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Sunday, December 11, 2011



The beauty of serving a complicated meal is to prepare as much as possible before hand to prevent being worn out the day the meal is to be served.


Torta de Casar
(Do not open until Christmas Day - human mice are prone to eating it all up!)
Photo from: Real Academia Española de Gastronomía
Buy well in advance:

Buy a week in advance:
Herbs for infusions
Review ingredients to make sure all possible is bought ahead of time

homemade bread
Photo by: queencashmere
Prepare weeks before:
Alosa, see aloja
Honey Nut Sweet, store in a tin, see alajú

Prepare weeks before and freeze:
Semolina Bread for the meal and with cheeses, see aludir
Almond milk, see almejas
Almond Horchata, see almendrada 

Prepare two days before:
Ashura Pudding, see almendrada 
Sugar Sandwich Cookies, see alfajores

Boquerones en vinagre
(Anchovies in vinegar) 
Photo by: carme-cuina MiK
Prepare the day before:
Cut junks of cheese to serve with olives in small serving bowls, cover tightly in plastic wrap and store in cool place.
Anchovies in vinegar, cover tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate, see anchoas.
Artichokes filled with Foie Gras Au Gratin, cook the artichokes and fill them; then cover tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate to be heated the next day, see aguasal.
Chicken Broth with Basil, place in cool place covered overnight to be reheated the next day, see albahaca.
Wash clams, see almejas.
Asida, see Asida.
The dough for doughnuts up to step 15. Separate disks with wax paper. Cover all with plastic and refrigerate, see Arberry.
Summer Coolers (adjust ingredients if living in the Northern Hemisphere in which case a warm spiced wine might be in order),  see áloe.
Dethraw all froozen items.

Clams/Mussels in Almond Sauce
Photo By: joannova
The day of prepare:
Clams, see almejas
Kid goat, see asado de cabrito
Fry the doughnuts, see Arberry

Chicken Broth

SETTING THE SCENE: Christmas decorations are not known to have existed in the Middle Ages. News Years was a bigger holiday, while Christmas is and always has been strictly family in Spain. The nativity scene did not become a national custom until Charles III brought his from Naples in 1759 upon succeeding to the Spanish throne. He had been King of Naples and Sicily for 19 years prior to that. He put the nativity scene on display in the Royal Palace for all to see, which continues to be on display every Christmas. With Charles III, it became the rage for aristocrats to have elaborate nativity scenes in their homes. In Madrid today, there is an annual competition between private homes owners for the most original scenes. Churches, also, have very detailed nativity scenes. Christmas trees did not begin until the 1970's. They are a German invention. Traditionally, the Three Kings fill Spanish children's shoes during the night of January 5th, the vespers of Epiphany. Santa Claus was not known until the 1970's.

Photo by: Vrangtante Brun

SETTING THE TABLE: The beauty of a medieval Christmas was a table filled with gourmet delights. The photo above gives a bleak idea of the table setting. A Spanish medieval hall should be more festive. It would have had warm tapestries on the walls, no fireplaces but decorative braziers filled with hot coals. White linen tablecloth were piled on tables in northern Spain, while fitted embossed leather was used in Al-Andalus. The couple in the photo is sharing a trencher, a piece of flat bread, on which food was placed. This was used in northern Europe. In Iberia, there were no trenchers or dinner plates. Platters were set on tables in front of every four eaters, more or less, to daintily pick from with the right finger and thumb or with pointed knives. Table manners, contrary to Hollywood, were very important during the Middle Ages as Chaucer indicates in Canterbury Tales. Contrary to the photo, wooden, not silver spoons, were used to eat sopes and pottages. The Roman Catholic Church prohibited organic food from being introduced into the mouth with metal. (Mouths did not touch the points of the knives, only the food.) Forks fell under this prohibition when eating meat and fish. Dessert forks were permitted for eating fruits and sweets.  An elaborate silver salt cellar, a sign of hospitality, is missing as well as candelabros with blazing candles. Further, the rustic earthenware seen above does not seem appropriate as glazed earthenware and silver did exist. In Spain, stemmed crystal wine glasses were used as Cordova had a glass factory dating from the 9th C. Napkins did not exist. A water jug (aguamanil) and basin (alfajana) were used during hand washing rituals before and after meals. Towels were provided by servants. Bread was used to wipe hands if needed between times. Gregorian chants would be appropriate background music.

Black olives and cheese
Dates, with an empty dish for pits
Anchovies in Vinegar, Recipe by mrsamper, see anchoas
Artichokes filled with Foie Gras Au Gratin, see aguasal

Chicken Broth with Basil from Nola, see albahaca

Clams in Almond Milk from Nola, see almejas

Limon Sorbet in champagne glasses

Roast Kid from Anón Andalus, see asado de cabrito
Asida (a type of polenta) with Stir Fry Spinach,  see asida

Ashura Pudding, the oldest dessert in Mankind, see Asura
Doughnuts (Agras Mukarrara) from a Bagdad Cookery Book, see Arbrerry

Cabrales from Asturias
Torta del Casar from Extremadura
Manchego from the Mancha
serve with Semolina Bread, see above

Tea did not exist. If there was coffee it was limited to southern Spain as the Muslims did have it.

Herbal infusions could be made with any kind of herbs: mint, mallow, thyme etc
Alosa, Hydromel Perfumed with Spices, see aloja
Summer Coolers,  see áloe or warm spiced wine
Almond Horchata, from Nola, see almendrada 
Absinthe, see ájenjo
Grappa, see aguardiente

Chocolates cannot be served being an American product, no matter what the Belgians say.

Honey Nut Sweet from Benavides Nueva Clásica, see alajú
Sugar Sandwich Cookies from Benavides, Nueva Clásica, see alfajores
Aşhura Pudding
Photo by: rumma.org



  1. Traditional Spanish Christmas decoration is as you point the Nativity Scene. As it was invented by St. Francis of Assis in the XIIIth. century, it spread quickly through Italy but became popular in Spain only with Charles III. It is a tradition going with the children to the Christmas Markets to buy the figurines for the "nacimiento" or "belén". In Madrid the most famous Christmas market is in Plaza Mayor (built by Philip III in the beggining of the XVII century), but the most beautiful Christmas markets are those in Central Europe (Christkindlmarkets), where they sell nativity figurines (mainly in wood, while in Spain they usually are in terracotta) and wonderful authentic cristal baubles: not for the tree,but for the windows or other places, where they create nice light effects. The "authentic" German-Austrian tree is dressed with wooden figurines (mainly in red or in natural colour), and in some places straw decorations, and also ginger bread. And never electric lights, but authentic candles! The same rule for the garlands: plastic stuff is forbidden, at most some ribbon. The tree decorated with baubles is more frequent in Bohemia (famous for the cristal factories). The most common kind of tree wee see nowadays is a Victorian version.
    Bohemian glass or Venice glass should not be absent from a royal medieval table. The picture is in fact very poor: you should better refer to some medieval book to get a better idea. I have recently watched "Henry V" by Lawrence Olivier, and although set in England and France, it gives quite an accurate idea, as the art director was clearly inspired by the "Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry".
    Braziers are an important element and they were in use until the fifties, when many houses had no heating. Even after, they sold electric braziers too put under a traditional Spanish furniture: "la mesa camilla", a round table of very simple making covered with a long cloth, under which the brazer was placed in a hole. The family sat around to get warm. To avoid accidents (specially with cats!) a kind of cage was placed over the brazier.
    Braziers were made of brass or copper and could be quite big (1 meter diameter) and elaborated. They became (as bargueños or small portable and richly decorated caskets on legs) one of the most typical Spanish pieces of furniture, and were also exported. Only in some places they have forgotten their use. I saw recently a big brazier in Menshikov Palace in St. Petersburg and the description read "Spanish washing stand".
    For a medieval Spanish decoration don't be afraid of mixing as much glazenware (porcelain came from China and was very very rare), metal and glass as you can find. Colour and richness of pattern add to the festive espirit and contemporary minimalism is out of place.
    Later I'll write something about Leonardo da Vinci good manners...

  2. You always write fascinating historical stories. Thank you so much. According to the Chronicles of Henry IV of Castile, there is nothing outstanding about Christmas. Yes, there were braziers, which we will get to – as fireplaces did not come into Spain until a century later. Christmas is recorded in the Chronicles is that of Miguel Lucas Iranzo who was as hospitable as his contemporary the Earl of Warwick in England. Iranzo, like Henry IV, loved composing religious music for choirs that awoke them in the morning at their bedroom doors and also sang during meals and festivities. Iranzo invited the clergy and upper class citizens of Jaen to his table for festive events after parading to and from mass. Iranzo was capable of having banquets with knightly games afterward and then offering a large supper to the commoners. On Christmas he did provide an abundant spread and later gave supper to the commoners. There is no record of games as this occasion. As preciously indicated Christmas decorations are not recorded in these chronicles. If you want to be Christmasy, tie a few herbs to munch on and place it on the left side of each eater to munch, play Gregorian chants. . .

  3. You wrote, "Cut junks of cheese". I believe you meant "chunks", not junks".

  4. Thank you so much. I shall correct that immeditely. You are so right!

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