Estepa y Pedro Martínez, España (Postre and Aceitunas)

Every time I think that my life here in Spain couldn’t possibly get any better, it does. It happened this past Tuesday when I received a text from Pedro. I will digress. Pedro is, by far, my favorite partner in crime here in Spain. He is totally off his rocker and always in a great mood. He sings and dances to American music while he drives and he likes to eat as much as I do. Pedro has extremely good taste in food, which I believe he gets from his mother. The woman’s palette is impecable. Seriously, this lady only buys and eats the best quality of food. I have learned that by snooping through her refrigerator and cabinets that I save myself a lot of time and money. I do not have to buy 10 of something before I find the best one. Pedro is always taking me to small towns outside of Seville to eat. We once drove to Olivares in the pouring rain on a Sunday night just to buy and eat postres. Anyway, Pedro’s has olives. Huge aceituna plots in his families pueblo. And, almonds. His text on Tuesday told me to pack my bags. We were going to his village!

Food and everything related to it, is my thing. Pedro knows this and takes great pleasure in exploring all avenues with me. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned on Tuesday that I would be visiting the very origin of my delicious Spanish olive oil. 

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, with Andalucía being the largest olive growing area on earth.  Pedro’s family is from a very small, insanely beautiful, village in Granada named ‘Pedro Martinez’. (This is Pedro’s actual name. I can’t get started on this right now). 

The village is located about 3 hours drive from Sevilla in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We were to make a pit stop in ‘Estepa’ on our way there. Estepa is a town in the south east of Sevilla, above Malaga. This town is well known for its production of Christmas-time sweets.  Estepa has 30 factories and the factories produce 18 million kilo’s of Christmas sweets annually. They are particularly famous for ‘Mantecados’.  Since 2009 the production of these confections have been protected by a ‘protected designation of origin’, Mantecados de Estepa.  A home in Spain without these in December is like a house in the United States without a turkey on Thanksgiving.  This treat comes individually wrapped in crinkly thin paper and is dusted with powdered sugar.  Unwrapping them you are hit with almond, cinnamon, lemon or anise seed. All classic flavors of Spain. When eating, you must either nibble very carefully or pop the whole thing in your mouth because the whole cookie will easily dissolve into a pile of crumbs in your hand. I had sampled one of these treats in Pedro’s home in Sevilla last week and fell in love. It was then that Pedro told me that we could go to the factory and see the old ladies making them.

‘La Despensa de Palacio’ and their exquisitas galletas!

After our visit to the factory, we purchased several bags of treats to share back in Estados Unidos.

The olive harvest takes place in the winter between November and March. And, picking these olives is no easy task.  I started my day on Wednesday witnessing this ordeal. From start to finish, and it was amazing and beautiful. First, nets are laid under the tree so that it can be shaken and beaten-this is done by using poles to dislodge the fruit from the tree. Pedro uses a vibrating machine to shake the olives right off the trees.

Amigo de Abuelo de Pedro, busy at work.
After gathering up the olives, they are brought straight to the factory.  The whole process is fascinating to watch. The olives are first separated from the dirt, leaves, and stones by a series of machines and conveyor belts.

Photos taken at the ‘Zailea’ olive oil factory in Piñar, Granada.

Once clean, the olives are ground to form a paste. The mixture is heated to 89 degrees Fahrenheit. This increases the yield and is still low enough to be considered “cold pressed”.  Next the paste is sent through a horizontal centrifuge, a cylindrical container that is rotated at very high speeds. Next, to separate the solid from the liquid, it is passed through a vertical centrifuge. Once this is completed, the olive oil is stored in huge temperature controlled stainless steal tanks. It is left here to decant naturally for a few weeks, I am told.

Me looking at Pedro’s plots of Olives.

Despues our day in the olive fields, Pedro decided we would go visit a meat factory that he has been telling me about for months.  I mean, could this day get any better?  We drove to a nearby town in Granada called Iznalloz to visit ‘Antonio Titos’ and his Embutidos.  This was a small family operation that grew into a huge enterprise.  He has a small shop open to the public and it was here that we bought some of the best meats that I have had in Spain.

We went back to Pedro’s home and made a fire to warm the entire house. We then spent the rest of the afternoon cooking the different meats over this fire.  Fue un día perfecto!

The next day we woke up early to do more of the same.  We then drove to a nearby village called Piñar to have desayuno and explore.  This castle you see here had been peaking our interests so this was our first stop after breakfast.

Castillo de Piñar.
Pedro is honestly the only man I know that is happy to stop and ask people for directions.  This came in especially handy on Wednesday morning.  Pedro eventually got the car to the top of this mountain and this was no piece of cake (we were literally in stitches laughing the entire time)!  But it was worth it and we were able to enjoy the views from the ‘Castillo de Piñar’.

A few photos of the Castillo.

Carmona, España 

Spain has a lot of holidays. Being a Roman Catholic country, they have their fair share of saints. And, with its history of countless wars and battles over thousands of years, Spain has no shortage of heros. And, fictional heros. España observes a day each year for these reasons and more. Personally, yo pienso, that the Spanish are supremely skilled in milking time off for all that it is worth. Entonces, no tengo escuela el martes o jueves esta semana. 

It has been raining here for weeks. Although I typically welcome anything that forces me to slow down, this still has seriously put a wrench in my moving about. On the plus side, all this rain has allowed me to estudio mucho espanol. Anyway, at some point last week, when I was moaning and groaning about all the cosas I could be doing, Jose promised to take me to Carmona on the next sunny day that he wasn’t working. This past Tuesday was a holiday and the sun came out for the first time in 3 weeks. Needless to say, I was thrilled when he showed up saying “Jamieeeee es un buen día. Vamos!”.  So we were off to Carmona.

Carmona is a beautiflul town located 33 km northwest of Sevilla and they share a extremely close history. Raquel had mentioned this fact to me during my first week of school. And, since hearing this I have been longing to see this town. Although sometimes I think I just crave seeing anything that I haven’t seen before. I’m not even sure that I need a reason.

The entrance to the town is the ‘Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla’. It is a spectacular grand fortified gateway.

Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla.

Remains have been found dating back to the 14th and 12th centuries BC. There is a plethora of history from Carthaginian, Roman, Moorish, and Christian times. This fortress controlled access along a major trading route. 

We climbed the steps to the top of the tower and clocked the views of the countryside and the towns white-washed houses.

The 4 flags from left: European Union, Andalucía, España, and Carmona.
View from the ‘Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla’.
Jose checking out the prisoners Hall and the patio of cisterns. In the foreground you can see the podium of the Roman Temple.
Inside the Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla.

We meandered through the old calles visiting churches and other magnificent moorish style buildings.

The 8 pointed star is the symbol of Cármona.
Notice the fountain with the 8 pointed star.
One of dozens of beautiful churches in Cármona.
Gateway door.
More beautiful inglesas in Cármona.

I, of course, had a list of things that I needed to see before lunch, and on the top of that list was the ‘Roman Necropolis’.  

The Roman Necropolis of Cármona was discovered in 1881. It is located very close to the town and only took us about 25 minutes to find it on foot. Of course neither of our GPS’s were working and I had to pull the “Perdona…¿Donde esta Roman Necropolis?” more than once. Y hace color aquí tambian. Pero, we found it. 

Over 900 family tombs have been found.
This is the largest cemetery in Cármona.
This is a representative sample of the typological variety of graves existing in the Necropolis of Cármona.
These tombs date back to 2nd century BC.
Body cremation was the predominant burial rite used in this Necropolis. This fact relates with the particular belief over the transit between the life and the death of Roman society.

Tumba de las Dos Familias.

Túmulos prerromanos tras la Tumba de Servilia.

The Hospital de los Venerables…Sevilla

Okay so I really do wonder quite often if it is possible for me to ever love another place more than I love Sevilla. I don’t think that it is…now I’m not saying that I lack the desire to find out. Let’s just get that straight. However, I do plan to hang here for awhile. Which leads me to my current dilemma of my visa situation.  Now I knew very well that the visa process wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. That being said, I figured, “well I opened a restaurant in Boca Raton” and let’s  just say that a lot of things seem very easy to me after that. I kind of feel sometimes that I can pretty much do just about anything after surviving that experience. 

I could easily write this entire blog post telling you funny anedocts about the things that have happened leading up to now…but the bottom line is that this week I have to take a train to Madrid to obtain a permission slip to authorize the Sevilla police department to take my fingerprints to give to the United States FBI so that they can run a background check. Ridiculo. Allow me to digress for a moment here. Last Monday I asked Pedro to meet me at my school and come with me to the American Consulato in Sevilla. Could I have gone without Pedro? Sure. I will admit that I had an agenda. But everything turns into fun when Pedro is around and I knew I was going to need a few laughs because this entire process is stressing me out.  (And, we won’t talk about the fact that I have to come back to the Estados Unidos to pick up the damn visa). Otra cosa, there is a mean man that works at American Consulato and he always seems way too happy to give me bad news solomente en espanol. Lo and behold, we quickly discovered that the American Consulato will be closed until further notice. Poor Pedro. Needless to say, I was not very happy to hear this news because I knew it meant that I will now have to pay a visit to Madrid. This means spending 6 hours on a train and missing a day of school. Pedro doesn’t know it yet, but I am going to beg him to come with me. I will let you know how I make out. 

After leaving the consulate we went to have some tapas and plan the day. Pedro has taken me to visit some great little villages outside of Sevilla but today we were staying local. We, actually I, decided we were going to visit the ‘Hospital de los Venerables’. 

The ‘Hospital de los Venerables’ is a beautiful baroque building that was founded in 1675 as a residence for sick priests. It is located in the Jewish Quarter. Upon entering the building, you will find a typical Sevilla Courtyard. I am very spoiled because this sight has become very familiar to me. The Sevilla Courtyard has a stepped central fountain and a gallery of arches around it.

 All the fountains from this period were built lowered into the ground due to water concerns. The church, which was built in 1689, is covered with mural frescos by Valdes.

 The staircase leading to the second floor is beautifully decorated and covered by a Baroque oval dome and plasterwork.

This edificio is now the headquarters where exhibitions, concerts, and seminars are held. And currently there is a special exhibition featuring Velaquez and Murillo-two of my favorite Spanish artists. It is the temporary home to 19 paintings from The Louve in Paris, National Gallery in London, and private collections.