Serrano broad beans and extremeño garlic thriving on Plot 16, Glasgow.

Three years ago a friend from Galaroza in the Sierra de Huelva, Southern Spain, gave me a big bag of broad beans that he’d dried and saved from the previous growing season. Manolo has a lovely plot just on the outskirts of town where he grows his veg, keeps chickens and stores his harness, because before he retired, Manolo worked as a muleteer or arriero. He still looks after his ancient mule, Curro, once one of a pair, in a neighbouring paddock. Manolo also cultivates his son-in-law’s plot on the other side on the town, on the path that leads to Valdelarco. I am the happy beneficiary of dried herbs; oregano, wild echinacea, spearmint and tila (dried lime flowers that are good for calming the nerves). During the growing season I often ride home with gifts of vegetables (tomatoes don’t travel well on horseback!) and Chaparro, my horse, has become accustomed to bags and watermelons dangling from the pommel of the vaquera saddle.


Manolo’s broad beans at his huerta in Galaroza, Sierra de Aracena. Photo: Jan Nimmo©


Manolo and his mule, Curro. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Back home in Glasgow, on my allotment at Hamiltonhill, I often remember, with envy, the fecund kitchen gardens of the Sierra de Huelva. On our plot we struggle with an inclement climate, poor soil, occasional vandalism, biblical plagues of slugs and snails and have to make a sojourn to south Ayrshire where our friends keep three black Clydesdales, to gather up bags of horse manure to try to improve our soil and to import worms to what used to be a completely worm free zone. Whilst we may not have the sun, fertile earth and on-hand horsey “Brown Gold”, we love our plot because not only does it sustain us around the year with seasonal vegetables and fruit, it is also our all year “No Straight Lines” haven, a green space which makes tenement dwelling bearable and which eases the stresses of long hours spent working at a computer, or al least indoors away from sunlight or cloud.

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill, Urban Haven. Photo:  Jan Nimmo©

Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow, Urban Haven. Photo: Jan Nimmo©

This year's broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This year’s broad beans hardening off at Plot 16. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Broad beans form Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

One of our joys has been to successfully grow good healthy crops of broad beans from the beans that Manolo gave me. (This is our third year growing them). We intercrop them with Marigolds and enjoy preparing dishes with them: cooked with jamón serrano and a quails’ eggs or just tossing them into stir fries. My Auntie Carmen from Jaén told me that her aunts used to prepare whole habas or broad beans, pod and all, for her when she was young. We’ve tried this too but they have to be young and tender to prepare them this way.


Allotment tourists: Uncle Archie and Auntie Carmen, Plot 16, Hamiltonhill Allotments, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

This summer, when our beans are ready to harvest, I am planning to try out a typical recipe from the Sierra de Huelva:

Habas enzapatadas. (Broad beans in slippers).

  • 1 kilos of large broad beans
  • Spearmint
  • Mint (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Lemon


Peel the broad beans, the bigger the better, and wash them.

Put the water in a large pot and when it’s almost boiling add salt.

When the water is boiling add slices of lemon, the mint and peeled garlic and let that simmer for a minute.

Lower the heat and leave for a minute then add the broad beans for 15 – 20 minutes but ensure that they don’t get overcooked.

This is a recipe from the Sierra but there is a variation from Moguer and Palos de la Frontera, on the coast, which substitutes the mint with coriander so I think I may give that that a go too. In Huelva you’d wash this down with a cold Cruzcampo but we’ll be in Scotland so it might have to be a Williams Brothers Grozet.

The broad beans aren’t the only crop of Spanish origin that does fine on Plot 16. Every year in January I buy garlic at the Wednesday market in Galaroza. There is a man who comes down from Badajoz Province every fortnight and has a stall with plants, trees, seeds and flowers. The garlic he sells is the excellent ajo castaño; the head is covered with white skin, flecked with purple and inside the cloves are covered with shiny purple skin. It is strong and flavourful. Once you have tried this no garlic will do. Our garlic doesn’t thrive quite so well as it does in the huertas of Galaroza but the favour is the same. So with exception of lemons I think we can get all the ingredients to make this when summer comes.

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Spanish Garlic/Ajo Castaño, Hamiltonhill Allotment, Glasgow. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Jan Nimmo 15th April 2015 ©

Arrieros: Manolo “Donato”

Manolo "Donato" with Curro, Galaroza. Drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

Manolo “Donato” with Curro, Galaroza. Drawing by Jan Nimmo ©

I often meet Manolo when I’m either leaving or when I coming home to the village with Chaparro. There are two possible locations where our meetings might occur; at Manolo’s “huerta” or kitchen garden on the Las Chinas path, just at the entrance to the village or out at his son-in-law’s smallholding where the path forks for Valdelarco or El Roblecillo. Either way we usually stop for a chat and if I’m lucky then I may come home with a bag of chard or a watermelon hanging from the pommel of the saddle. Like all “Cachoneros” (the people of Galaroza) Manolo is generous to a fault. I have grown broad beans here at my allotment in Glasgow which were one of his presents to me. One day he shouted to me from his huerta and came down to give me a box with bags of seeds, all with beautifully handwritten descriptions of the contents; coriander, dried lime tree leaves, which are apparently good for calming the nerves, arnica for aches and pains… Manolo knows a lot about plants and herbal remedies and I often bump into him carrying a bunch of mint or oregano, depending on the time of year.


Manolo gathering acelgas (chard). Photo Jan Nimmo ©


Manolo and his broad beans. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Manolo is retired now but worked as an “arriero” or muleteer. He’s travelled all over the Sierra with his mules, carrying cork, saplings and anything that needed moved across county and from one village to another. He would have done a lot of ploughing in his time too. He still has one mule, Curro, but his partner died a few years back. I remember leaving for a ride to Valderarco, one frosty morning, and seeing the cadaver of Curro’s companion lying at the gate of the holding, waiting for collection. The emotional part of a horse’s brain is the same as ours and so I wondered how Curro would feel about the absence of the other mule – after all those years spent working and grazing together with that spooky, nonverbal communication that they have with us and one another.

Often, in the early evening, I’ll go out for a stroll and if I pass by Manolo’s huerta we’ll stop for a chat. I’ll have a look at his produce and marvel, as I can’t match his success at the allotment in Glasgow. He grows all the usual vegetables and he has a particularly lovely pink rose bush as well as a few fig trees. Nearby, Manolo has a wee stone shed with a great big fireplace and this is where he makes miniature ploughs out of wood and which are exact working replicas of the real thing.


Manolo “Donato” with a handmade miniature plough, Galaroza. Photo by Jan Nimmo ©

Curro has a corral and shelter just along from the huerta and he always has plenty to eat; lots of hay and holm oak acorns which Manolo gathers for him. In spite of being well fed, Curro is a bit skinny – it’s the leanness of old age. Each time I return to Galaroza I wonder if he will still be there. He can be a bit grumpy at times but he’s part of the furniture and Chaparro and I would miss him if he wasn’t there.

Curro. Galaroza. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Curro. Galaroza. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

© Jan Nimmo 2014