Category: Gipuzkoa (page 3 of 4)

Basque terroir: The green chili peppers of Gernika and Ibarra

Continuing with our occasional series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, today we’re going to look at the green chili peppers of Gernika (Bizkaia) and Ibarra (Gipuzkoa).

As noted in our previous post on the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta (Lapurdi), the chili pepper itself is a great example of the Columbian exchange. Whereas the red chili peppers of Ezpeleta retain much of their original heat, those of Gernika do not, although the Ibarra variety can be somewhat spicy.

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Gernikako piperrak, from the Eusko Label website.

The green chili peppers of Gernika are about 2-3 inches long and an inch in breadth, wider than those of Ibarra. Derived from the Capsicum annuum species, these chili peppers are characterized by an intense green color. Production takes place between May and October and is not limited to the area of Gernika alone; in fact, any part of the Basque Country in which evapotranspiration levels reach 585 millimeters (23 inches), indicating a temperate Atlantic climate, are potentially suitable for cultivating the pepper.

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Ibarrako piperrak. Photo by Josu Goñi Etxabe, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Like the aforementioned Ezpeleta peppers, these chilies were originally left to mature until they turned red, and indeed this is still done today, although in this latter case it is more typical in Bizkaia to dry them for later use in soups and garnishes. The green variety, however, is prepared freshly, with the classic preparation being to fry them and add a little salt at the end. They can be served separately, as an appetizer, or as an accompaniment to a main dish such as steak.

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Gildas in Donostia. Photo by Biskuit, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The green chilies of Ibarra–piperrak or piperminak in Basque, guindillas in Spanish–are slightly longer (2-5 inches) and thinner than those of Gernika, and are popularly referred to as the “king prawns of Ibarra.” They are typically planted in April or May and harvested any time between July and November, whenever they are judged to be at their optimum level. As with the Gernika peppers a typical dish involves frying the Ibarra peppers and adding a little salt at the end, serving them as an aperitif or appetizer. In contrast to their Bizkaian counterparts, however, Ibarra peppers are also pickled in wine vinegar and sold commercially in jars. Pickled Ibarra peppers can also be served as an appetizer, adding a little extra virgin olive oil, and they also form an integral part of one of the classic Basque pintxos: the Gilda – a combination of olives, salty anchovies, and peppers.

Be sure to check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute. You can download a free copy here.

August 9, 1846: Famous pilota match held in Irun

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Errebotea match played in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa, 1863. Painting by Gustave Colin (1828-1910), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, August 9, 1846, witnessed one of the most famous ever pilota or pelota matches, held in the border town of Irun, Gipuzkoa. It was the errebotea (rebound) form of the game, a long-style form in which the teams return the ball to each other directly without hitting it against any wall. Moreover, as in Jai-Alaia, xisterak or hand-held baskets are typically used to strike the ball.

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Jean Errachun, “Kaskoina” (1817-1859).

That August day, the match involved one team from Hegoalde competing against another from Iparralde. And the latter–the eventual winners–featured the greatest player of the day, Jean Errachun (Erratxun in modern Basque orthography), who also went by the surname Darritchon, from Hazparne, Lapurdi. Knicknamed “Gaskoi(n)a” or “Kaskoi(n)a” poetry was even composed in his honor:

Kaskoinaren trunkoa/Trunko bat iduri/Orotarik hartza du iduri.
The bust of Gaskoina/ is like a tree trunk/ he himself is just like a bear.

“But beneath the rough exterior,” notes Philippe Veyrin in The Basques of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre (p. 349), “was concealed the strength of a Hercules, an imperturbable composure, and a dazzlingly adroit technique.”

In Basque Pelota: A Ritual, An Aesthetic, Olatz González Abrisketa states (p. 186):

According to the French newspaper Journal du Havre, twelve thousand people turned up for the game in Irun, and campsites had to be set up in the vicinity. People from all the Basque provinces converged on Irun; they left their homes two or three days earlier on horseback, by oxen, or other means, sufficiently supplied with money in order to wager on the game.

The centripetal force of pelota attracted thousands of people to a specific place, normally an open ground by the more representative areas of the village or villa. Grounds were leveled and slopes eliminated, and courts situated by churches or ramparts whose walls were used for the game. At first these grounds were probably unfenced, and it was the crowd itself, its bodies, that marked the boundaries of the court.

What’s more, Veyrin goes on to say that those present:

were at such a fever-pitch that some of them, unable to afford a ticket, wagered their heads of cattle, and even their future maize harvests! The hero of this joust is said to have won four thousand gold francs; he won with the help of Gamio, a priest from the Baztan Valley, Harriague of Hazparne, Saint-Jean of Uztaritze (Ustaritz), and Domingo of Ezpeleta. We know the names and nicknames of only three of their opponents: Melchior, Tripero, and Molinero. Gaskoina fell prey to typhus in 1859 and died at the peak of his powers in his native village, at the age of forty-two.

Important classical music and dance festival begins tomorrow in Donostia

One of the major events on the calendar for classical music fans in the Basque Country is Hamabostaldia, an August festival made up of both music and dance performances that gets underway tomorrow, and runs through the end of the month.

Dating originally from 1939, the festival was reorganized in the late 1970s when the city council took control of the event. It subsequently got the backing of both the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa and the Basque government and is now the premier occasion of its kind in the Basque Country. Quoting the festival website:

Opera, ballet, the great symphonic orchestras, the small chamber groups, the romantic organ, the choral groups, contemporary composers, local promises, the great names of the international scene, the shows for children… all of them have a place in this Festival that beyond its main headquarters at the Kursaal Palace and the Victoria Eugenia Theatre resounds in many and singular spaces, not only in Donostia but also in Gipuzkoan territory.

Besides concerts and performances of many kinds, there are also spin-offs such as courses and musical summer camps, all designed to encourage and promote the enjoyment and appreciation of classical music in all its forms.

Among this year’s highlights (and check out the full program here) will be a performance of Wagner’s ballet Tristan and Isolda by the Grand Théâtre de Genève Ballet Company, as well as a rendition of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, with a cast including Christopher Maltman, Nicole Cabell, Irina Lungu, Daniel Giulianini, José Faldilha, Miren Urbieta-Vega, and Jose Manuel Díaz, music by the Basque National Orchestra conducted by Manuel Hernández Silva, and the accompaniment of the Easo Choir.

Finally, a spectacular finale to the event will witness the first ever joint performance of the Basque National Orchestra and the Bilbao Symphony Orchestra, who will be joined by the Orfeón Donostiarra-Donostiako Orfeoia and the Orfeón Pamplonés-Iruñeko Orfeoia, to perform “Te Deum” by Hector Berlioz, “The Lord’s Prayer” by Francisco de Medina, and “Gernika” by Pablo Sorozabal.

Be sure to check out Karlos Sánchez Ekiza’s Basque Classical Music, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute free to download here.

July 22, 1795: Basque territory included in Peace of Basel

The Peace of Basel, signed on July 22, 1795 between Revolutionary France and the Kingdom of Spain, ended the War of the Pyrenees (1793-1795). During that war, French troops had occupied much of Hegoalde and there was even support among certain groups in Gipuzkoa for the province being fully annexed by France.

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War of the Pyrenees, 1793-1795. Created by Djmaschek, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License.

In the negotiations leading up to the signing of the Peace of Basel in 1795 the French enjoyed the upper hand and seriously considered holding on to Gipuzkoa, but ultimately the wider global context–and especially the offer of economically appealing terrain in the Caribbean–meant that Gipuzkoa would be returned to the Kingdom of Spain.

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Map of Hispaniola by Nicolas de Fer. Original in The John Carter Brown Library, Brown University. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

A century earlier, by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697), the western part of the Spanish-controlled island of Hispaniola had been ceded to the French, who were eager to expand their own power and influence in the Caribbean. Indeed, this was a feature of both pre- and post-revolutionary France. During the negotiations over the 1795 peace treaty, Spain was desperate to recover its lost “national” territory (and punish those people in in Gipuzkoa who had sided with the French), so much so that it offered France complete control of Hispaniola in exchange for the return of the occupied Basque lands (and other territory in Catalonia).

Additionally, there was an annex to the treaty by which any Basques in Hegoalde (and specifically Gipuzkoa) who had shown sympathies for the occupying French were given guarantees of receiving no reprisals from Spanish authorities. Yet the immediate effects of the treaty for Gipuzkoa, and Donostia-San Sebastián in particular, were severe: many of the political and military leaders who had attempted to broker a deal with the French invaders were arrested, along with ordinary citizens, and sentenced to jail sentences, exile, and even in one case–that of José Javier Urbiztondo–death by hanging.

Across the Atlantic, France found it increasingly difficult to hold the island and its forces were withdrawn in 1803. Following a successful slave revolt, the independent Republic of Haiti (in the western part of the island marking the original territory of French settlement) was proclaimed in 1804. In the eastern part of the island, meanwhile, a more tortuous path eventually resulted in a lasting independence (following previous attempts in 1821 and 1844) for the Dominican Republic in 1865.

Basque locations for upcoming season of HBO Series Game of Thrones

It was confirmed recently that the dramatic setting of the Itzurun Beach in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa, will provide one of the locations for season 7 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. Shooting will take place over 6 days in late October.

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Itzurun Beach, Zumaia. Photo by Kurtxio, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The beach features one of the world’s best examples of the flysch sequence of sedimentary rocks. See a previous post we did on the area here and a report on the story here.

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The Gaztelugatxe islet, Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by multisanti, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Basque dailies Gara and Berria report that filming for the series will also take place in Bermeo, Bizkaia; and that the show previously shot some scenes in the equally dramatic “badlands” setting of the Bardenas Reales/Errege Bardeak in Navarre. See the original reports by Gara (in Spanish) here and here, and Berria (in Basque) here.

Mutriku Wave Energy Plant celebrates fifth anniversary

Yesterday, July 18, the Mutriku Wave Energy Plant in Gipuzkoa, the world’s first breakwater wave power plant with a multiple turbine arrangement, run by the Basque Country Energy Agency, celebrated its fifth anniversary. The relatively scarce development of oceanic wave energy makes the Mutriku site a pioneer project at the global level.

The Mutriku Wave Energy Plant has just produced its first gigawatt of electricity from the breakwaters of the Mutriku harbor, enough to supply a hundred homes. But the plant is also also an experimental site, used to test out turbines and auxiliary equipment.

As regards the technical specifications, the plant itself is a hollow, trapezoidal structure with a submerged front opening and an opening at the top. The front opening is 3.20m high and four meters wide. Each of the 16 air chambers in the hollow structure houses a turbine weighing 1,200kg. The turbines are 2.83m high and four meters wide, and work with air. They do not, however, contain a gearbox, hydraulics, or pitching blades.The 16 turbines are connected to an 18.5kW turbo generator. A butterfly valve at the bottom of the generator enables isolation of the generator from the turbines whenever required. Any salts or impurities blocking the blades are removed by injecting fresh water. The plant is also installed with control and power conditioning equipment. The voltage of the current is stepped up using a transformer near the plant. Generated power is transferred through a transmission line.

For further and more detailed information on the project, see “Mutriku Wave Power Plant: From The Thinking Out to The Reality.”

If you’re interested in this topic, check out the Center publication Sustainable Development, Ecological Complexity, and Environmental Values, edited by Ignacio Ayestarán and Miren Onaindia. This is a fascinating study of how global issues such as sustainability are addressed at the local scale, in this case in the Basque Country.

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival, comes to Donostia

EMUSIK, the European Music School Festival came to Donostia and surrounding towns this past May 4-7. The festival, involving 8,500 pupils of music schools from all over Europe and 120 concerts, was part of the ongoing series of events associated with Donostia’s position as European Capital of Culture 2016.

The city was transformed for a few days into a lively hubbub of sound and color from all corners of Europe.

 

Gregorio Salegui, the St. Francis ice-cream maker

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The St. Francis Hotel kitchen. Gregorio is the second from the left.

We have had an amazing response to our series of stories from the 2-volume work, Basques in the United States, with principal research by Koldo San Sebastián, and with the assistance of Argitxu Camus-Etxekopar, Joxe Mallea-Olaetxe, Jone Laka, and José Luis Madarieta and more. We’d like to thank everyone who’s gotten in touch with us and remind anyone out there with a story to tell from their own family history to visit the special site we’ve set up (details below at the end of the post).

This week, just to show you that there are many, many more such stories to tell, we’re delighted to introduce a guest post, written by Koldo San Sebastián himself, featuring a someone who didn’t make it into the first edition of this monumental work, but will certainly feature in future editions. So many thanks to Koldo for sharing this with us, and let this be an inspiration to those of you out there with your own family stories to tell!

St Francis

The emblematic St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, San Francisco. Opened in 1904, it immediately gained a reputation as one of the most fashionable places to stay in the city.

The St. Francis on Union Square in San Francisco is one of the most famous hotels in the world, because of both its history and its guests, and, of course, its cuisine.  Its guests once included the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Cecil B. DeMille, Sinclair Lewis, and Isadora Duncan, as well as US presidents who stayed there while visiting the city. The St. Francis gained a global reputation for its cuisine thanks to its legendary French chef, Victor Hirtzler, whose extravagant recipes were published in The Hotel St. Francis Cookbook (1919). The deserts and ice creams on the St. Francis menu were equally famous and included fruit salad in iced water as well as nectarine, peach, banana, pineapple, vanilla, and coffee ice cream, together with “fancy ice cream,” “orange souffle glace,” “biscuit glace,” and many more. And into this world of opulence and ice cream, in which he left an important mark, came a burly carpenter from Deba, Gipuzkoa, Gregorio Salegui, after a long odyssey full of contrasts.

Gregorio was born in Itziar on February 14, 1889. He was the fifth of the six children of Francisco Salegui and Francisca Urain, both from Itziar. Another two sisters had died shortly after being born. As custom dictated, he was expected to help out at home and, while still a child, he was sent to nearby Mendaro to study carpentry. However, he didn’t take to the trade and, on the point of being called up for the Spanish military draft, he decided–like many other Basques–to “head for the Americas and make his fortune.”

As a matter of fact, Gregorio Salegui’s American adventure began in an ice-cream parlor in Manhattan, having arrived in New York in 1909. He had crossed the Atlantic with José Uruazabal and his family. Uruazabal was from Usurbil, Gipuzkoa, and owned a fruit shop on 7th Avenue. Gregorio moved in for a while into the Uruazabal home, lodging there with a number of cooks, waiters, and other hotel employees in the neighborhood. One of these was the landlord’s brother, Frank Uruazabal, who was an ice-cream maker, and Gregorio soon found employment as a waiter in the ice cream parlor where Frank worked.

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The river steamer and its crew.

In the meantime, his sister Concepción, who was married to a friend of his from Mendaro, Eufemio Lizarzaburu, had arrived in the US. Eufemio worked aboard a river steamer on the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest, known for possessing the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. And in 1911, Gregorio left his job in the ice-cream parlor to head west and settled in Portland, Oregon, with his family there. Through his brother-in-law he got a job aboard the Beaver, a ship owned by the Clatskanie Transportation Company. And thereafter he worked as a deckhand, kitchen assistant, and cook for five years, before trying his luck in California.

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The lively Ocean Park neighborhood of Santa Monica.

In 1917 he was working at the celebrated Symmes Café in Ocean Park, Santa Monica, CA, which, what’s more, also included a renowned ice-cream parlor. There at the Symmes he improved his ice-cream making skills, but this was interrupted when he was called up to serve the US during World War I.

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Gregorio in uniform, 1918.

In 1918 he joined the 2nd Light Infantry Regiment as a cook, although a few months later he was discharged on medical grounds. While in boot camp he began the naturalization procedure to become a US citizen.

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Gregorio in later life.

In 1920, having married Berta Clark from Kansas, he was working as a cook in San Diego. He was later employed as a cook at the Clifford Hotel before getting a job in the kitchen at the St. Francis. In 1928, he married again, this time to French-born Marie Therése Mesplou with whom he had three children: Jean François, Eugene, and Genevieve. He died in San Francisco on March 31, 1957.

We intend for this work to be more than just an encyclopedic reference; we’d like it to be a true forum for sharing stories and anecdotes about the thousands of Basque women and men who forged new lives for themselves in the US.

If you’d like to share your own family stories with us, please click here at our dedicated Basques in the United States Project website.

Basque terroir: The apples of Errezil

Continuing with our series on terroir–a concept explaining the connection between a particular food or drink product and a particular location–in the Basque Country, let’s take a look at the noble apple or sagar(ra) in Basque.

Although apple trees originated in Central Asia, they exist worldwide today and it has even been contended that they were the first trees to be specifically cultivated by humans. The huge variety of apples means that they can be cultivated in different climatic conditions and at different altitudes. In the year 7 CE, the Greek geographer Strabo (64 BCE-24 CE) wrote of the Basques as a race of apple eaters and (by definition) cider drinkers (fear not, we’ll devote a separate post to cider). And apples have had important mythological and even religious significance for many cultures down the centuries.

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Errezil or Ibarbi(a) apples

Specifically Basque apple varieties include Txalaka, Urtebi, Txori sagarra, Geza-mina, Aritza, and Boskantoi, but one usually stands out: the Errezil or Ibarbi(a) apple, named after the village of Errezil in the Urola Valley of Gipuzkoa. It is acidic in flavor and green-yellow in color with brown spots. It is medium in size and and kind of crushed shape, with a hard and rough skin, as explained here. Indeed, Errezil Apple Day is held every year in December, following the fall harvesting period. While the Errezil apple is obviously associated with the village it’s named after, it is also cultivated throughout the Basque Country.

A very traditional and simple recipe in  the Basque Country is that of baked apples. Remove the apple cores, add a little sugar and butter inside the hollowed-out space, place them in a dish and bake in a preheated oven (medium-high, about 450ºF/180ºC) for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of the apples. The apples are done when they’re caramelized and soft to the touch. Other options include sprinkling some cinnamon over the apples to begin with and/or adding a little honey instead of sugar. But remember, when it comes to cooking–and come to think of, many other things–the real Basque way is as simple as possible… let the main raw ingredient speak for itself!

If food is your thing, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, a publication of the Etxepare Basque Institute. You can download a free copy here.

February 22, 1926: The Urola Railroad Inaugurated

On February 22, 1926, the Urola railroad, linking the towns of Zumarraga and Zumaia in Gipuzkoa, was inaugurated by the Spanish king, Alfonso XIII. It was the first electrified railroad in the Spanish state and operated until 1986, closing definitively in 1988.

It was originally envisaged as both a passenger and freight line, connecting key towns in the nascent industrial and demographic growth of this river valley in Gipuzkoa. Starting at Zumarraga, a station on the main Madrid-Irun line, this narrow-gauge railroad followed the Urola River, stopping at towns like Azkoitia and Azpeitia, as well as important destinations for many visitors like Loiola (the birthplace of St. Ignatius of Loiola and home to the Sanctuary bearing his name) and the Zestoa spa, before finishing at the port town of Zumaia.

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Zumaia station. The terminus for the old Urola railroad line.

In its early years it was transporting just under 400,000 people annually, and during its most successful period in the 1950s and 1960s, 800,000 people used the line annually (with a record number of just under a million in 1962). As regards freight, it transported around 55,000 metric tons annually until the mid-1950s, when freight services began to decline in part due to improved road connections (by the end of its lifetime the Urola line was only transporting 2,000 metric tons annually).

In the 1980s, a Basque government report stated that, without significant investment, the line would have to be closed (to be replaced by a bus service for passengers).  Despite significant protest, including a 1988 demonstration involving 7,000 people, the line was ultimately closed.

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Steam locomotive “Portugal” E205 with railroad cars on the line between the Basque Railway Museum in Azpeitia and Lasao. Photo by Nils Öberg, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today, however, the Urola railroad is enjoying a new lease of life, at least in part, through the auspices of the Basque Railway Museum in Azpeitia. Here, as well as visiting the impressive collection, enthusiasts old and young alike can enjoy a charming ride to Lasao and back (a 10 km/6 miles round-trip) on an old steam train. Having done this myself last year, I’m still not sure who enjoyed themselves more on that ride, the kids or the drivers!

Check out this short article on the Urola line, part of a wider series of articles about the railroad in Gipuzkoa that also includes an interesting piece here on the Basque Railway Museum.

Modern railroads, and especially the new project for a high-speed train service in the Basque Country and beyond, are central to Nagore Calvo Mendizabal’s argument in her compelling study, Building the Basque City: The Political Economy of Nation-Building.  If you thought that railroads and nation-building were a relic of the past, of nineteenth-century industrialization and growth, think again. Railroads are still a highly political, as well as economic, issue, and impact people’s very group identity, as adeptly demonstrated in this remarkable work.

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