De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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General points

All the bread eaten in the home used to be made by the members of the household in the past. Several decades ago, coinciding with the shift away from growing cereals along the Cantabrian coast and due to the development of the bakeries, a progressive decline began in the custom of making bread, to the point that the activity has been lost in the majority of the places. However, a good number of the women over 50 still know how to make it.

Making homemade bread was widespread but there was a shift away during the last century. It had already fallen out of fashion in some towns prior to the Spanish Civil War and it was precisely during that conflict when the activity stopped.

The flours

Wheat flour, gariurun (Zeanuri-B), gariirin (Beasain-G), has always been the one used everywhere to make homemade bread.

It was followed in importance by corn flour. However, its use was not as widespread or as extended as wheat and was most frequent used on the Cantabrian side of the watershed.

Preparing the oven. Labasua

The oven was lit as soon as the bread had been shaped and had been covered with blankets in a warm place to prove.

The fuel was put inside and lit to heat the oven. The oven was ready when the vault turned whitish in tone. The embers were then pushed to the oven mouth and then the floor slabs were then swept where the loaves were going to be placed. The atmosphere created by the hot air inside the oven is called lama in Basque (Abadiño-B).

The fuel

The men were in charge of going to the upland woods to collect firewood, labaerrekin (Zeanuri-B).

That village used as fuel the thin branches of the beech trees that the charcoal-makers, iketzginek, pruned, iñusi, when they made the charcoal. The operation of going to the upland woods to collect the firewood was known as errekinetan joan. Fifty years ago, a cartload, burkada, of branches could be bought for five pesetas.

Other uses of the oven

Another important use of the oven was to dry corn. More corn was planted than wheat in some villages of the Cantabrian watershed and the use of corn flour, artourune, was more widespread. In those places, when the corn was harvested at the end of September, it was and still is fast drier prior to husking it and taking the corn to the mill.

Wheat bread

Kneading and preparing the individual loaves. Ogia ezarri

On the day of the masada (Améscoa Baja-N), the women of the household would get up early, before dawn, and the first tasks would be carried out by the light of the lamp.

They would first calculate the amount of water, flour, salt and yeast they would need and put the water on to the heat.

In general, only women were involved in making the bread as they had a "better eye" for it. However, the men sometimes helped with the kneading.

The bread today

Less bread is now eaten per person than in the past. This is down to various reasons, including the higher standard of living and dietary concerns.

The bread that is produced in the industrial bakeries nowadays is usually in the shape of an elongated white loaf. Even though that is the most standard shape, bread can also be bought in the traditional rustic-style loaf. The latter is usually more relished than the standard "barra" loaf, particularly if it is made in rural areas and even more so when using traditional methods. Bread loaves are differentiated by size and weight.

Corn flour

Talo - corn flatbread

Talo was usually made using corn flour, even though wheat flour was sometimes added. Yeast is not used.

The bread was not baked in the oven but rather over the embers of the fireplace, which meant an appropriate utensil was needed, usually a spade, to place the bread in the hearth. It was later cooked on the metal of the fuel stove.

Talo was used in the same way as ordinary bread, which it sometimes replaced. It was often eaten as a roll along with other food. It was eaten with cheese, honey and particularly pork products, such as fried bacon, chorizo and ham.

Morokil (Corn porridge) and similar cereal porridges

A gruel or porridge called morokil, a term commonly used in the Spanish-speaking area, is another of the products made used corn flour. It was also called dungulu in Bermeo (B), artasiku in Busturia and Ajangiz (B) and hormigo in Artziniega (A).

The morokil was also eaten at breakfast and also for dinner. It was made out of corn flour, salt and hot water.

Rites and beliefs associated with bread

Bread, as an expression of a staple food, has certain associated rites and beliefs that relate it with a world of benignity.

Bread has always been the most respected of all food. In Narvaja (A), many people considered it to have a sacred significance, associated with the wafer at Mass.

In Bermeo (B), one person commented that bread is (symbolised) the face of God: "0gije, Jaungoikuen arpije" .

Bread handed out at church

In Durango (B), pieces of bread where handed out and eaten in the church when extending the sign of peace during high Mass. The priest or sexton would take the bread round a tray and gave it to the pastekun to kiss, while the bearer said: "Pax tecum".