All about Torrons and how to buy the best!

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Every year just before Christmas I go to the Correus in Granollers to send off several slim rectangular packages to the UK.    Each one is a box containing a slab of Torró, a very special sweet which is an important part of the traditional Christmas here in Catalunya.

I sometimes wonder if the recipients know what to do with them or do they end up at the back of the cupboard as sometimes happens to me with unfamiliar foods?

Before coming to Barcelona I had never heard of  Torrons. It was probably at the first family Christmas dinner that I discovered how delicious and mouth-wateringly moreish they are.

What is Torró?

As with everything in Catalonia there are two options for the name depending which language you are speaking.  Torró in Catalan or Turrón in Spanish but it is the same sweet delicacy a bit like nougat or halva, typically made of almonds, honey, sugar, and egg white, and shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake.

It is a very old confection which originates from Arab cuisine.  Evidence shows they were being made 500 years ago in Xixona (Jijona), a small town about 30 miles  north of Alicante.   Xixona’s economy is focused on the production of torrons and there is a museum  there showing the history and how it is made.   A friend told me that he went to Xixona as a child in the late 70’s and was disappointed to find it wasn’t the little town of his dreams,  filled with small family businesses making torrons by hand with bee hives in the back yards, scented by almond blossom.  Instead it was an industrial town full of factories  producing thousands of kilos of torrons to be sent all over Spain.

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According to legend, honey from bees that drink nectar from wildflowers growing on the mountains around Xixona is an important part of the recipe.   That makes sense to me – even the most built up cities have beautiful wild places just outside the commercial zones.

Every ingredient should be of the highest quality and although I have found no information on this,  I  am hoping that the eggs come from free range organic chickens which scratch and peck around rural farms in the foothills of those mountains. We can but dream ……….

Types of torró and how to chose the best

Torró de Xixona is soft and the almonds have been ground up to form a paste

Torró d’Alicant is hard and brittle and you can see the almonds inside

There are several different qualities of torró.

Strict rules control whether torrons may be labeled with “Suprema” or “Extra.” The best quality is “Suprema” and to get that label, the soft turró must contain at least 60% almonds and the hard, 64% almonds

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Apparently  there is also “Estàndar” (standard) and “Popular”  but we didn’t find any. If it is of lower quality usually it doesn’t say anything on the packet.

Knowledgeable shoppers will look at the ingredients on the package label when they go to buy  Torrons for  Christmas dinner. You don’t serve just any old Torró on such a special day!

If it looks cheap and cheerful then it probably is.  Check out the amount of almonds.  The best ones have 60% or more.  And there should definitely not be other ingredients like palm oil or E numbers. In general if it is cheap the quality won’t be as good.

Chocolate torró  is delicious and a big favorite and it too has qualities including “Extrafino” or “Fino”  depending on the percentage of cocoa and milk it contains.   Some of the chocolate torrons have dried fruits and nuts mixed in and are increasingly popular.

Christmas is the time to eat Torrons and at the end of the meal large plates are brought out with lots of little cubes of  Torró laid out invitingly or built up into a tower or pyramid.

Serve with Cava of course!

Nowadays there are many more versions than just the traditional Alicant or Xixona,  including ones with candied fruit, chocolate, praline, coconut and also the one with egg yolk or Gema.

Where to buy Torrons?

All the supermarkets have huge displays of Torrons  but the quality is variable.  Follow the suggestions above to help chose a good one.  Surely I don’t need to suggest you avoid ones that are made by Nestle?

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But the best places to buy are the specialist shops.  They also make Orxata and ice creams. These shops will have the word Jijonero in their name.

In Granollers the best place to buy Torró is Cal Jijonero in Carrer Corró.

This family has been making them since 1933.  There are now two Jijoneros run by people from the same family but after a dispute they split the business, which is the reason there is one in Anselm Clavé and the other round the corner in Carrer Corró.

The one in Carrer Corró keeps the reputation for being the best but you’d have to try them both and decide for yourself.

How to serve and preserve your Torró

If you receive a packet of Torró as a gift here is what to do.

Cut off a chunk, lay it on a board and chop it into little cubes and lay them on a pretty plate.

You can put some neules in a glass in the centre.  Don’t forget the cava…..

Turrons

You don’t have to eat it all at once – leave the rest in the packet and it will keep for some weeks – or so we think but we have never managed to resist eating it all within a few days.

This one is Torró d’Alicant.   Caution for anyone with teeth which might break as it is hard. But once in your mouth it starts to melt and you come back for more, and more…..

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No need to keep in the fridge, just store it somewhere cool.  And Enjoy!

 

Skiing at Christmas

We have come away for Christmas!

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It was no easy task but we were helped by the fact that the Resident Adolescent is working in Carrefour and only has two days free.

I have written before about my struggles with Catalan Christmas and the family rituals that are expected here so I won’t go into it again but I do need to say that when I write  ‘we have come away for christmas’ it is written with a flourish.

By the way, I am coming to a far greater understanding of how incredibly difficult it is to create Christmas rituals with a new partner from a different culture. We have tried to include everything from both our worlds – beating the Tió, Christmas carols, Christmas tree, Christmas stockings, roast veggie dinner, Escudella i carn d’olla, Sant Esteve, Boxing Day, turrons, Christmas pudding, Christmas cards, and so on.

The result?  Often it is just exhausting, frustrating and perplexing.

We came away early on Christmas morning and I hadn’t realised the important of opening presents on Christmas Eve so had gone to bed. I wanted to bring the presents with us but my partner didn’t realise the important of opening them on Christmas Day so said we should leave them at home to open when we get back.  Just one of many misunderstandings.

But coming away helps a lot. We are in a new place with no expectations or obligations.  We came to the Pyranees to a place called Font Romeu which is officially in France but if you ask any Catalan they will say it is in Catalunya Nord.   We are staying in a small hotel called Hotel Le Romarin.  It is simple, family run, friendly and comfortable.  Clean with no frills. Lovely views. Good wifi in the lounge area.

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Yesterday was Christmas Day and it was surprising how many other people had the same idea to get away and go skiing.

I don’t know how to ski – I have tried twice and enjoyed it but after an hour had enough of falling over and struggling to get up. As it was Christmas I went along yesterday to the ski station up high and I spent a few hours sitting in the warm cafeteria watching other people glide gracefully down the slopes. Ski resorts are funny places, not at all what I imagined in my dreams. A bit like camp sites they have a tendency to attract clutter and signs telling you what not to do. It must be wonderful to take the lift up to the top and be in the white clean snow-scene then to zig-zag competently downhill.  But the lower part is where the snow is dirty, children are screaming and plastic cups and crisp packets line the edges of the forest.

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Today I stayed in the village  and had my Boxing Day walk up to visit the Hermitage of Font Romeu. It turns out to be on yet another of the ways that lead to Santiago de Compostella.

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Romeu means pilgrim in Catalan so Font Romeu is the fountain of the pilgrim.  They found a 12th Century statue carved in wood of the Black Virgin near here which is kept in the Hermitage until September 8th when it is carried in a parade down to the church at Odeillo.  If I want to see it then I must go there.

Black virgins are an important feature of Catalan spiritual life. One of the most famous is the Black Virgin of Montserrat.  Of course there are many stories of the black virgin being the mother goddess from a much earlier pre christian age. Here is an interesting site about the Black Madonna.

I have started my training for doing the Camino de Santiago in the spring but I need to get a bit more serious about it. Today’s walk was just over 6km and at that rate I’ll need a year to complete the pilgrimage.

 

 

Another Catalan Christmas – heigh ho!

Well I felt so much better after writing that last post that today I was singing in the rain as I walked into town for breakfast with Tiffany. (Just had to say that, not breakfast at Tiffany’s but it’s close)

Granollers is lovely in the rain. Everyone has umbrellas except the Moroccan woman I saw in the Porxada who must have forgotten hers so had improvised with a plastic bag on her head over her veil. (This isn’t her by the way, I wasn’t quick enough to grab a photo!)

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Look back over Christmas past posts if you want to see how I have celebrated here in the last five years. But to save you the trouble I will tell you that each and every year I have struggled to feel Chistmassey.

There are celebrations and there are lots of lovely Catalan Christmas traditions – the Christmas markets especially Santa Lucia in Barcelona, turrons, cava, beating the Tió, more turrons, Catalan Christmas carols like     El Noi de La Mare.

But I miss feeling part of the Christmas feeling in Cornwall.  Everyone getting excited about buying their Christmas tree, the Mousehole lights, carols in pubs, mince pies, mulled wine, log fires, Boxing Day…..oh how I long for Boxing Day!   Here we have Sant Esteve and it is not especially relaxing.

Since coming here I have not decorated the house. Not even once!  I had the feeling it wasn’t really important to people here and anyway,  what’s the point if you are going to go out for dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

But today a good friend said “Just do it!”  “Do it for you if no-one else wants it”

So I did.

And it was amazing how quickly I felt excited and happy. I got a glass of Vermut and put on some Christmas music.  Brought out the box of goodies and raided the wonderful ribbon shelves out the back of the house.

I bought some things in the new shop Tiger

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The room’s not finished yet but here we go

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I am looking forward to a lovely Christmas now. We are having our usual anglo-saxon Christmas party on December 23rd with Tiffany and her family. I brought over crackers and mince pies and Xmas pudding from Cornwall and as we are all vegetarian we are going to have mushroom and cashew nut roast with loads of roast vegetables and oven baked brussel sprouts.

Then we have the Tió party on December 24th with presents and cava and turrons.

And on Christmas Day the three of us are off skiing!  Me, Mr Catalan man and the Resident Adolescent!

 

Writing Christmas Cards

Some people hate this job but I have always loved it – it’s one of the highlights of Christmas for me.
I don’t like the consumerism and I get anxious buying presents for people when I don’t really know what they would like.  Christmas dinner with someone else’s family can be awkward for a foreign vegetarian and although  I try to stop myself I can still get a bit panicky and buy too much food on Christmas Eve even though I know there will always be shops open the day after.
What I like about Christmas is not easy to find in Catalunya.
  • Singing Christmas carols with other people
  • Opening Christmas stockings in your dressing gown in the morning
  • Celebrating with a delicious vegetarian meal on Christmas day
  • Spending a few precious days with good friends, playing games, preparing meals, reading in front of a log fire.
  • Being with my dog as it is her Christmas too
  • Going for a country or seaside walk on Boxing Day
  • Doing nothing much on Boxing Day
  • Celebrating something called Boxing Day rather than Sant Esteve and remembering my parents who got married on this day

Last year we came close to this ideal when we went to Sant Nicolau in the Emporda.  Just the three of us and Bonnie.  It was great for me but the Catalan family were not too pleased that we opted out. So this year it is back to the old routine and family visits every day from the 24th to the 26th.

But nothing and no-one can stop me making and sending Christmas cards.  It is not a tradition here so I don’t expect to receive many unless they are sent from the UK.  Being abroad also changes your friendship patterns and every year I get fewer cards in the post. But I still continue to send them out to everyone I feel warm towards and want to keep in touch with.  I like going through my address book and thinking of each person as I write the card.  It gives me a chance to stand back and take a look at my friendships and my family.
What changes are there this year?
Some people have drifted off. Some have sadly died and I can take time to think of them as well. There are people from many different areas of my past – Scotland, London, Cornwall, Barcelona, internet friends, old lovers, tango partners.  Some of them are people I hardly ever see any more but they still are woven into the fabric of my life and my heart

This year we made our own cards and for the first time had them printed more professionally at Marc the stationers down the road. They look much better than usual for which I thank Nuria for her wonderful and inspiring painting classes, Pep for helping me with final tweeking on the computer and Marc for doing such a good job with the laser printer.

I wish I had kept copies of past years productions.
But then again, better to live in the present and let go of what has gone before. This year I have written 34 cards, most of them heading off to the UK, a few for friends here in Catalunya and the rest off to Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Canada and the USA.  Tomorrow morning I will be at the Correo offices in Granollers before heading off again to Sant Nicolau with Bonnie for some more fresh air and country peace.

Anyone fancy a chocolate caganer?

Seen in a bakers window in Sant Celoni.

Call Jesus for Help!

I saw this van in Port de la Selva – I’d like my builder to be called Jesus!

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope you have a day full of smiles and laughter and good memories as well as the inevitable sad ones that arise at this time of year. I am happy to be at Sant Nicolau, sharing Christmas for the first time with my little family – Pep and the Resident Adolescent and Bonnie!

Bon Nadal!  And a constructive and reformed New Year to you all!