Over One Hundred Spanish Recipes and Not One on Paper

As strange as it may sound my Spanish mother in law has never been to school. Between the Civil War and the fact she had to cook for her father and his gang of agricultural labourers from the age of eight everyday in the countryside it meant she missed out on an education.This fact didn’t prevent her from bringing up three heathy,happy and intelligent childen one of whom is a univeristy professor.

Ana Maria can cook or prepare well over a hundred Spanish/Murcian/Valencian recipes.
traditional spanish food

Lentejas…with chorizo and Spanish ham

OK, most people can cook loads of recipes, So that in itself is no big deal. It is the fact that she does not own a recipe book and cooks everything from memory. This is quite a feat if you think she knows about ten types of rice dishes from Murcian rice(with rabbit) to Paella Marisco or Vegetable rice(artichokes,broad beans etc), forty types of stews including Potaje de garbanzos(chickpea with spinach stew), Potaje de calabaza (pumpkin stew), Lentejas(spanish lentil stew) Migas and much more.
Spanish Omelette

Tortilla Española (Tortilla de patata)

Besides knowing all these recipes she knows how to prepare all kinds of fish,shellfish and other seafood like cuttlefish,calamares etc. Not to mention boquerones en vinagre(anchovies in vinegar),sardinas en escabeche(Marinated Sardines) or anchoas en aceite(anchovies in olive oil).Even eels! As well as the preparation of olives.

Spanish stews

Potaje de calabaza..Pumpkin stew

Visiting the in laws in their “pueblo” is a foodie experience in itself because their everyday life revolves round getting the ingredients in for the next sumptious meal.The ingredients can be from hunting,gathering,purchasing or straight swapping with neighbours.Be it wild mushrooms,snails or campion bladder from the countryside or free range chickens or rabbits from a neighbour’s farm they are always keeping the larder full.

Rice dishes and paella culture

Arroz Murciana…Murcian rice traditionally has chicken,rabbit and snails.

Not only does my mother in law know how to cook  “a ojo” (meaning literally by eye) she also annually prepares kilos and kilos of  canned tomatoes and peaches…peeling them,blanching them in a huge drum and then jar filling..Jam is also made from seasonal fruit. All these are a semi industrial process that used to be very common all over rural Spain(especially in the south) but these customs are dying out with the passing of my in laws’ generation. Then, there are almonds and walnuts to be shelled and stored, Their house has always been a veritable “cottage industry” unit where labour intensive sorting,peeling and cleaning of product  needed manual labour and that being whoever is at home at the time, young or old. My wife her brothers,myself and all my kids and nephews have all at some time peeled thousands of pear tomatoes,shelled almonds with measured taps with a hammer or sorted campion bladder.

Tapas Tours

Tapita of Tortilla patata and wild mushrooms(Saffron caps)

Fetching the live rabbit or chicken for the  paella or Murcian rice is a job I have often done and not one I particularly enjoy. They get sold to you in a sack and I always feel a little guilty handing them over to my in laws who unceremonially wring their necks.It’s life’s cycle in rural Spain. Animals on the whole live an outdoor healthy life and when their time comes it comes. There’s no remorse or guilt….it’s practical and in these rural areas only a few decades ago people actually died of hunger. For people who lived in those times that is not easily forgotten.

Gathering wild food in Spain

Wild Asparragus Omelette

You can see it in the older generation’s attitude. They revere good food and the family.Everthing has its role in life. My mother in law’s role is to oversee all these food activities and ensure her family is fed and brought up well.  A remarkable woman who has all the recipes and processes noted down but only in her head.

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16 thoughts on “Over One Hundred Spanish Recipes and Not One on Paper

    • Thanks Matthew for dropping by. Yep vegetarian dishes are quite common in my in laws house. Arroz de verduras is a classic and probably my favourite

  1. What an interesting post, and great photos. When I studied abroad in Spain, I lived with an old woman who did a similar thing. Her whole day was centered around getting and preparing food.

  2. Reading this with less than hour to go for lunch has made me extremely hungry and to think all I have is some mince and veg!!

    This kind of cooking is a dying art – such a shame!

  3. Yes, this is so true! And I often try to ask my mother-in-law for a recipe, and she’s just like, “Well, come over one day and watch me.” But I wish I had them all written down, you know?

    Recipes like:
    – Lentejas con chorizo (no ham for my MIL)
    – Menestra de verduras
    – Sopa de pescado
    – Patatas a la importancia (sooooo good)
    – Potaje de garbanzos (good for Lent, it’s vegetarian)
    – Pisto de garbanzos, de bonito, etc.

  4. Hola Paddy,
    Preguntale a tu suegra por Mondongo.
    Ask her about Mondongo. I ordered some in Catalunya and I was surprised to get something else than I was expecting. The Mondongo I grew up with was more like Callos. I guess the Catalan version is different – it was more like Morcilla with Beans.

    • Thanks alot for the comment…currently in the mountain town of my in laws enjoying the delights of the MIL and the Easter food and processions! Watch out for a post next week on the great food and fiestas !!