XV. FOOD IN THE NORTHERN BASQUE COUNTRY
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After World War II (1939-1945), the dietary regime in the Northern Basque Country (Iparralde) underwent major changes, particularly within less well-off families.
In the countryside, pork was the only meat eaten for lunch; some households would not eat meat every day; bread was the daily staple and it was baked once a week at every farmstead until World War II.
Food began to be more diversified at that time. People did not eat the same thing every day and dishes that had been previously kept for high days and holidays began to be served as regular meals. In the rural world, where people had basically live off the food produced by the farmstead, they started to shop at grocers, butchers, fishmongers, etc.
Town residents were already familiar with the different food shops and had a more varied diet. However, they needed money to be able to buy bread, wine, cured meats, pulses, etc. People living in the countryside faced fewer economic difficulties to feed themselves, as their staples were supplied by the vegetable gardens, and raising pigs and poultry.
Farmers discovered that they needed to get a return on what they produced with their work and had to therefore specialise. Consequently, from the 1960s onwards, they adopted a similar system to the one used by the workers and town residents to buy food and eat.
Organisation of meals
There were usually three meals: breakfast, askaria; lunch, baskaria; and dinner, ajaria or auharia. Lunch was the main meal of the day and consisted of soup, meat, particularly pork, xerrikia, and produce from the vegetable garden. Cheese, gasna, was rarely eaten and there was no dessert on working days. On Sundays, lunch usually consisted of beef and tomato stew, haragia tomatiarekin, a dairy dessert and coffee.
Meals were usually eaten in the kitchen. In wealthy families’ homes, meals were taken in the living room and the employees ate in the kitchen. The board used for bread making was used as a table at some farmsteads.
The whole family would sit at the same table: parents, children, servants, mutilak; each person had their place at the table; at many farmsteads, however, the mistress of the household, etxeko anderia, ate separately, either with the small children, or standing up as it was her task to serve the men, gizonak.
At the start of the 20th century, people ate using a spoon, kuilera, and fork, furtxeta, even though some older persons in the country never used those utensils, but ate with their fingers, erhiekin.
Meals linked to specific life milestones and times of the year
In the countryside, when someone died, a meal would be held at the house of the deceased, for the neighbours, who were in charge of organising the Masses to be said, and the family. It was usually a hearty lunch: soup, beef or veal or chicken rice, cheese, dairy dessert, coffee and an alcoholic beverage.
The wedding feast would be at home. The festivities would last for two or even three days at least until 1920. The meals were hearty and usually roast or stewed meat was served.
The family was invited to celebrate the patron saint’s festivities. In Martxueta and in Oragarre, beef raised in the village and specifically chosen by the local butcher would be served.
There would be a meal to thank all the people who had taken part in slaughtering the pig, digging the vineyard, grape harvesting or threshing the wheat.
In the past, there was abstinence, mehe egitea, every Friday during the year and every day in Lent. With the passing of time, abstinence was reduced to all the Fridays of Lent. Fish, arraina, and eggs were eaten. People fasted on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Production of fruit and vegetables
Every farmstead had an apple orchard, sagardoia, close to the house. Peach, plum, pear, cherry and chestnut trees would also be grown. There were currant bushes in all the vegetable gardens.
The fruit was eaten directly from the tree or for dessert. Jam and fruit cheese was also made. Some farmsteads made cider.
Each farmstead had its vineyard, mahastia, whose grapes were used to make wine for the household, etxeko arnoa. However, farmers stopped growing vines due to diseases attacking the plants and the work involved.
Depending on the season, potatoes, lur sagarrak, leeks, porriak, cabbage, azak, carrots, karota, broad beans, ilarrak, green beans, lekak, peas, ilar biribilak, peppers, biperak, tomatos, tomatiak, pumpkins, kuia… were grown in the vegetable garden, baratzia.
Bread, ogia, was made at the farmsteads. It was produced using wheat flour, ogi irina, mixed with water and a little salt. The dough was then kneaded on the board, aska, and the raising agent, altxagarria, was added and which was just a piece of the dough from the previous week, so that it would prove. Once the dough was ready, the loaves were shaped and put in the previously heated oven, labia.
Bread was made once a week, usually on Saturdays. The mistress of the household was in charge of it. Round rolls, opilak, or loaves weighing over two kilos were produced. Anybody who did not have a bread oven had no other choice than to buy the bread from the baker.
Cow’s milk was used for the family's needs; some people sold it to other homes and the rest was used to make cheese. Many farmsteads used cow’s milk, behi esnia, to make cheese, gasnak: white cheese, gasna xuriak, and red cheese, gasna gorritiak. Ewe’s milk was used to make sheep’s cheese, ardi gasnak.
Cheese making involved heating the milk in a cauldron, lamb rennet, gatzagia, was added for the milk to set and it was then drained through a sieve. The mixture was then put in a wooden mould and pressed down for the whey, gaxura, to drain off. The red chesses were held over flames to help make the crust, axala.
Pork was the main meat eaten during the year. Particularly in the rural world, it was unusual for someone not to slaughter their own pig, xerria or urdia.
The pork from the pig was used to make: black puddings, tripotak or odolkiak, small chorizo sausages, xauxixak, chorizo sausages, lukainkak, crackling, ganxigorrak, paté, hams, azpiak, shoulder cuts, espaldak, legs of pork, xerri xangoak, liver, gibela, loins, lunkak…
Hens, oiloak, chickens, oilaxkoak, rabbits, lambs, kids, sheep and calves were slaughtered for special occasions.
Eating fish and seafood differed greatly between the coastal and inland areas. In the coastal villages, people ate fresh fish more frequently each week, nearly every day. More freshwater fish was eaten, along with salt cod and dried sardines or in oil.