From Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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The field surveys conducted for this study contain the facts, data and recollections - passed on or experienced - of what the people interviewed could remember and which are important from the ethnographic point of view. In many cases, this memory stretched back to facts and customs that were to be found in the first decades of the 20th century. Based on the data provided by those surveys, we will strive to provide a summary of the changes to the food culture in the Basque Country during that century.

It should first be noted that those changes, even though they have gone hand in hand to a great extent with the changes to the traditional way of life, have not occurred at the same rate or their implementation has not taken place simultaneously in the study territory overall. The responses obtained revealed two points during the century when the changes were seen to speed up. The first was during the 1920s and 1930s. The introduction and gradual spread of new ways of eating by the family could then be seen in places near to the industrial centres, particularly in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. This change was at a slower rate in Navarra and Álava reflecting a less notable industrialization process. However, that process came to an abrupt halt due to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The post-war period, during the 1940s, was characterised by a general lack of food staples (bread, pulses, oil, etc.) which led to a ruralisation of life and a return to earlier habits and customs. This stagnation period would last into the 1950s.

The second was from the 1960s onwards; the dietary regime and habits would again begin to change and continue at an ever increasing rate.

This process was less intermittent in Iparralde. The turning point in the habits here would have to be placed at the end of World War II (1939-1945). It can also be seen that in this case the influences of the inherent changes of the industrial society had an earlier impact on the coastal settlements than on the inland regions of Baja Navarra and Zuberoa where they happened at a slower pace.

From monotony to diversity

In general, this change meant going from a monotonous system to one with a greater diversity of food making up the ordinary diet. It is clear that this statement refers to the working classes and to the settlements that were more closely linked to the traditional ways of life, whose habits are precisely those that we have sought to analyse. Those people who were comfortably off could also afford the luxury of breaking out of the rut and buying a wide range of food.

In a self-sufficient dietary regime, the daily family meal consisted of a single dish, which usually comprised a stew of pulses seasoned with meat. This produced stock for soup, the stewed pulses and vegetables and the meat that was served on the side. This “single dish” would sometimes be rounded off with a piece of fruit that was in season. José Miguel de Barandiarán’s description on the ordinary meals in the Ataun (G) farmsteads in the early 20th century clearly reflects that dietary regime.

— Breakfast consisted of talo or corn cake with milk. Roast chestnuts were eaten in winter.

— The midday meal was corn bread soaked in a bowl of stock, zuku, followed by a bean stew, a piece of pork belly and a piece of fruit in season.

— Their dinner was boiled potatoes, milk with corn cake and, in winter, roast chestnuts as well.

That self-sufficient production system evolved towards an interdependent economy that led to a progressive division of work. At the same time, the composition of the family meals became more complex with several dishes prepared separately.

The diachronic comparison of the diets described in Izurdiaga (N) and Zeanuri (B), which can undoubtedly be generalised to other areas, allow us to see this evolution.

1940 1985
Izurdiaga. Navarra
Breakfast: Boiled potatoes or broad beans. White coffee, bread and biscuits. Jam.
Lunch: Cabbage stew with red or white beans; chips with tomato sauce. Two dishes. One of vegetables, pulses or salad. Another of meat or fish.
Dinner: Potato stew. Soup, salad or vegetable, boiled ham and fruit.
Zeanuri. Bizkaia
Breakfast: Milk with corn cakes. Men: pork belly, koipetsu. Wheat bread soaked in white coffee. Fruit.
Lunch: Red bean stew; pork belly or jerky. Fruit in season. Vegetable stew, pasta or salad and occasionally pulses. Meat or fish. Fruit. White coffee.
Dinner: Garlic soup or leak and potate stew, porrusalda. Boiled chestnuts and milk. Soup. Omelette or fish. Fruit. Milk.

Several factors have contributed to this diversification of food, all of which are related to technological and economic process. These include: higher family income due to the industrial expansion; development of the food industry leading to products from other regions and latitudes being available, and the new techniques applied to processing and preserving food.