Helen was an accomplished cook. She had recently been living in England but had also spent much time in Mallorca with her grandparents whose Mallorquin cook had taught her how to prepare local dishes. She was accustomed to spending a whole morning cooking the main meal of the day, which was served between one and two in the afternoon. She amazed me with her ability to create full meals on a half-sized two-burner gas stove that rested on a tiled shelf in the small kitchen.
She turned out dishes such as canneloni by grinding meat to a fine paste with her tabletop grinder, soaking the pasta squares, filling them, and pouring over the sauce. She would often spend a whole morning preparing a dish which would be consumed that day. She also made junkets from rennet tablets. Junkets and milk puddings were desserts I hadn’t seen since my mother made them when I was very young. I have vague memories of them from the years just after the end of World War Two.
Her grocery shopping was done in the Santa Catalina market, not as large as the main Olivar market in the centre of Palma, but a fascinating place full of unusual vegetables, fruit and cuts of meat. When she took me with her on market day, we gathered our empty baskets and went , whirring through the streets in the Citroën deux chevaux, passing Plaza Progreso, and arriving at Santa Catalina market.
Tumbet - Mallorcan Ratatouille - in my Oldest Greixonera
As we entered the covered market building the scents of green produce and citrus mingled with that of fresh bread and fish. It was an experience for me to see so many unusual vegetables and fruits. We stood in line behind other customers and waited our turn to be served at Helen’s customary market stalls. Time in Spain was expendable and one became used to waiting in queues for most business transactions.
Among Helen’s purchases were an unsliced loaf of white bread, pan inglés de molde, lamb chops, small pink fish salmonetes, paté, wine, olives, vegetables, olive oil, garlic, Italian parsley and cheese. These were carefully wrapped in paper and laid in our two baskets. There were no plastic carrier bags then.
Mero à la Mallorquina - Grouper in a Greixonera
Once back at the apartment, we unwrapped the purchases and Helen began to make dinner. There was so much that was different to my Canadian way of preparing food. I was soon to learn how to use garlic, crushed in a mortar together with salt and snipped Italian parsley, to make a typical picadillo, for added flavour and that a sofrito sauce of garlic, onion, tomato and olive oil served as the basis for many dishes. It was my first encounter with flat leafed Italian parsley which was to become one of my most used herbs, which I grew in pots and on windowsills, never to be without.
Sopas Mallorquinas - Bread & Vegetable Stew
I was surprised to find that one of the most useful cooking vessels was the earthenware greixonera, or round shallow casserole (cazuela) that was used directly over a gas flame or put in an oven, and that such utensils could be purchased for just a few pesetas in the open bazaars.
Another standard item in the Spanish kitchen was the mortar and pestle, or mortero. The yellow and green pottery ones were a common sight everywhere and matched an open basin, wider at the top, called a lebrillo which had many uses in a household as well as in the kitchen. Often used for kneading bread and doughs, it was just as easily used as a basin for washing clothes.
Mortero and Lebrillo
Here is a favourite Mallorquin meatball dish called
pilotes which is served in my oldest and most used greixonera, bought years ago in Mallorca .
Pilotes - Mallorcan Meatballs
I expect later to be able to add recipes for some of the dishes I learned to make at Helen’s side.
Continue on to Chapter 10......The Straw Basket
Go back to Chapter 8......The Apartment