The Reed Seats of Galaroza: Sillas de Anea.

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A typical Sevillana chair with a seat made of “anea” or “nea”, manufactured in Galaroza, Sierra de Huelva. This is one of the chairs at Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

After the Hostal Venecia, on the Seville/Portugal road, closed its doors to its last guests, I had to look for a house to rent for my visits to Galaroza, in the Sierra de Huelva. I took a house in Calle San Sebastián, in the upper part of the town, and on my adopted street there were neighbours further up, who made and repaired the seats of Sillas Sevillanas, the typical Sevillian chairs that are not only popular in the province of Seville but also here in Huelva. In the Picadero where my horse, Chaparro, is stabled, they have both red and green personalised tables and chairs, so I was familiar with them but hadn’t seen how the seat part was made till I stayed in that street. I would see the van from the carpenter’s workshop come to deliver chairs and the anea, which was tied to the roof of the vehicle. Anea or nea, as it’s known locally, is a kind of bulrush/reedmace (Typha) that grows on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

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Chairs on the Calle San Sebastián, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Over the last year or so a boy called Ale has been coming to help with out with the horses at Picadero La Suerte. He loves horses and has a grey Andalusian filly, Lluvia (Rain), of whom he is very proud and plans to bring on for riding. I took some photos of Ale and his little mare to make a drawing of him. After his mum had seen the photos she stopped me on the outskirts of the village to say how nice they were. I finally made the connection that my old neighbours, the women who made the seats of the chairs, were Ale’s mum, aunt and granny.  (Seems I am still joining the dots even after ten years).

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Ale with his filly, Lluvia. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

In January I asked Ale if he thought it would be alright to visit the women of his family the next time they were weaving seats. It was, so I popped up to see them one sunny but cold afternoon. The room they work in has large double doors which open out onto the Calle San Sebastián and there was a small electric heater which I don’t think did much to combat the bitter, cold air.

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Rosario, veteran of anea seat making, Galaroza. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Rosario, Ale’s granny, is retired from making the seats but can’t resist giving a hand. She started making the seats when she was only 9 years of age. Often after a day’s work doing something else, Rosario would come home and start weaving the seats and keep working on them into the night.

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Rosario with her two daughters. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

It’s now Rosario’s daughters who carry on this work; Fali, Ale’s mum and her sister Mari Loli. They started helping out when they were 13 or 14 years old. It was fascinating to finally get a proper chance to watch them more closely as they worked. They explained that now that the carpenter’s workshop that made the chairs has closed down, they tend to just do repairs for people. The chairs they were working on while I was there were from a client in Valverde del Camino.The seats can take anything from 1- 4 hours to make. The anea material, a kind of papyrus, comes from Coria del Rio in Seville province and costs about 20 euros a bunch.

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Fali keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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Mari Loli keeping the seat making tradition alive. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Most houses in Galaroza have the ubiquitous sillas de anea. As they say, the chairs are “de toda la vida”. Sometimes these are painted and decorated with flowers and pastoral scenes but many are just plain solid colours or simply left unpainted. The chairs come in different sizes, from babies’ high chairs, childrens’ seats, low armless chairs or grander highly decorated and carved chairs. These are the seats of the country towns and villages of Andalusia, the furniture of the casetas of Seville’s April Fair and the chairs favoured by flamenco singers and guitarists.

The flat I rent now when I’m Galaroza is situated in the Avenida de los Carpinteros. Even in the ten years I’ve been coming to this town I have seen a marked decline in the number of carpenters working in this special street. When I first came walking here many years ago with my husband, Paul, we were reminded of the streets of country towns in Guatemala; a long row of practical, low, rustic buildings made from stone and adobe, the walls limewashed, with clay tiled roofs and great chestnut wooden doors.

Although Galaroza is a picturesque serrano town, it has always depended on agriculture and the manufacturing of furniture. That’s changing. Now as Ikea has opened it’s doors in Seville, the doors of the carpenters’ workshops have closed and the surrounding huertas or kitchen gardens tend to be looked after by the older people of the village while more and more people shop at Mercadona and Lidl in Aracena.

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Iluminado Tristancho of Picadero La Suerte tending his huerta. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

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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.

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

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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.

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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

Method:

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 ©

Picadero La Suerte: A home from home.

Chaparro at 5 years old, at his previous home in La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro at 5 years old, at his previous home in La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Paul and I first came to walk the paths of the Sierra de Aracena y Picos de Aroche, Huelva, in Southern Spain about 16 years ago. If anyone had told me then that I would come to know this landscape as intimately as I do now, let alone that I would do so with my own horse, I’d have said they were completely bonkers. But eleven and a half years ago, in 2003, in another part of the Sierra Morena, the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, I had the unlikely chance to become the owner of a horse – Chaparro. How this came about is another story but buying Chaparro changed my life.

Starting to love Chaparro - soon after I bought him. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

Starting to love Chaparro – soon after I bought him. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

By the autumn of 2004 I knew I had to move Chaparro to another stable, as things weren’t working out where he was. I wasn’t around all the time and needed to rely on folk at the stable to care for him. I did a lot of soul searching and Internet searching too, in an attempt to find a solution. I even considered bringing Chaparro to Scotland, but I soon realised I couldn’t afford livery in Scotland on an artist’s income, and it probably would have proved traumatic for Chaparro.

Although I had only owned Chaparro for a year or so a bond between us existed, a bond, which now, twelve years on, is so strong that Chaparro is completely under my skin, an integral part of me. Losing him would be like losing part of my very being, like losing a limb, or worse. All sorts of ideas went through my head; I was desperate to find somewhere safe for him. I recalled a bus journey that Paul and I made on that walking holiday to Aracena and Cortegana all those years before and remembered the bus going through Galaroza. We had passed a riding stable called Picadero La Suerte. I remembered we had joked about it at the time, the name – La Suerte – which means “Luck” in Spanish – and we wondered if you needed to be lucky to stay on the horses there! As it turned out La Suerte was the name of the land and the farm. I found a website for Picadero La Suerte and wrote down a mobile number and took it with me to Spain that December, when I next went to visit Chaparro.

Chaparro days before we left La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Chaparro days before we left La Sierra Norte de Sevilla. Photo: Paul Barham ©

This was not to be an easy visit. It felt like the two of us against the world. I managed to get temporary accommodation for Chaparro in a field next to the church in the village. The man from the livestock feed store came and delivered two sacks of oats for us and the guys in the neighbouring carpenters’ workshop let me store Chaparro’s tack there. I bought a couple of big buckets for water. It was freezing at night and I was terribly worried about Chaparro as he was used to being stabled – and he’d not been getting all the food he needed while I had been away, so he was a bit skinny. During the days he was in that field I got up at the crack of dawn – I wasn’t sleeping anyway – and was always relieved to find him at the corner of the field, waiting impatiently for me, pawing the ground in anticipation of his morning feed.

I took the scrap of paper with the La Suerte number and phoned from a call box. “Hello, do you do livery for horses? How much does it cost? Do you have a horsebox? Can you come and pick up my horse from here? How soon can you do this? What else do I need to do? Should we come and visit you?” I directed all these questions to Julio, one of the sons of the owner, Iluminado, at La Suerte. Happily the reply to all the fundamental questions was “yes”, and that he would come and pick up Chaparro the day after Boxing Day but that I would need to get some paperwork sorted at my end. A visit to the vet sorted this so that I was able to transport Chaparro between provinces. There had been an outbreak of Lengua Azul (Bluetongue, a disease affecting pigs and other livestock). I then anxiously waited for Paul to come from Scotland to join me. During that time I spent as much time as I could with Chaparro, we rode out together in the freezing cold and I tried to make things as alright as I could for him, to make it normal for it just to be him and me.

Paul arrived from Scotland just before Christmas and I think was quite surprised and impressed that I’d managed to get so much sorted out in such a short time. I was running on adrenalin. Paul had hired a car so we drove over the Sierra Morena to Galaroza and met Julio and his brother Ilumi. We had a look round the stables, which were only a short walk from the village. They were clean, tidy and would make a good new home for my horse. Nowadays the facilities are even better as the family is always making improvements. We confirmed with Julio that he would come to collect Chaparro on the 27th. We had lunch at the Hostal Venecia, and drove back to the Sierra Norte where we spent Christmas Eve with some Dutch friends

Julio arrived punctually on the 27th and we bought him lunch. We then went to box Chaparro. I had no idea if he had ever been in a horsebox. We rode everywhere. I didn’t know whether to expect trouble or not. But it seemed almost as if Chaparro knew that it was time to go and that something better awaited him. Chaparro was finally learning to trust me. Julio didn’t even have to put the ramp down at the back of the van. Chaparro meekly stepped in which surprised me because in those days there wasn’t anything remotely meek or understated about Chaparro. We set off in the car, following closely behind Julio and the horsebox.

It was strange to leave the Sierra Norte; we’d ridden to most of the towns and villages there and into Extremadura, past the Ermita de la Virgen de Ara to Fuente del Arco. On one occasion we rode into Córdoba province, to San Calixto, to the Carmelite convent there. We knew the Sierra Norte well, from the strange mine workings of El Cerro de Hierro to the open Senda that leads to the north, and loved our rides along the Ribera del Huéznar up to San Nicolás del Puerto.

We rode all over the Sierra Norte in all weathers: Chaparro and Jan, Paul with Yuya. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

We rode all over the Sierra Norte in all weathers: Chaparro and Jan, Paul with Yuya. Photo: Anne Elliot ©

By the time we got to Galaroza it was dark, we backed Chaparro out of the horsebox and I heard Iluminado, whom I hadn’t met yet, remark how skinny he was. I held onto the lead rein and waited for him to stop feeling wobbly from the trip, and Iluminado, without saying anything to me (I think he thought I didn’t speak Spanish), approached me with a two kilo bag of carrots and held it out to me. I felt like weeping. It probably seems silly, but this generous gesture seemed to me like he was offering me and Chaparro the hand of friendship; a friendship which, over the years, would become stronger; between Iluminado, his wife, Virtudes, their family and myself and Paul.

A winters day in Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

A winters day in Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in his new home, Picadero La Suerte. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in his new home, Picadero La Suerte. Photo Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro and I were directed up to the stable block and he was put in the first loose box on the left, which, to this day, remains his box. During the following days Paul and I made a stab at getting to know some of the local paths. Paul was given Marco to ride. Marco, a hispano-arabe, came to the Picadero as a baby, a “tordo picasso” with brown patches on his head, neck and ears, more reminiscent of the colouring of a Shorthorn cow. On our first ride, young Ilumi showed us the way to a pretty white village, Fuenteheridos. After that we rode on our own to Castaño del Robledo, La Nava, Valdelarco and, on my birthday, the 6th of January, we missed the turning for Navahermosa and ended up riding to Cortelazor. We didn’t see that much of the family on the visit as one of their sons had been involved in a bad motorcycle accident. In spite of that we would come back from rides to either a brief chat with Iluminado or to find that he’d left a couple of bottles of Cruzcampo out for us. We very much appreciated that they trusted us to let Paul ride out with Marco.

I returned to Galaroza the following March. Chaparro had been very well fed and cared for to the point that he seemed like a different horse; he was strong, full of beans, a complete handful, and took advantage of me at every turn, to the point where I wasn’t sure if I was able to cope. But after a subsequent trip in June, I went over again in September and by then we were doing long rides to Aracena and beyond. It wasn’t always easy, as Chaparro could be very full of himself, and over and above his youthful energy I still had a lot to learn about his residual stallion behaviour… but as long as we were out riding and going to new places, we both managed with just the occasional bit of outrageousness.

By this time I had started to get to know the family more, the village too and the surrounding countryside and the paths that criss-cross the Sierra.

Iluminado with his horse, Marco. Drawing. © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado with his horse, Marco. Drawing. © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado is an exceptional person. He has strong hands and a booming voice so the horses are in no doubt who is the “lead horse” at La Suerte, and who keeps everyone in line. That said, he has a very gentle caring side. He prides himself on having well nourished, properly shod and well cared for horses. I would describe him as both a no-nonsense and fun loving man, and if you are straight with him, you will have a firm friend for life. He is totally honest and says exactly what he thinks, so what you see is what you get. He’s gregarious and loves to sing and dance to Sevillanas and we’ve enjoyed a good few romerías together, riding, eating and drinking beer.

Iluminado and Jan enjoying a beer at the Romería in La Nava, Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado and Jan enjoying a beer at the Romería in La Nava, Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado has taught me so much about the Sierra, its history, and its people, the geography and traditions of the area. He has, like his 92 year old mother, Felicita, a marvellous memory and an eye for detail. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone quite so observant. Our post-ride beer and tapas, either by the roaring wood fire in the bar at the Picadero or sitting outside at dusk on a warm night, with the bats fluttering around and the ravens making their way home, have been a vehicle for our friendship. I admire his astuteness and judgment too, and like to run ideas by him when I am thinking about doing a bit of research for a long ride or thinking about a project for work. I have taken on a lot of Iluminado’s advice regarding Chaparro, and my horse remains the most indulged horse at the stable.

Virtudes. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Virtudes. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Iluminado’s wife, Virtudes, has become a great friend over the ten years I have been going to Galaroza to ride Chaparro. Virtudes, a devoted mother of four and grandmother to María and Ilumi (III), has incorporated me into her family and makes sure that I am never stuck for anything. Last trip I broke a tooth and then, later, cut the top off my pinky with a knife whilst mushroom hunting, and it was she and Iluminado that made sure I saw a dentist and got an emergency dressing for my wound. Many’s the time someone from the family has come to pick me up in Seville to complete my journey to the Sierra. If I’m alone in Galaroza it’s because I choose to be.

Virtudes is a fair-minded person who has a personal take on everything around her and will pick up on people when she thinks they are being unreasonable or unkind. She is a fantastic cook, able to prepare all of the specialities of the Sierra but not averse to trying out new recipes… I am the happy beneficiary of the wonderful meals she prepares and I especially love Sunday lunchtimes when the usual fare is egg and chips cooked in a great black enamelled frying pan over the holm oak wood fire. This meal is what my friend Sarah Henry would call a 100%er – eggs, onions, potatoes and crispy nuggets of garlic, topped with slices of home cured jamón serrano, all produced on their farm. Once that has all been washed down with a glass or two of Ribera del Duero, a siesta is necessary but dinner that evening isn’t.

Preparation of the Sunday egg and chips at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Preparation of the Sunday egg and chips at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Galaroza holds a market in the town square on Wednesdays and it has now become a ritual for Virtudes and I to have breakfast at Bar Serrano (Casa de Miguel) followed by a wee saunter round the market stalls before she heads back to her household duties or up to the picadero, and I prepare to go for my ride with Chaparro.

Wednesday breakfast at Bar Serrano, Miguel's place. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Wednesday breakfast at Bar Serrano, Miguel’s place. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado and Virtudes were childhood sweethearts; she was 14 when she started seeing him. They work as a team, are equally hardworking and family orientated. If there is anything I would wish for them it is for them to have a little bit more leisure time as they never seem to stop. If I ever won the lottery one the first things I would do would be to book Virtudes into a spa for a month of pampering!

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Of their four sons, two work at the Picadero; Julio and Ilumi. Juan Jo, the eldest, works as a municipal policeman in Galaroza and the youngest, Gonzalo works as a bank manager in the Sierra. Julio and Ilumi complement one another  at the stable and while Julio is great with paperwork, searching for funding, running courses and devising marketing ideas, Ilumi is extremely practical, dexterous and can make or fix probably just about anything. They are both experienced riders and have good horse sense. The brothers have brought on many horses over the years and become qualified guides. Julio has learned to shoe his horses and has taken this job over from his father. Like their parents, they have been good to us over the years; helping us arrange horsey accommodation on our long rides to Portugal, Extremadura, over to Zufre and helping us with the logistics of getting from A to B. I in turn take photos for them and translate the odd email that comes in English.

Julio polishing up his riding boots. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio polishing up his riding boots. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 

Ilumi and his horse, Juguete. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi and his horse, Juguete. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi: an accomplished rider and mushroom hunter. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Ilumi: an accomplished rider and mushroom hunter. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The number of horses at the Picadero varies from between around 25 to 30. Most of the horses belong to the Tristanchos but there are a few, like Chaparro, who are at livery there. Most of the horses there are reliable and suitable for all sorts of riders, from those who have little or no experience to people who want to ride long distances. But the boys and their father have their favourites: the late, great Hechicero, a huge dark horse from Portugal, with a white flash; Marco, of course, who shows off his Paso Español at romerías; Hotelero, Julio’s purebred Andalusian grey, who arrived as a wild 2 year old colt; and Ilumi’s beautiful, big, kind eyed, chestnut gelding, Juguete. And there’s Canastera, the glossy, black Andalusian-Arab mare, a favourite of Iluminado’s, and who is now ridden by Julio’s 6-year-old daughter, María. When Paul is here he comes out on our rides with Nerón (Nero), a big white horse with a big personality to match. Nerón has a loud trumpety neigh with which he proclaims his arrival in new towns. He’s a great character; another friend who gets along very well with Chaparro.

Paul with Nerón at La Ribera. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Paul with Nerón at La Ribera. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio with Hotelero. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Julio with Hotelero. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Old friends: Iluminado and his horse Marco, demonstrating the Paso Español. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Old friends: Iluminado and his horse Marco, demonstrating the Paso Español. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Over the years the family have made many improvements to the picadero: a covered school, new stables, a horse walker, a new sand school and new corrals. The installations, like the Forth Rail Bridge, are constantly being painted and cleaned. The farmhouse they rent out there is the same, always being upgraded, painted and cleaned to within an inch of its life.

Iluminado used to keep black Iberian pigs, until recently, and one year the family allowed me to make a film about the annual pig kill, which is a two day event where the home reared pigs are slaughtered, butchered into cuts of meat and made into chorizo and morcilla. It’s a family event but not for the faint hearted. If you are a meat-eater it’s good to know that the pigs have been reared free ranging amongst olive and cork oak trees, have not been put on a lorry and transported the length of the country, and that their passing is celebrated with food, drink and music.

Iluminado showing off a plate of beautifully cut, exquisite home cured jamón serrano. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado showing off a plate of beautifully cut, exquisite home cured jamón serrano. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

There are goats in the top field and many’s the time I have come home to wherever I am staying with a bucket of still warm, frothy milk. Turkeys, chickens and cockerels sally forth from the hen house in the mornings to gobble up the corn scattered in the yard… but not too early because there may still be foxes and meloncillos (mongooses) at large. I am often the grateful recipient of fresh, golden-yolked eggs that make lovely, sunny tortillas. There is a pond with a couple of ducks too…

Iluminado with one of his new kids. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado with one of his new kids. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of the various cockerels at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of the various cockerels at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado has a huerta or kitchen garden at La Suerte. I plan to write about that separately as it deserves special attention but suffice to say that I never go home empty handed and especially enjoy September, when my fridge is filled with tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, beetroot, onions, potatoes, coriander, chard, spinach, lettuce – and Chaparro gets the odd sly carrot from Virtudes.

Iluminado showing off his bumper crop of tomatoes. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iluminado showing off his bumper crop of tomatoes. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The stable has become a home from home for me. If I think about the place when I am in Scotland then a lump comes to my throat. Over the past decade I have been in lots of different rented houses around Galaroza but what has been constant has been Chaparro, the Picadero and the family, my family, our family.

It’s a place in which I love being. I love getting up early and being first there, feeling the burst of heat from the horses as I open the big stable door, feeding Chaparro who sticks his pink nose through the bars of the door to his box and nickers at me as I get a bucket of feed for him. I cherish listening to him as he chomps his way through his oats. His nose busily moving along the trough, and me happy knowing that he always has food and a clean bed; grateful to know that he is safe when I’m not around. Iluminado looks after Chaparro as if he was one of his own – perhaps even better because Iluminado doesn’t have to tell me that he knows how much Chaparro means to me. I know he knows. He sees my teary face every time I have to leave.

Chaparro stopping off to visit friends at Navalonguilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro stopping off to visit friends at Navalonguilla. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Virtudes and her granddaughter, María. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Virtudes and her granddaughter, María. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Often, as Chaparro eats his morning feed, I heat up a coffee and sit outside and just enjoy the morning, watching the ravens, culebreros (short toed eagles – circaetus gallicus), red kites and other birds… Sometimes, having sanctioned it with Iluminado, I go and pick a bag of cherry tomatoes in the huerta – “Cuando hay, hay y cuando no, no hay!”, sometimes I deadhead the roses or just use the time to sort out the saddle bags for the day’s ride.

Early doors: breakfast at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Early doors: breakfast at the picadero. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

But the Picadero is also a sociable place, I need never be lonely there; there’s always a beer, a tapa of homemade goats cheese, home preserved olives, salchichón, occasionally a revuelto de setas (scambled eggs with wild mushrooms, foraged for amongst the chestnut trees) and in winter, migas cooked over the wood fire and eaten with grilled sardines, or a warming cocido of chickpeas.

The picadero is the base for our rides, near and far, and the place where I start researching the things that I might use for work, for my drawings, my photos, my films, my writing. I learn new words there – words like “Talabartero” (harness maker); I make contact with people who can teach me about cork, about the dehesa, the flora, the fauna and the livestock – like the rare Manchado de Jabugo pigs. I know that as long as we’re there we will keep on learning.

Riding into La Nava in springtime. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Riding into La Nava in springtime. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The view from north of Las Murtiguillas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The view from north of Las Murtiguillas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

After the long ride to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo: Paul Barham ©

After the long ride to Cumbres de San Bartolomé. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Jan and Chaparro: Riding to Extremadura. Photo: Paul Barham ©

Jan and Chaparro: Riding to Extremadura. Photo: Paul Barham ©

This place is a refuge for my horse and for me. It’s somewhere he loves to come home to after a good ride out along the serrano paths – and, well, that goes for both of us. Over the last decade there we have shared Christmas Eve and Hogmanay feasts, celebrated the arrival of grandchildren, mourned lost friends and family, shared stories, dried ourselves by the fire, and watched thunderstorms from inside the old, chestnut doors of the bar, relieved that we got the horses in on time, and glad of the slow burning holm oak logs in the hearth and the delicious smells from the kitchen.

The photos on the wall of the bar are of family and friends, some two legged and some four legged, some now absent, a mixture of old family snaps and photos that I’ve taken during my time there, so Paul and I are there too. The Picadero and its people are now so familiar to me that, when I am here in Scotland, I can shut my eyes and remember where everything is, how it smells and how it sounds… I know it like the back of my hand, a magic place, one that I never take for granted.

The Bar, Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The Bar, Picadero La Suerte. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An old photo from the Tristancho Family collection. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

An old photo from the Tristancho Family collection. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

 Picadero La Suerte

© Jan Nimmo 24/03/15

Manchados de Jabugo: The rare spotted pigs of the Sierra.

Chaparro and some Iberian pigs in communion on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Chaparro in communion with some Iberian pigs on the path from El Talenque to Las Cañadas. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

On our countless rides on the paths of the Sierra de Huelva, it is not at all unusual for Chaparro and I to come across herds of black Iberian pigs foraging under the holm and cork oaks of the dehesa. You’ll see the pigs rooting about in the chestnut groves too.

Sometimes we spot pigs of dubious parentage; that is when the wild boar that roam the forests of the Sierra make an “illegal” incursion into a field of sows…

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Iberian and wild boar cross piglets at Tierra Amarillo, Galaroza. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Very occasionally we’ll see the odd ginger coloured pig with black spots. The first time we saw these was on the circular Roblecillo ride, just to the west of Galaroza. The pigs there belong to Faustino, who is often there with his wife, and who we pass on the path with his mud-spattered white Land Rover.

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino's pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Riding the Roblecillo path with Chaparro: Faustino’s pigs. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

I have also seen shy, spotted pigs on the ride over Los Altos de la Dehesa, on my way from Galaroza over to El Talenque and beyond. I had always assumed that these pigs where some sort of mix of Iberian with, maybe, from way back when, some Old Spot or something like that… after all it was English people who ran the mines in the Cuenca Minera of Huelva Province so who knows, they may have brought Gloucestershire Old Spots and Tamworths with them.

Those of you who read the blog will have heard me talk of Francisco’s farm, Navalonguilla. It is one of mine and Chaparro’s favourite places to ride through. One day in September, when we were passing, Francisco asked if I had taken any photos of the piglets.

“No, what piglets? I haven’t seen them.”

“Oh they’ll be round here in the shade.”

So I dismounted and tethered Chaparro to the gate opposite, got my wee camera out and followed Francisco into the southern field where the Sweet Chestnuts grow. And there they were; lovely little hairy piglets, with black spots. Mum was there too and Dad. Francisco picked up a couple to show me and began to explain to me that these pigs were actually a specific breed: Manchados de Jabugo.

Francisco showing off one of his "jara" coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off one of his “jara” coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manachao de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco with a Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglet. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of  Francisco's sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

One of Francisco’s sows with her piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo ©

The breed, along with Torbiscal and Lampiño pigs, is now in danger of extinction; this was made official in 2012 in a declaration by the Spanish Government. While there were numerous Manchados de Jabugo at the beginning of the 20th Century there are now at best only a couple of hundred left, maybe less. The breed was developed by wealthy farmers, D. José Sánchez Romero and D. Manuel García Moreno, on a farm called “El Mayorazgo” in the municipality of Jabugo, around the middle of the 19th century.

With the rise in popularity of ham from black Iberian pigs there was a perception that anything that didn’t have patas negras or black trotters, was of inferior quality – and while this may be true of the intensively farmed, factory pigs it certainly isn’t the case with the Manchados de Jabugo, who while not growing as large as the black pigs, produce excellent meat. However, the pigs cannot be hurried in any way, so are seen as being less “profitable”. The breed was also adversely affected by the Peste Porcina Africana (African Porcine Disease), which was a virus that hit Spain and Portugal in the 1960’s.

Francisco's Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco’s Jara coloured Manchado de Jabugo sow. Photo: Jan Nimmo

The Manchados can be either red (Retinta) or pale blonde (Jara) with irregular, black spots. They are long and rotund, they are much hairier than the black pigs and have pale/white trotters. Their heads are wide, their snouts long and they generally have pale eyelashes. The Manchado sows are fierce mothers. Their distribution is limited to the province of Huelva.

Some of Francisco's pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Some of Francisco’s pigs L-R Iberian pig, Manchado de Jabugo (Jara colouring) Iberian pig and another Machado de Jabugo (Retinta colouring). Photo: Jan Nimmo

Nowadays there is only one farm to source legitimate bloodstock: “Los Remedios”, El Almendro, near Cabezas Rubias, south of the Sierra. Previously these could also be sourced in Galaroza at “La Dehesa” which belonged to the Diputación de Huelva but that was sold off a couple of years ago. This is a great loss to Galaroza as not only could serrano farmers source local breeds of pigs but this was also a base for the conservation of old, local varieties of fruit trees.

Riding by, a few days after my first encounter with the piglets, Francisco said that one of them was very poorly. I dismounted and went to have a look at the piglet, which was in the cortijo, in a box with a blanket and a hot water bottle. It was very weak and Francisco was sure that it wasn’t going to make it but wanted to give it a chance. Sadly it didn’t make it.

A few days later I arranged to visit the farm again, but this time with my “good” camera. Chaparro got to rest under the shade of a tree, in the company of the farm cats and Leona, Francisco’s beautiful mastín. There had been a new litter of piglets, this time they were retina coloured and were in a cortijo in another part of the farm which is hidden away at the back of the marble quarry. They were still quite tiny and rather beautiful. Francisco was justifiably proud of them. He is doing crucial work to conserve this lovely but rare breed of pig.

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Francisco of Navalonguilla with two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Drawing: Jan Nimmo ©

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Francisco showing off two of his Retinta coloured Manchado de Jabugo piglets. Photo: Jan Nimmo

Video clip of the piglets feeding…..

 

Leona of Navalonguilla

Jan and Leona. Photo: © Paul Barham

Jan and Leona. Photo: © Paul Barham

It must be ten years since I first rode through Navalonguilla with Chaparro. I had tagged onto a circular ride that Iluminado, from the Picadero, was taking, with some clients: Galaroza – Fuenteheridos – Valdelama – Valdelarco – Galaroza. Chaparro and I hadn’t long since moved to Galaroza, so although we did a lot of exploring on our own it was also nice to take advantage of Iluminado’s local knowledge.

It became a well-frequented path for Chaparro and me. Situated on the camino that connects the two roads which lead to the appropriately named village of Navahermosa (Beautiful Plain), Navalonguilla’s cortijo sits on a lovely vega (a fertile plain). In the Sierra there is very little flat land so it is sometimes a relief to ride on flat ground instead of always climbing and descending. Riding the path from east to west you have a hill wooded with sweet Chestnut trees to the south, grazed by black Iberian pigs; to the north are two fields with apple and quince trees and in the field nearest the road there is a small disused marble quarry whose white rocks contrast with the greenness of the field.

La hiel de la tierra (Centaurium erythraea). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

La hiel de la tierra (Centaurium erythraea). Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The path that passes through Navalonguilla - Early spring. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The path that passes through Navalonguilla – Early spring. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

There is always the sound of goat bells clanking here – sometimes distant, sometimes close by, depending on where the grazing is best.

The farmyard has two traditional white lime-washed stone buildings with a huerta or kitchen garden to the north. Until last year there was a wee three legged dog, Chispa (Sparky), that used to squeeze under the gate to bark at the horses… Paul and I used to call her the “Ken Loach dog”. The dog seemed to coexist happily with the collection of cats there. Beyond the farmhouse to the north-west is an olive grove. The path continues west towards La Quinta and El Talenque, past an ancient bebedero with primitive cattle troughs hewn from marble and other local stone.

The ancient marble bebedero at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Paul Barham

The ancient marble bebedero at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Paul Barham

The farm extends over to the bend in the road to Navahermosa, where there is a noria or water wheel which was once powered by a mule. For years Paul and I had ridden by and wondered what the structure was – until one day Francisco, the owner, gave us an old hand-forged key and we went through the ancient chestnut door in the adobe wall to have a closer look.

The noria at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

The noria at Navalonguilla. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

What has always struck me about the farm is how it is so well maintained and cared for. In spring and summer the sides of the path are alive with flowers; wild peonies, vetch, la hiel de la tierra, baba de oveja, oregano. Clearly no chemicals are used here as the bees, dragonflies and other insects go from flower to flower… It is truly a blissful place, buzzing with life.

Navalonguilla in spring, with the late Chispa lying on the path. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Navalonguilla in spring, with the late Chispa lying on the path. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Our first brush with livestock was when Chaparro decided to have a flakey when he met the donkey. At that time my horse was new to the place so was doing his best to show off, dance some flamenco and generally put on a show for any donkeys, horses or mules he came a across on our rides. The same happened when we met the plump, chestnut mare, Maria, at Navalonguilla. Happily since then the situation has calmed and now we can look forward to visits, as we are all good friends now.

Love triangle: María, Margarita and Chaparro. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Love triangle; María, Margarita and Chaparro. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

A few years back, I can’t remember exactly when, 2010 maybe, Paul and I were riding past the cortijo when we saw a mastín puppy peering out from the gate opposite. She was very pretty so we couldn’t resist dismounting to make a fuss of her. She has never forgotten this and there is rarely a time now that she doesn’t come running across the field to greet us; squeaking, singing, and her big tail wagging. She jumps up on the stone wall and it has now become the norm for me to dismount and give here a wee clap until she decides to hop back over the wall to rejoin the goats that she guards. Leona is beautiful; her grey back and white chest, and yellowy brown eyes that squint slightly when you press your face close to hers.

Leona as a large puppy. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona as a large puppy. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

One time I rode there with my friend, Sue Reid Sexton, who said she had never heard a dog sing before… Leona was very excited that day!

Leona giving us a song. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona giving us a song. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

I later found out that the dog had two names. Her master, Francisco, calls her Leona (Lioness) but his wife Josefina calls her Triana, after the barrio in Seville. Either way Chaparro and I don’t mind. Chaparro likes dogs and was brought up with mastíns so he’s always pleased to see Leona.

I find myself looking for excuses for riding through just to see Leona, the mare and the donkey. The mare always snickers when she sees Chaparro and does a waddling trot over to the wall to say hello, while meantime her companion, the wee dark donkey Margarita, canters along, bucking with her head down, something which always makes me smile…

Margarita and Maria at Navalonguilla. Photo:© Jan Nimmo

Margarita and Maria at Navalonguilla. Photo:© Jan Nimmo

It was a while before I got to know the people at Navalonguilla. I would of course always say hello whenever I met anyone there, but one day when I had stopped on the Navahermosa road to talk to the mare and the donkey, who were on the wooded hill south of the farm, Francisco and Josefina came along to feed them. Then, when I was at the Wednesday market in Galaroza, I saw Virtudes from the stables buying a cheese from Josefina. The cheese was made from milk from the goats that Leona looks after. From then on Josefina and I became friends.

Francisco and his other dog, Nico. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco and his other dog, Nico. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina is diminutive, warm and bubbly and she and Francisco live in a beautiful house in the nearby village, Navahermosa. One day Josefina agreed to let me watch her making goats cheese. That morning Chaparro and I left Galaroza early (it’s about an hour’s ride) and we rode over Los Altos de la Dehesa to watch Francisco milking the goats at the farm. He brings the goats in from the field and milks them at 9am every morning. Francisco is a quiet, polite and practical man who cherishes the local traditions and customs. Afterwards I took some photos of Francisco with his goats, his wee ginger dog, Nico – and Leona, who didn’t stop for long before bouncing back through the spring grass to her herd.

Francisco milking one of the goats at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Francisco milking one of the goats at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Leona and her goats. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Leona and her goats. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina doesn’t start making the cheese till about 12.30, so to pass the time Chaparro and I rode along the path that leaves from the church at Navahermosa before coming back to the village where Chaparro got tethered to a trailer in Francisco and Josefina’s lettuce garden, just a couple of hundred yards from their house.

She explains to me that she needs about 5 litres of goat’s milk to make one kilo of cheese. She tells me that traditionally, instead of rennet, the local people used cardoon thistle stamens to make the curds and whey.

The milk is passed through a sieve and brought to the boil three times to pasteurise it. When it cools to about 30 degrees the rennet is added. Josefina uses only a coffee spoonful of the powdered rennet, which she buys at the chemists.

The long, narrow kitchen at the house in Navahermosa is lovely, spotlessly clean, and has a window with views out over the southern Sierra. On the narrow wall opposite the window stands an old, pale coloured, painted dresser. The tiled walls are adorned with all sorts of artisan kitchen tools and nick-knacks.

Josefina leaves the milk to stand for 30-40 minutes by which time there is a yellowish semi-transparent liquid forming on the top. From underneath she lifts up the whey, separating it from the liquid or suero and deposits it into a circular metal frame which sits on a purpose made wooden draining board next to the sink. She works the cheese expertly, squeezing out the suero and turning the mould upside down from time to time. I had seen Virtudes make cheese at the picadero and although her cheeses are smaller, the technique is the same. It takes time and skill and when she finishes she sprinkles coarse sea salt onto the cheese and refrigerates it. Luckily I was able to sample some of the cheese she had made the day before… with a bottle of Cruzcampo beer. The cheese’s flavour is delicate with a soft jellylike texture… this queso fresco is very different to the queso sudao (mature or “sweated” cheese), from neighbouring Extremadura. That said, the serranos love a good stinky goat’s cheese and while everyone complains about the smell, the cheese gets wolfed down on chunks of wood-fired-oven-baked bread.

Josefina making goats cheese in her kitchen in Navahermosa. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina making goats cheese in her kitchen in Navahermosa. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

I asked Josefina if she made queso sudao. She says she used to but she sticks to fresh cheese as there’s a lot of work involved and it’s a trifle whiffy. As I ate my cheese and drank my beer we chatted in the small parlour with a door and window leading onto the terraza with its potted geraniums and its wonderful views south to El Talenque and the Cerro de Castaño.

Josefina with a freshly made cheese. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Josefina with a freshly made cheese. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Over the last couple of years Chaparro and I have been doing nocturnal rides in springtime when there is a full moon. We both need to stay safe, so I plan the first part of the circular ride to Fuenteheridos before nightfall because there are two crossings of the main road and there are still sometimes vehicles on the path that goes north to Valdelama. This is a good nighttime ride as there isn’t too much vegetation – so no branches in the face or bramble scratches on my neck! The paths aren’t too rough under hoof, although this is is more for my sense of well-being than Chaparro’s because his night vision is so much better than mine – although I know he will shy at his own shadow when we return to the streetlights of Galaroza because as a horse, he takes longer to adapt to the change from darkness to light.

One evening riding back with the moonrise behind me at Valedecarrera/ Valle la Carrera, a lush hollow where a stream flows past a small cortijo overshadowed by poplars, I heard barking. It was about a kilometre away from Navalonguilla. Leona had heard us and was calling to us! When we finally reached the farm, all bathed in moonlight, there she was standing on top of the dry stone dyke waiting for us. Needless to say I felt obliged to dismount and say goodnight, before continuing on our way, as did she, back to her goats.

In all these years Leona has never tried to follow me or leave the farm in spite of her obvious excitement when she approaches us yelping out her musical greetings. In January this year, I rode through the farm a couple of days without seeing her. I was sick with worry, like missing an old friend and fearing for them. I rode by Josefina’s house but got no answer, two days in a row. Finally, riding down the Navahermosa road I met Francisco in his wee green car – “And Leona? Where is she? Has something happened to her?” – I asked. Francisco replied – “She’s fine, she’s in season so we’ve shut her in”.

Simultaneous sigh of relief and lump in my throat.

Nerón, Paul and Leona at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Nerón, Paul and Leona at Navalonguilla. Drawing: © Jan Nimmo

Chaparro and I spend long hours alone out on the paths of the Sierra. It’s not like the old days, before enclosure, when the countryside was populated, with every cortijo inhabited by people who looked after the land and cared for the livestock; so now it’s always nice to meet other living things; pigs, goats, sheep, mongooses, deer, foxes, wild boar, vultures, other horses, donkeys, black and red kites… it even seems that the cork and holm oaks are part of my serrano family. But Leona, well, she has a special status amongst them all. She is, as the Spanish would say, noble – a faithful friend. And, while we are all spared and well, Chaparro and I will continue to find excuses to ride by Navalonguilla to pay Leona a visit.

Jan Nimmo © 2014

Leona, Jan and Chaparro. Photo: © Paul Braham

Leona, Jan and Chaparro. Photo: © Paul Braham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beetroot a la Virtu/ Remolacha a la Virtu.

Allotment produce and dirty clogs at Plot 16. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Allotment produce and dirty clogs at Plot 16. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

At Plot 16 Paul and I try and grow as much of a variety of crops as we can squeeze in and every year some things do better than others but you can never predict what will do well and what will fail. Inspired by watching my friend Iluminado (who looks after Chaparro) in Galaroza, Huelva, watering his crops in his huerta (we’ll never match up to his veggie growing prowess but we can strive to), I was determined to make sure that everything was properly watered this year, so for once we have had half decent beetroots. Other years they have been wizened wee woody things that frankly have gone back into the compost.

My childhood beetroot invariably came picked in vinegar, either shop bought or pickled at home. Having lived in Glasgow for years now, Paul and myself, like anyone in else in the Dear Green City enjoy a curry so one of our favourite things to make with beetroot is a simple Madhur Jaffrey curry.

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Iluminado Tristancho (Picadero de La Suerte) watering “cantero” style in his large kitchen garden in Galaroza, Sierra de Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

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Iluminado Tristancho (Picadero de La Suerte) showing off the marvellous tomatoes from his large kitchen garden in Galaroza, Sierra de Huelva. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Visiting Galaroza regularly for the last ten years I’ve picked up many culinary ideas from my friend, Virtudes, Iluminado’s wife. There’s rarely a day when I return from a ride with Chaparro that I don’t have something to eat with Virtudes and the family, at the stable; Sunday chips cooked on the wood fire and made from home grown red potatoes, with free range eggs and whole cloves of garlic; on a cold day it will be migas. In the evening maybe a snack of grilled sardines and salads and aliños of seasonal veg or simply a tapa of homemade goat’s cheese, home cured ham and olives from the hill above the horses’ corrals. Virtudes is a fantastic cook and is both great at a making local Serrano dishes as well as being open to trying out new dishes and new ingredients. She is very clued up about the properties of the ingredients of her dishes and is extremely health conscious. Garlic is essential to a lot of what she prepares, along with all the other crops that Iluminado grows in his big kitchen garden at the stables; tomatoes, aubergines, onions, potatoes, peppers, courgettes, artichokes, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, parlsey, coriander, chard… and then there are the fruit trees….

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Virtudes, Iluminado’s wife, is a brilliant serrano cook. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Virtudes makes a very simple but delicious dish with beetroot, which we now make here in Glasgow too – we call it “Beetroot a La Virtu”.

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Slow cooking beetroot. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Beetroot cooked with its stalks and skin on then peeled, sliced or chopped in to chunks  when cooked.

Ingredients for "Remolacha al la Virtu". Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Ingredients for “Remolacha al la Virtu”. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

INGREDIENTS

A good glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Finely chopped garlic to taste (best is “Ajo Castaño” – which is a variety favoured in Spain – small heads and purple skinned cloves with a very strong flavour. I buy garlic over there in January and plant it on our allotment).

A generous splash of cider vinegar

A good pinch of sea salt or Malden salt.

Beetroot and lots of garlic. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Beetroot and lots of garlic. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

Mix it all together, cover and leave it the fridge for at least a few hours. Serve as a side dish to accompany salads, tortilla and fish dishes – or just on it’s own. It will keep for a couple of days but it doesn’t last that long in our house; scrumptious and very healthy.

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Remolacha/Beetoot al la Virtu. Photo: © Jan Nimmo

© Jan Nimmo 2014