Foraging for almonds in the Spanish countryside. photos by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte.
Culinary Delights in Rural Alfarnatejo Spain
Alfarna…what? You might ask and I couldn’t blame you. Until a few days ago, I hadn’t heard about the place either. I got enlightened courtesy of a travel agency right across the road from where I currently live in Benalmadena Costa in the South of Spain.
They offer daytrips to better known locations like Cadiz, Cordoba and Granada and then there are little gems, designed to introduce visitors to the region to hidden and rural places they would otherwise never find.
Alfarnatejo is one of them. It was a perfect opportunity to experience ‘the other Andalucia’ away from the tourist hype and to sample home made cuisine at the same time.
Olive trees, almonds and a rural cottage
Our merry band of 20, consisting of French speaking Canadians, Irish speaking Irish, a couple from Texas with their special brand of language and multilingual me set off in a people carrier, climbing up high into the mountains of the Axaraquia district, some 60 miles north of Malaga.
It didn’t take long until we reached the first attraction: the oldest olive trees in all of Spain, some of them as old as 1000 years and still producing the finest and most sought after extra virgin oil. Golden, thick, sometimes flavored with garlic, crusty country bread is dipped into the liquid, sprinkled with a little salt and enjoyed.
A flower bedecked courtyard in the small village of Alfernatejo.At an, unfortunately, totally modern and fully automated oil mill, we at least got to sample the outstanding product. And that was only for starters because, you see, this was basically a food trip.
Next to the olive trees grow fields and fields of almonds. It is nearly harvest time and we had great fun, pilfering a few trees, cracking open the almonds on rocks and rolling our eyes in delight when we got at the sweet kernel. It does make a difference from buying them ready packaged at a supermarket.
Over a mountain pass we went towards our final destination: Alfarnatejo. A tiny white washed village with no more than 381 inhabitants, it’s the smallest village in the south of Spain. The central square is the size of a handkerchief and they don’t even have a policeman.
What they have though are centuries-old farmers cottages, beautifully preserved and maintained. A courtyard awash in flowers and a backroom where goats and sheep were kept right next door to the inhabitants.
The cottage was also the venue where we met our hostess for the day. We got split up into three groups and an equal number of local ladies took us to their respective homes where they had prepared a four course meal consisting of dishes traditionally favored by the peasants of the region.
My hostess’s name was Mari Carmen and she turned out to be a multi talent. Not only is she a great cook, she is also an accomplished painter and potter. However, she doesn’t sell her products. ‘It’s only for my family.’ She said.
Small Alfernatejo may be, but it still has an important festival. The Gazpacho Festival at the 1st of August which we missed by a few weeks.
Gazpacho is the cold soup typical for Andalucia made from a blend of cucumber, tomato, salt, oil and vinegar and a refreshing summer dish. The kids dress up in local costume and gallons of gazpacho are consumed during the festival.
Embutidos, puchero and albondigas
My co-eaters were the Irish, a jolly group of a mum and her five, well traveled daughters. We settled down on a long wooden table in the dining room cum kitchen in Mari Carmen’s lovely house and she proceeded to feed her expectant guests for the day.Puchero, a soup/stew made with meat, chick peas and veggies.
Simple dishes, but oh so good, tasty and fresh. A starter of salad was followed by embutidos variados, a platter of cheese, ham and chorizo accompanied by country bread.
Next course was a puchero, a soup/stew made with chunks of meat, chick peas and fresh vegetables.
And then came albondigas, meat balls in an almond sauce with patatas al pobre, boiled sliced potatoes with finely chopped peppers, laced with olive oil. You can easily see that country people are hearty eaters.
‘Our people like traditional food,’ Mari Carmen explained. ‘They don’t take kindly to burgers and curry. What their mothers cooked is good enough for them’.
Thankfully there was Mari Carmen, gracious host.plenty of water, red and white wine to wash down the food but even so, I had to struggle to get through dessert.
A big slice of watermelon which went down easily followed by local pastry, crunchy, soft and sweet at the same time.
Meanwhile Mari Carmen had put on the coffee pot and produced a carafe of berry liquor which, she said with a wink, she had also made herself. As I said, a woman of many talents.
Olive oil tasting.We all chipped in helping with clearing the dishes, something which took her by surprise. ‘Other tourists don’t do that, but thanks very much. It was a pleasure to have had you.’
Rolling back to the coach
Well fed and happy we more or less rolled back to our coach and snoozed a peaceful siesta on the way back.
Just as well that our driver obviously had a much lighter lunch otherwise this story might not have got written!
This trip is offered year round. Off season it’s a few EUROS cheaper. In August I paid 45 euros and that included all the food. A tip for the driver is always appreciated.
Find more information about all the trips on offer through www.noemiviajes.com.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is a former attorney turned travel writer, photographer and novelist based in Miami and Istanbul who writes with verve and flair about destinations where it’s warm, particularly the Mediterranean World.
Read more of her stories on GoNOMAD.
Read more about eating in Spain on GoNOMAD
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