestros olivos de Arbequina se mantuvieron en pie, pero perdieron unas dos mil ramas principales, casi un tercio de ellas.

Lo que la naturaleza nos arrebató ese día tardará años en repararse. Comparada con otras tormentas, ésta fue un desastre. Ciertamente estos acontecimientos te hacen sentir pequeño.

Como ciudadanos del siglo XXI, no nos detenemos a pensar en el sudor y el esfuerzo que significa el producir los alimentos que ingerimos, ni en los caprichos de la climatología, aunque puede que leamos sobre la escasez de trigo debido a los incendios en Rusia, o la baja producción de maíz de este año en Estados Unidos. No pensamos en los cultivos de Hans o el de José María en tanto que haya asado suficiente azafrán para cubrir nuestras necesidades.

Enfrentarnos a los desastres que las inclemencias del tiempo dejan tras de sí y que afectan a la temporada de cultivo o a la imposibilidad de encontrar suficiente mano de obra para recolectar la cosecha es todo un concepto abstracto para muchos de nosotros que afortunadamente podemos disponer de cualquier cosa con un solo clic de ratón.

Desde los tiempos en los que el hombre primitivo aprendió a plantar semillas y labrar el campo, la época de la cosecha ha sido momento de alivio y alegría para todos los que trabajan en el campo. El otoño marca la culminación de meses de duro trabajo: sembrar las semillas, mimar los nuevos brotes hasta que agarren y puedan salir adelante por sí solos; regar y cuidar la cosecha para finalmente obtener el fruto de todo ese trabajo. Al escribir esto me doy cuenta de que se podrían usar muchas de estas expresiones para describir lo que muchos de nosotros, siendo padres, hacemos para guiar a nuestros hijos a lo largo de numerosos años de alegrías y esfuerzos, y así más tarde poder disfrutar con ellos en su edad adulta.

Nuestra exclusiva celebración del Día de Acción de Gracias en América proviene de los tradicionales sacrificios y recompensa que la cosecha conlleva. Esta recompensa y estos sacrificios conforman las bases del mito americano de los incondicionales y fieles colonizadores ingleses de Cape Cod o Jamestown. Ellos soportaron hambrunas y épocas muy duras hasta que finalmente pudieron disfrutar de las bonanzas de la tierra, partiendo juntos el pan, y con la ayuda de sus vecinos nativos americanos.

Debido a la increíble abundancia de comida a nuestro alcance, nosotros, seres urbanos de estos tiempos, tendemos a no prestarle atención a las vicisitudes de los labradores sino al festín familiar que se despliega ante nuestros ojos en la mesa familiar. Ahí, reunidos con la familia y seres queridos disfrutamos del tradicional pavo bien cebado. Yo normalmente preparo una salsa con pan, mantequilla y un sabroso caldo con apio y cebollas al que a veces añado nueces o champiñones. Puesto que pasé mi niñez en Boston, me decanto por Bell's Seasoning, un alimento básico y tradicional de Nueva Inglaterra desde 1867 para añadir el toque final con las hierbas que colman la cocina de aromas familiares.

Junto con patatas, batatas, calabacín, arándano cortado y guarnición de naranja mandarina, lechuga romana grande y crujiente con unas olivas partidas, granadas, clementinas y pasteles de pacana, calabaza y frutas, disfrutamos en la mesa de un festín que ni reyes ni mucho menos plebeyos podrían haber soñado. De hecho, puede que los ingredientes sobre la mesa provengan de muy distintos rincones del planeta.

Espero que este año al sentarse a la mesa colmada de viandas, demos gracias por aquellos que trabajaron con esfuerzo los campos, elaboraron los productos y los enviaron desde el otro lado del océano para nuestro deleite. Deseamos pases un Feliz Día de Acción de Gracias en compañía de sus seres queridos.

Saludos,

Don

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