WHAT CAN I DO WITH A JAR OF QUINCE PASTE?
He adored the beach and the sound of the ocean and so every morning he loved to go for a long walk down to the Los Angeles hotel in the next village. Sometimes I would jump in the Land Rover and meet him at this very swish hotel for breakfast. The proprietors forbade sand in their immaculate hotel so beach lovers would sit outside in the lushly planted gardens watching the tiny fishes darting about in the pool. It was so peaceful; sitting under the palm trees sipping delicious coffee con leche and eating a typical Spanish breakfast of cheese, ham and rolls.
We shopped every morning at the indoor market. Every stallholder in this colourful and charming place became a treasured ally. The pretty young raven haired woman whose stall was near the door, sold dried fruits and nuts of every description.
The counter was full of pots of membrillo, the quince paste that is so beloved by every Spanish housewife. She was convinced my sister and I were twins which made her giggle every time we saw her.
The old building was full of butchers selling cuts of meat I did not recognise at first and many different kinds of delicious Spanish cured meats such as jamon iberico, chirizo and butifarra.
The bakers in their white hats had risen at the crack of dawn to fill their stalls with amazing baked goods. Delicious Empanadillas are the Spanish version of the Cornish pasty but filled with fragrant tomato and tuna filling. Eaten warm with a lunchtime glass of beer they are so tasty. The brick shaped salty loaves of dense bread that tasted so delicious when dipped in virgin olive oil, were my favourite daily purchase.
The high glass ceiling was a prism that sent shards of light that bounced off the voluptuous fruit and vegetable stalls. Single avocados and aubergines shone like precious jewels in the mid-day sun.
At the back door of the indoor market the fish sellers reigned supreme. Every startling variety of fish in the Mediterrean Sea was available for purchase. The Spanish housewives seemed to prize above all else the tiny bright red prawns that tasted so sweet in soups and paellas. Every single stall sold the ubiquitous, red and yellow jars of paprika of the sweet or smoked variety.
I bought my meat, bread and local honey in the market but it was outside in the sunshine that I spent most of the housekeeping. As you excited the ancient building it took a few seconds for your eyes to refocus. After a moment’s hesitation on the marble steps you were outside in a vast magical world of colour and sound.
Different kinds of fruit and vegetable filled every stall. Fat, juicy oranges still attached to their verdant leaves ,alongside lemons as big as tennis balls and then the delicious fruit of the area, the soft peachy coloured apricots.
Between the large commercial fruit stalls were tiny tables covered with lace clothes. The elderly, black garbed, rural lady sold tiny bunches of exquisitely scented flowers as well as herbs, garlic and strings of hot red chillies.
The feather strewn warm brown eggs from hens that scratched out a living on their tiny plots of land were in demand by the early shoppers. If you arrived after eight am you had to make do with supermarket eggs and the flavour of your crema catalane was compromised.
The cost of all this bounty of herbs, fruit and vegetables was miniscule because at the time the exchange rate was defiantly weighted in the Briton’s favour.
The sea front was only two minutes’ walk from the market and that was where the fishing boats were landed. It was always a thrill to watch the catch being sorted and the fishermen’s skill as they jumped on and off the boats. Then the myriad species of glistening fish went straight through to the wholesale market.
There was a high glass viewing balcony and it was fun to take our visitors there to watch the theatre of the bounty of the sea.
We bought all our fish from the shop was attached to this place. Our favourite variety was rape or monk fish. I quickly learned the Spanish for “No thank you, I really do not want this” as we were always encouraged to take the enormous head for stock as well as the delicious tail meat.
Monk fish fillets wrapped in salty Iberico ham and baked in white wine with tarragon and green grapes are delicious. Served with crusty bread and a ripe tomato and shallot salad it is ambrosia.
Extract from The Lotus Generation by Carole McCall due out in December 2014