Tag: basque food (page 1 of 4)

Happy to be Basque

Today, March 20, is Happiness Day! So what is it that makes you happy to be Basque or know Basques? Here are a few things we like about the Basque Country:

Itsasoa, the Sea

Ocean waves meet Ondarraitz Beach in Hendaia, Lapurdi. Photo by Josu Goñi Etxabe, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mendiak, the Mountains

The Urrutia baserri in Atxondo, Bizkaia, framed by the mythical Mount Anboto. Photo by Etxaburu, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Janaria, the Food

An organic produce fair. Photo by arangoierri, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Arnoa/Ardoa, the Wine

AOC Irouléguy rosé, gold-medal winner at the 2015 International Wine Challenge. Photo by Marianne Casamance, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Tradizioa, Tradition

Crowds gather in Pamplona-Iruñea to celebrate the beginning of the San Fermin Festival. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Jendea, the People

Accordion and tambourine players in Zarautz, Gipuzkoa. Photo by Antxon Etxeberria, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, it is also the first day of spring, also known as the Spring Equinox, giving us a chance to bask(que) in the sun for a few more hours and take advantage of the activities and people that give us happiness. And don’t forget, yesterday was Father’s Day, the feast day of San José or Saint Joseph, so be thankful for your aita!

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 2

In a previous post we spoke about the increasing public face of women chefs and their contribution to the Basque gastronomic scene.  But did you know that women played a prominent role in establishing the Basque restaurant world in the first place? In what follows, I gratefully acknowledge the information offered by both Olga Macias Muñoz and food blogger Biscayenne (aka Ana Vega) in the articles cited below. Eskerrik asko!

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Women take a stroll on the beach in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1915. Photo by Ricardo Martín. The picture captures something of the vigor and arguably even empowerment that women could increasingly express in turn-of-the-century Basque society. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Azcaray Sisters

Vicenta, Úrsula, and Sira Azcaray Eguileor were born in 1866, 1870,  and 1870 respectively, into a comfortable middle-class family from what is today the Abando neighborhood of Bilbao. Their mother, the redoubtable Felipa Eguileor (1831-1898), was already a successful restaurateur-businesswoman who had married Sebastián Azcaray, vice chairman of the Bank of Bilbao. In 1886 the couple founded what would become a thriving restaurant, El Amparo, in Bilbao, in which Felipa prepared traditional Basque dishes, but on Sebastián’s death, she was left widowed with four children to look after (the youngest, a son Enrique). The girls were thus sent to study cooking in France and prepare for careers in the restaurant business. On their return, they helped their mother at El Amparo and the resulting fusion cuisine–between what they learned from the traditional Basque cooking of their mother and their studies in France–led to the restaurant occupying a distinguished place at the vanguard of Basque gastronomy in turn-of-the-century Bilbao, a golden age for the city that was experiencing a major industrial boom and significant economic growth. The restaurant closed its doors in 1918 on the death of Vicenta Azcaray, although her sisters continued to operate a catering business thereafter. After the death of his last sister, Sira, Enrique gathered together all the notes and recipes written down by the siblings and published them in book form in 1933; a work that remains a classic today in Bilbao and beyond.

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A 1949 edition of the recipe book by the Azcaray Eguileor sisters. From Biscayenne’s food blogging site.

Maria Mestayer de Echagüe: The “Marquess of Parabere”

Maria Manuela Eugenia Carolina Mestayer Jaquet was born in 1878 in Bilbao, the daughter of Eugenio Mestayer Demelier (the French consul in the city) and his local wife, María Jacquet la Salle, the daughter of a well-known Bilbao banker also of French origin. Maria enjoyed a privileged upbringing, attending the best schools and traveling across Europe, where here parents also took her to the most famous restaurants of the day (including that of Auguste Escoffier, the renowned French chef and writer who revolutionized and popularized French cuisine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries). In 1901 she married Ramón Echagüe y Churruca, a wealthy lawyer from Donostia-San Sebastián, and the couple settled in Bilbao.

Early on in her marriage, on realizing that her husband was finding excuses not to come home for lunch, she found out that it was on account of the food being prepared by the domestic staff the couple employed. She therefore decided to study gastronomy and prepare her husband’s meals herself. This she did by a voracious diet of reading everything she could about the history and culture of food. What’s more, the self-taught Maritxu, as she was affectionately known at home, found time to do all this while giving birth to eight children in the process!

Passionate about writing, she began publishing articles about food for newspapers and magazines. She also began giving cooking classes and by the 1920s she was a well-known figure in her own right in Bilbao; famously, she is reputed to have been gifted the first refrigerator to arrive in Bilbao around this time. By the end of the decade she began to use the pseudonym the “Marquess of Parabere” and published the first of her many books on gastronomy, including a work on Basque cuisine in 1935. The following year she embarked on yet another groundbreaking venture, opening her own restaurant (financed with her own money), the Parabere, in Madrid, where she settled while her husband remained in Bilbao.

An initial success, the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War that same year resulted in the Parabere being requisitioned for use by the anarchist CNT labor union, with Maritxu still at the helm. There followed a somewhat crazy period of Casablanca-like intrigues in the restaurant, which was frequented by spies and agents as well as well-known figures like Ernest Hemingway in his capacity as war correspondent during the conflict.  It was while in Madrid, too, that she received news of the death of her husband Ramón during the war. With the triumph of Franco, the restaurant closed and her children moved to Madrid. There she eventually died in 1949.

Nicolasa Pradera

Nicolasa Pradera Mendibe was born in Markina-Xemein, Bizkaia, in 1870. as a young woman she entered into domestic service for the well-to-do Gaitán de Ayala family. When one of the family’s daughters married and settled in Donostia-San Sebastián, Nicolasa moved there with the woman in question to take charge of kitchen duties. There she met and married Narciso Dolhagaray, a well-known butcher in the city. In 1912 the couple opened a restaurant, the Casa Nicolasa, which also introduced a French touch into traditional Basque cuisine and quickly attracted the attention of the city’s high society. In 1932 she sold the Casa Nicolasa to Maria Urrestarazuri and opened another establishment together with her children, Andia, in the city. And in 1933 a book of her recipes was published that still sells today. Following the civil war she moved to Madrid where she opened another restaurant, Nicolasa. She died in Madrid in 1959.

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Nicolasa Pradera’s emblematic work.

Note: Casa Nicolasa, founded by Nicolasa Pradera in 1912, continued to be one of the main reference points of the Donostia-San Sebastián restaurant scene through much of the 20th century. In 1996 the renowned Basque chef José Juan Castillo took over the restaurant, which he ran until his retirement in 2010. The site, an emblematic feature of the city center, was subsequently converted into the Casa Nicolasa guesthouse.

Publications

All these women were connected not just in the innovative techniques they introduced and the prominent roles they occupied in championing and developing Basque cuisine–one could even say in laying the foundations for the international reputation of Basque cooking–but also in their didactic or instructive influence on the gastronomy of the country.  The recipes of the Azcaray sisters were first published posthumously in 1930 as El Amparo, sus 685 platos clásicos (El Amparo, its 685 favorite recipes). Likewise, Maria Mestayer was a prolific author who published many works, among them La Enciclopedia Culinaria: la cocina completa (The culinary encyclopedia: Complete cooking) in 1933 and Platos escogidos de la cocina vasca, Entremeses, aperitivos y ensaladas (Selected dishes of Basque cuisine, appetizers, snacks, and salads) in 1934. Finally, as noted, Nicolasa Pradera’s La cocina de Nicolasa (Nicolasa’s kitchen), first published in 1933, is still a well-loved book today.

A Long List

These are just some of the important women in the history of Basque gastronomy, but they are by no means the only ones, so I list here a few more names by way of at least recognizing their contribution as well (all the establishments named here were in Bilbao): (María) Dolores Vedia de Uhagón (b. 1809) from Bilbao, author of Libro de Cocina a propósito para La Mesa Vizcaína (1892); Brígida de Murua Izaguirre, owner of and head chef at the Hotel Boulevard; Elvira Arias de Apraiz (1856-1922) from Vitoria-Gasteiz, author of Libro de cocina (1912); Pura Iturralde Gorostiaga (1898-1984), who owned and ran the famed Shanti El Marinero restaurant; Antonia Idígoras, owner of the Hotel Antonia (the first Bilbao hotel to be included in the Michelin Guide, in 1927); Josefa Aloa Ugarte, chef at the hotel-restaurant Ocerinjaúregui inn; Clarita de Armendáriz, joint owner and chef at the Armendáriz; Tomasa de Asúa, chef at the Chacolí de Zoilo restaurant; and the sisters Luisa and Escolástica Goikoetxea who ran the Las Navarras inn.

By way of conclusion, I’ll cite part of the prologue to the first edition of La cocina de Nicolasa, written by Gregorio Marañón–one of the towering figures of Spanish intellectual life in the 20th century–who wrote of Basque women’s influence on their national cuisine:

attentive and intelligent cooking dates back, without any doubt, hundreds of years in these provinces; because one does not improvise in just a few generations the profound disposition, almost specific to these people, toward the gastronomic art that Bizkaian, Gipuzkoan, and Navarrese women have, women made of ancient noble attributes, among whom I place this admirable culinary aptitude.

 

Further Reading

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: las hermanas Azcaray y El Amparo.”

Biscayenne, “Bilbainas&Cocineras: Maritxu, la marquesa de Parabere,” part I and part II.

Olga Macías Muñoz, “Cocineras vascas: tradición e innovación en las postrimerías del siglo XIX y comienzos del siglo XX,” in Euskonews no. 525, March 19-26, 2010.

The Marquise of Parabere website, dedicated to the history of this fascinating woman and including photos, articles, and recipes.

 

Women chefs and their influence on Basque gastronomy: Part 1

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Zuriñe Garcia, head chef at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia.

I’m sure everyone out there is aware of the reputation of Basque cuisine at the world level. The food and drink of the Basque Country now serve as major attractions for visitors to this singular and spirited little corner of Europe, where world-renowned chefs like Juan Mari Arzak, Martin Berasategi, Pedro Subijana, Hilario Arbelaitz, Andoni Aduriz, Eneko Atxa, and Victor Arguinzoniz, among many others, ply their trade. While all these chefs publicly acknowledge, whenever they can, the influence of their mothers on their own love of cooking, what about Basque women chefs? How come women’s names appear to be missing from such lists?

The first and most obvious answer is that women’s names could of course be added to any checklist of contemporary Basque chefs. The first name that immediately springs to mind is Elena Arzak, joint owner with her father, Juan Mari, of the Arzak restaurant. Indeed, after its beginnings as a bar in 1897, Arzak was converted into a restaurant and later run, on the death of her husband Juan Ramon Arzak, by her grandmother, Francisca “Paquita” Arratibel. Juan Mari was nine-years-old at the time, and in the words of Elena, in an interview with The Guardian (see below): “He was an only child surrounded by women, in a matriarchy … I think that is why he idolises women now.” Indeed, today, Arzak is 80 percent female, with six women chefs in the kitchen.

Besides Elena Arzak, both Zuriñe Garcia at the Andra Mari restaurant in Galdakao, Bizkaia, and Pilar Idoate, who heads up the Europa hotel-restaurant in Pamplona-Iruñea, have Michelin stars.

Alongside such prominent women chefs, Basque-language TV viewers may well be familiar with Aizpea Oihaneder, who, as well as presenting her own cooking show on ETB1, Oihaneder bere satsan, jointly runs the Xarma Jatetxea in Donostia-San Sebastián with Xabi Diez. Likewise, Eva Arguiñano, from Beasain, Gipuzkoa, is a well-known TV chef, while also working at the restaurant of her brother, the famous Karlos Arguiñano. We could also list other contemporary women chefs like Txaro Zapiain at the Roxario restaurant and cider house in Astigarraga, Gipuzkoa, Estibaliz Mekoalde at the Castillo de Arteaga restaurant in Gautegiz-Arteaga, Bizkaia, and Aitziber Lekerika at the Errekaondo restaurant in Zamudio, Bizkaia (to name just a few).

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Nieves Barragán Mohacho, from Santurtzi. Picture from the Barrafina website.

Mention should also be made of the growing reputation of Nieves Barragán Mohacho from Santurtzi, Bizkaia, the Executive Head Chef of the Michelin-starred Barrafina in London, where, as in the case of Arzak, other women chefs are front and center in the kitchen. Barrafina was named UK restaurant of the year in 2015 (and runner-up in 2016) as well as being named the OFM Awards Best Restaurant 2016. In the words of Four Magazine:

Nieves Barragán Mohacho grew up in the Basque region of Spain, in the capital city of Bilbao. From a young age she was aware of food and cooking. Her mother spent most of her time looking after Nieves’s grandmother in the house and so to keep Nieves entertained she involved her in the kitchen’s daily activity. She began with simple things, peeling potatoes and stirring the contents of pans but progressed quickly and by the age of seven Nieves was roasting her own chicken. Nieves quickly understood there was an abundance of excellent local ingredients that surrounded her and a strong tradition of local cooking.

Nor should we forget the huge contribution of one of the main ambassadors of Basque cuisine abroad, Teresa Barrenechea from Bilbao, whose Marichu restaurant was such a feature of the New York restaurant scene for many years.

So things are changing, it would seem. But it’s also interesting to note an arguably forgotten dimension to this story: the historical impact of women chefs on Basque gastronomy. In fact, Paquita Arratibel, who established Arzak as a restaurant, was only one of many women pioneers in the Basque restaurant world, and there were others before her … a story we continue in Part 2 of this post tomorrow.

Further Reading

Allan Jenkins, “Elena Arzak: The best female chef on the planet,The Guardian, August 19, 2012.

Rachael Pells, “Barrafina: No reservations about Britain’s best restaurant, which puts female chefs centre stage,” The Independent, July 5, 2015.

Sudi Pigott, “Why a Basque woman’s place is in the kitchen,” The Independent, April 27, 2012.

 

Basques abroad

It is hard to believe I am finally here in the Basque Country.  I’m tempted to say that I’ve waited a long time to get here to Euskalherria to start my fieldwork, but that wouldn’t be a completely accurate statement.  I could even say with some certainty that this year’s work and life in the Basque Country will represent both a reduction and culmination of my life’s interests and experiences, however, that would be limiting to the extensions of those same interests which lead me here:  languages, culture, wine, travel, food, diversity, and making connections with people around the world.  So, before sharing the amazing experiences I’ve already had while studying here, I would like to highlight those which were had before my arrival to the Basque Country this January.

Knowing I would be conducting fieldwork here for a whole year, I wanted to take advantage of the time and opportunity to travel to South America with my father.  In 2014, I spent an amazing time learning about the production and wine-making process in Casablanca, Chile.  With so much Basque heritage there, I was delighted to discover that the Basque diaspora still held its roots firmly planted in this South American country.  Finding the popular Basque wine called Chacoli was an adventure I won’t forget (see previous blog to read more about Chacoli in South America), discovering the ways in which a culture can change and be maintained across the globe.  But before returning to Chile, my dad and I checked out some Basque culture in Argentina.

I had come to know of a Basque restaurant from a man who had wandered into the Center for Basque Studies  before my departure.  He told me about his family and how one of them had started a restaurant in Buenos Aires.  I mentioned I’d be heading there soon, so he gave me the information to find Leiketio.  The food and drink which combined aspects of both Basque and Latin American cuisine were amazing. However, the most satisfying part of the meal was being able to use the little Basque I had acquired from the previous summer to speak to a server who had recently moved from the Basque Country.

My second encounter with Basque culture in South America happened after my dad had returned to the US, and I had moved on for my second visit to Chile.  I was in the beautiful, historic town of Valparaiso, listening to music and enjoying the warmer weather when a couple had passed me speaking Basque.  I started talking to them and found out they were the band Niña Coyote and Chico Tornado (and very well known I might add in the Basque Country! See below for a clip of their music).  Also turns out the family of one of the members lived on the same street that I currently live now here in Euskalherria!

Just goes to show that si, el mundo es un pañuelo! Hau bai mundu txikia! It’s a small world!

I hope to keep making these cross-cultural connections over the next year here.  Stay tuned for more adventures in fieldwork from here in Euskalherria!

 

2017: The Year of Basque Cuisine?

More than just a sausage! The great (and blanket-free) txistorra or chistorra. Image by Flickr user jlastras, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Is 2017 the year of Basque cuisine? Perhaps (although for all of us here at the Center, every year is the year of Basque cuisine!). We recently came across a charming post by epicurean adventurer and culinary sleuth Christina Mueller for the  online restaurant-reservation service Open Table that, if you’re at all interested in Basque food, is well worth checking out. Titled “Basque to the Future: 2017 Will be the Year of Basque Cuisine,” she takes us on a quick culinary ride through the contemporary Basque cuisine on offer in the United States today. In her own words:

Basque cuisine has a long history in the western United States, but many chefs across the country have recently discovered the unique ingredients and storied history of the region that straddles northeastern Spain and southwestern France. Traditionalists will revel in the regional flavors that mark Basque cuisine while modernists will exult in new interpretations that are emerging from forward-thinking chefs around the country.

So if you want to find out where you can ask for Chistorra in a Blanket or a Veal Tongue Bocadillo … mmmm, my mouth’s watering already …  check out the full post here.

And if you haven’t done so already, check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

Some Basque Christmas customs from the Center’s books

Last year, we did a post on several end-of-year traditions in Basque culture and with the holiday season just around the corner, we thought it would be nice to share some other Basque Christmas customs as described in a few of the great books we publish.

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First let’s take a look at what Julio Caro Baroja, in his classic work The Basques, has to say about the holiday season in Basque culture, and particularly about traditional customs in the area between northern Gipuzkoa and Navarre:

The Christmas holidays show different characteristics according to the zones. The name Gabon, which is very widespread, seems to be a simple translation of Nochebuena (Christmas Eve). More interesting are the names Eguberriak (new days), which seems to allude to the days surrounding the winter solstice rather than to any Christian notion; xubilaro (season of the log), reported in Lower Navarre; and Olentzaro, typical of the northeast of Gipuzkoa and some towns of the Navarrese Bidasoa, which in another time belonged to the diocese of Baiona. The custom, very widespread through all the west and southern Europe, of putting a great log on the fire on Christmas Eve, a log whose ashes are believed to kill vermin, or that is only partly burned and kept to be put on the fire quickly in a storm, is the reason behind the Lower Navarrese name.

The name of Olentzaro is more enigmatic at first glance, but I believe I have shown that it can be translated as “time of the Os,” alluding to “Les O de Nöel” [a set of nine antiphonies all beginning with “o” —trans.], which were sung in different parts of France and for which the days around Christmas there were called les oleries. However, it is interesting to note that a mythical person bears the same name (which has variations in each place), a charcoal burner with reddish eyes, sometimes brutal and menacing, other times grotesque and drunk, who is said to come down the chimney of peasant homes bearing his sickle, to warm himself at the yule log, and who is represented by a child, a boy, or a rag doll that is traipsed around during the collection that takes place on Christmas Eve. This character appears in the songs as an ambassador, herald of the birth of Christ, but on the other hand is related to those that in different countries of Europe are said to come down to Earth around the winter solstice, completely unattached to any Christian idea.

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In Philippe Veyrin’s The Basques: of Lapurdi, Zuberoa, and Lower Navarre: Their History and Their Traditionsmeanwhile, the focus shifts to Iparralde:

The Basques’ poetic repertoire is composed of a great number of lullabies and nursery rhymes, a mere handful of songs for different trades, and countless love songs and satires. Finally, a few songs of religious and moral inspiration seem to be in a less directly popular vein. One interesting category from a folkloric point of view—one that has its own flavor—is that of the aubades or “daybreak songs,” a tradition that has not been entirely lost. This genre is still performed in Donibane Lohizune (Saint-Jean-de-Luz), Ziburu (Ciboure), and Urruña (Urrugne) during the nights of Christmas and New Year’s Eve; in Larraine (Larrau) in Zuberoa on the last Saturday in January; and in many other villages for Candlemas. The theme is always developed in a similar way. There are a few traditional season’s greetings, such as:

Dios te salbe: ongi ethorri       God save you: welcome.
Gabon Jainkoak digula eta     May God grant us good night and
Urte onean sar gaizela            Grant us a good year.

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Wilhelm von Humboldt, who enjoyed a prolonged stay in the Durango area of Bizkaia, writes in his Selected Basque Writings: The Basques and Announcement of a Publication:

The love for the national customs and entertainment is so strong that only few of the many carpenters, that is, those that work far away, even if as far as twenty or twenty-five miles, fail to return to their place of birth for the sole purpose of dining with their wives, children, and friends on Christmas Eve and to fill the town with music for a part of the night.

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And in Basque Culture: Anthropological Perspectives, avialable free to download here, our very own William Douglass and Joseba Zulaika include a description of coastal traditions in Lekeitio, Bizkaia, at this time of the year:

[The schoolchildren of the village] took with them bread baked on Christmas Eve. They cut a cross into each loaf with a knife. Each child then kissed the cross and recited an “Our Father.” The bread was broken into pieces, which were thrown into the sea, along with oil from the lamps of the hermitage of San Juan. In gratitude, the cofradía [fishermen’s brotherhood or association] sponsored a festival for the children on the feast day of Saint Andrew, at which time each child was given bread and cheese.

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Finally, let’s share some wonderful reminiscences about traditional Basque-American family life at this time of year, as recounted in the late Joan Errea’s evocative My Mama Marie:

In the autumn, when the sheep were trailed down toward the ranch, the herders would come for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas, for the big feasts that we held. Of course, the fete would go on until early morning and then each sick man came around for a big plate of bahachuri sopa, or garlic soup, which was known to cure hangovers.

Each year at Christmas, every herder was given a present of two pairs of Levis or overalls, two shirts, four pairs of socks (although some never wore socks, preferring to wrap their feet in gunny sacks), two pairs of shoes, and a hand-knit sweater that Mama made during the course of the year.

Don’t forget, our Holiday Sale is still good through Tuesday, December 27 … 35% off book orders … don’t miss out!  Click here for details.

What do Basques eat during the Holiday Season?

“Make sure to buy good fish and wine because Christmas only happens once a year. And Christmas is for people to enjoy. At least for those who can … Have a good Christmas. I’m planning on spending it with the sheep.”

Part of a letter from a Basque sheepherder back home to the Old Country, quoted in John Bieter and Mark Bieter, An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho, p. 43.

This poignant letter is, I think, a reminder to all of us about the connection between special times of the year or celebrations and certain food rituals: A Fourth of July barbecue or a Thanksgiving meal including turkey and pumpkin pie, for example. So how do Basques celebrate the holiday season when it comes to food? What’s on the menu in Basque homes? I don’t think there’s any straightforward answer to this question, and I’m even more certain that I’ll miss something somewhere along the line in my attempt to answer it (so apologies beforehand!). First of all, the main meal at which families sit down together to celebrate is dinner on Christmas Eve, rather than a Christmas-day lunch. But from there, the food ritual can go in a number of directions (including even pizza nowadays I guess).

In former times, and maybe still even today, prior to sitting down to the meal, a loaf of bread would be blessed by making the sign of the cross over it with a knife prior to cutting it and sharing slices out among those gathered at the table. Sometimes the first piece, the kurrusko, of this ogi salutadorea (health-giving bread) would be offered to those who had departed, especially any recently deceased family members. Any leftover bread would be kept for a whole year and burned right before the same celebration the following year. In the meantime, this bread was highly regarded for its curative powers and should anyone in the household fall sick, they would be given a piece. “Christmas (Eve) bread” could even be used to ward off the harsh effects of extreme weather conditions.

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Basque baked sea bream. Image at Javier de la Hoz’s website Basco.

A traditional Basque song includes what was probably once a typical menu for this dinner:  Aza-olioak pil-pil / Bisigua zirt-zart / Gaztaiña erriak pin-pan! / Aia goxo-goxo, epel-epel (in other words, sauteed cabbage (with garlic), sea bream, roasted chestnuts, and a porridge-like desert made from wheat flour). And there would of course have been variations on this: cauliflower instead of cabbage, perhaps, to start; followed by cod, for example, instead of sea bream or, especially in coastal areas, txitxarro (horse-mackerel); and perhaps for dessert intxaursaltsa (a milky walnut-based pudding) or konpota (stewed fruits, especially apples and/or pears) or just roasted apples.

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Intxaursaltsa, a typical Basque dessert of nuts, milk, cinnamon and sugar. Photo by Valdavia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In Navarre, meanwhile, instead of cabbage families could have opted for braised cardoon stalks, still a great Navarrese delicacy today; while in areas farther away from the coast, fish may well have been replaced by a meat dish such as roast mutton, goat, lamb, chicken, or capon; and for dessert kapoi-salda (capon soup … yes, capon soup … the cooking juices from the capon sweetened with sugar and almonds).

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Elvers or baby eels with garlic, parsley, and a little chili pepper. A classic dish that is beyond the budget of most normal homes nowadays. Photo by demi, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Greater urbanization in the 19th century led to increased production of additional sweet favorites such as chocolates and cakes, as well as the omnipresent turrón, which was soon added to the prolonged dessert courses that would invariably extend into post-prandial family conversation.  With time, too (and greater affluence) more appetizer courses were added that included braised snails, elvers or baby eels (a delicacy that only the very well-off can afford nowadays), and more seafood in general, such as shrimp, crab, oysters, lobster, and so on.

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Piquillo peppers stuffed with bonito. Photo by Tamorian, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So what do Basque families sit down to today? As I said at the beginning, I don’t think there’s any one answer. In my experience, appetizers nowadays typically include cold meats plus a selection of Navarrese produce such as asparagus, red piquillo peppers, artichokes, and so on, followed by seafood like jumbo shrimp, and then the big choice–fish or meat, meaning sea bream or txitxarro on the one hand, for example, or lamb or capon on the other–and all this followed by a combination of multiple desserts from the options mentioned above.

Whatever the actual menu, though, the really important thing is sitting down together and talking … mostly about the food itself.

For some further reading, see “Historia de la gastronomía navideña en el País Vasco,” Euskonews no. 514 (Dec. 25, 2009-Jan. 8, 2010) and Ander Manterola, “Christmas bread. ‘Ogi salutadorea’,” at the excellent Basque Ethnography at a Glance website.

For a recipe for baked sea bream Basque-style, take a look at Javier de la Hormaza’s webpage here.

And if you like food, be sure to check out Hasier Etxeberria’s On Basque Cuisine, published by the Etxepare Basque Institute and available free to download here.

 

Some Basque-American traditions during the Holiday Season

With the holiday season here, most of you out there will know that this is a time typically embraced by Basque-Americans to have a good old time, Basque-style, with plenty of eating, drinking, dancing, and general bonhomie. One only need check out Astero to get a flavor of all the events going on during the holiday season, but it’s worth recalling that all these Christmas parties, the lunches and dinners, as well as the New Year’s celebrations, are rooted in a long tradition stretching back many years. This custom–which in academic terms we could say was based on a drive to cement community and cultural ties, to keep those bonds strong, and maintain and pass on traditions, often in the face of adverse wider social conditions–has in recent years changed significantly, but I think it’s interesting to consider how and why these gatherings came about.

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For those that could, Christmas was one of the few opportunities for Basque-Americans to let their hair down a little. Picture from the Jon Bilbao Basque Library.

As Bill Douglass and Jon Bilbao point out in Amerikanuak (p. 386), such events were in former times typically less public than they are today. In their words, as regards the winter events (p. 388):

These Basque get-togethers all shared the characteristic of being closed ethnic affairs. With the exception of the Boise Sheepherders’ Ball, they were unheralded, inconspicuous events on the local social calendar. They were often held at some distance from the local population centers. None of this is surprising when we consider that the dates coincide with the periods of tension between the Basques and their neighbors … In such a climate, the Basques were not prone to display their ethnic identity publicly. If the Basque hotel and the private picnic or dance served as an ethnic refuge, where the immigrant could enjoy Basque cuisine, conversation, and company, he attempted in his dealings with the wider society to remain as inconspicuous as possible.

Even the origins of the famed Sheepherders’ Ball, perhaps the most famous of all Basque winter social events, recall an altercation between different Basque insurance groups in the late 1920s. As John and Mark Bieter note in An Enduring Legacy: The Story of Basques in Idaho (p. 100):

Both organizations scheduled Christmas dances for herders in town on the same night. The influential sheepman John Archabal mediated the controversy and convinced the two sides to organize one dance with a lamb auction for charity. Both parties agreed, and the annual Sheepherders’ Ball became a mainstay in Boise and, later, in other southern Idaho towns.

The Sheepherders’ Ball became known as an “apron and overalls” dance, because admission required sheepherder garb or traditional Basque costumes. Sometimes a stand was set up near the door, where any partygoers who arrived inappropriately dressed could buy jeans on the spot. Although it was reserved for Basques and their guests, the Sheepherders’ Ball attracted the attention of the general public. On December 19, 1936, the Boise Capitol News wrote: “Black-eyed sons and daughters of the Pyrenees danced their beloved ‘jota’ with snapping fingers and nimble feet Friday evening at the annual Sheepherders’ Ball held at Danceland, to the music of Benito Arrego’s accordion and pandareen.”

Nowadays, these holiday season get-togethers are more open affairs, with everyone welcome, as noted in our recent post on the Basque Ladies’ Lagunak Christmas Luncheon in Reno. But it’s good to see that this great tradition of holiday season lunches, dinners, and dances continues to bind the Basque-American community together.

Besides these events, there is also a tradition of Basque-American participation in Christmas parades, as Nancy Zubiri writes in her invaluable book, A Travel Guide to Basque America:

On Christmas Eve for several years local Basque Children traveled down the usually snow-lined main street of Gardnerville in  hay-wagons, displaying the Nativity scene, signing gabon kantak (Christmas carols) and playing instruments–an Old Country tradition. Their procession would end at the Overland, where they received gifts and [Elvira] Cenoz served them the traditional hot chocolate. But the custom ended when the number of children dwindled.

Nowadays, the Garnerville Basque Club, Mendiko Euskaldun Cluba, usually takes part in the town’s annual festive Parade of Lights.

Christmas was also an occasion for family gatherings of course, as the stories collected in Portraits of Basques in the New World, edited by Richard W. Etulain and Jeronima Echeverria, testify to. For example, Ysidra Juanita “Jay” Arriola Uberuaga Hormaechea, born in Boise in 1908, recalled the holiday season of her youth (pp. 194-95):

We never knew what Christmas was until I was grown up, went to work, and earned some money. I brought in a fresh Christmas tree to our home at 310 Grove, in Boise. It was the first tree that our family ever had. Christmas day for us people was shared big suppers, dancing, and enjoying ourselves, in that way … Maybe, a little package for the kids. That was it … That’s the way it was when I was a girl.

Similarly, and in the Old Country tradition, Marjorie Archabal remembered (p. 91) Christmas Eve meals at which some thirty people gathered, women on one side of the table, men on the other, with the Archabal family patriarch and matriarch at the head. These meals took days to prepare, with the menu consisting of tongue, tripe, and codfish, among many other dishes. Meanwhile, growing up in a Basque home in northeastern Montana in the 1940s and 1950s, Rene Tihista recalled a blend of Basque and American traditions, with turkey making appearance at the family table (p. 121):

When I was a kid all the holiday gatherings with my uncles and cousins were held at our place. Mom raised a huge turkey for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas. Dad played the accordion and violin and sang Basque songs. Of course wine flowed freely during our get-togethers. I would sit on dad’s knee and sing “Uso Zuria,” a song he taught me about a white dove that travels to Spain. It was the only Basque song I knew, but it must have been a hit because the grown-ups made me sing it over and over.

And no doubt many of you out there, if you are part of a Basque-American family, will be enjoying similar kinds of celebrations this holiday season.

If you do have any stories you’d like to share with us about your own Basque-style holiday celebrations, we’d be pleased to hear from you!

 

 

 

Say Cheese!

The prestigious International Cheese Festival starts tomorrow, November 16,  in Donostia-San Sebastián and runs until November 18. The Artzai Gazta association, an organization comprised of 110 local small-scale craft producers, played a central role in bringing the festival to the Basque Country. The festival is seen as both a platform to showcase Basque products and a forum to exchange knowledge with other small-scale cheese producers from all over the world. Moreover, at the festival the World Cheese Awards organization will be awarding prizes to its 2016 winners. You can even follow the prize-giving via live online steaming. Check out the details here.

Check out the full program for the festival here.

Basque bread, and some beloved neighbors, featured in the John Deere Furrow

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Abel making his delicious french fries for camp visitors.

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The famous bread oven.

Making bread at their Russell Valley, California, summer camp was quite the project for Abel and Judy Mendeguia. Abel, from Lesaka, was a sheepman for many years from northern Nevada to the Central Valley of California, and the couple’s summer camp was a hive of activity, especially on the days that Abel would bake bread using 50 lbs of flour for the sheepherder camps spread across the range. A story that is reported on in “For the Love of Bread: Part 1: Basque immigrants brought a taste of home with them to the American West” by Laura Read in a recent issue of John Deere’s The Furrow. I don’t want to ruin the story for you, but a key part of it is Abel sticking his arm into the bread oven to gauge its temperature. I’m sure anyone who knows Abel can imagine this quite well!

The Mendeguias have been Reno residents for many years since retiring from the sheep business and they are some of the best neighbors anyone could ask for. Abel has volunteered many many years to helping out Reno 4-H sheep project children and they generally invite visiting USAC scholars from the Basque Country and elsewhere to the Russell Camp for a taste of Western life (and some of Abel’s famous fresh cut and made-on-the-spot french fries). His wife, Judy, was from the East and met Abel at a sheep camp on a visit to the West, and then became his lifetime partner.

Abel has an entry, along with thousands of other Basques who came to the US, in Basques in the United States, vol. 1, Araba, Bizkaia, and Gipuzkoa.

Never a dull moment at the Mendeguias’ summer camp!

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