4th December 2019
Galicia enjoys an annual rainfall of around 1000mm. Most of that has fallen within the last four weeks. It has teemed. Our little corner of Australia would see an average of 400mm, in a good year. The past five years have been very dry. The once-green pastures of northern NSW look like Weetbix. Ironic, since this is wheat country, where crops have been devastated.
Our new homeland is not short of water. Miraculously, much of this water gets turned into wine! And such wine! Local “adegas” produce exquisite reds and fragrant whites from ancient, and new, grape varieties. The most famous being Mencia and Albariño.
Aguardiente de orujo, pomace spirit – a type of clear brandy made from grape skins, like its more famous cousins, Italian Grappa and French Marc, is another type of water that is plentiful in Galicia; fire-water! At it’s most rustic and rough it could be used to start a tractor; at its most refined, it is as complex, fragrant and suave as any French or Italian equivalent. Flavoured with coffee, herbs or aniseed, it is the essential “fin de una comida.” A “chupita” (or three) comes with menu del dia in most cafes. At the fortnightly village market, I amused locals when I first arrived: we were enjoying some pulpo with a side of patatas fritas, when I liberally sprinkled my chips with, what I thought was vinegar. It was not. The little bottles were there as a gratis digestive. I announced to my partner, in my most embarrassingly Aussie tones: “Jeez, these chips tastes weird!” All became “claro” when I saw other people splashing the “vinegar” into their coffee.
Recent experiments with my neighbour’s generous offerings of grapes have produced half-decent batches of pickled fruit, which is astonishingly good with local cheeses. I have also created a batch of very nice grape syrup, which is ideal for a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine and is also lovely in a glass of cava to make a version of Kir Royale. It can also be added to a cup of camomile or fennel tea on a cold night.
The element of fire is ever-present in our lives now. Our log-burner in the kitchen keeps the upstairs toasty. It’s the first thing I attend to in the mornings, now that frost has descended. We are learning the importance of keeping a store of dry wood, and rotating our log supplies to make sure they are properly seasoned.
Summer will bring fire-bans just like back home. We have been careful when we’ve enjoyed our Aussie barbis. I’ve cooked the local speciality, Churasco, as well as my Jack Daniels BBQ ribs. Using chestnut and apple wood on my fire imparts so much more flavour than charcoal.
One local fire ritual we have not experienced is “Quiemada”, which many local people performed around Hallowe’en. It’s not so much the spooky incantation that freaks us out (‘though we have heard some hair-raising stories of Quiemadas that have gone very wrong!) It’s the idea of a person under the influence of the local hooch setting fire to ladles of grog indoors that makes us wary! Perhaps next year…
This spectacular land of contrasts and contradictions is our home. Our second Christmas is just around the corner. We’ll burn our chestnut and oak logs, and light up our house with joy. Get fired up for your own Navidad with my mulled wine recipe!
To make a litre of mulled wine:
1 750cl bottle of red wine (Mencia is fab for this)
250cl of orange juice or apple juice (freshly pressed and strained is best)
1/2 cup muscovado or soft brown sugar
1 spice bag (use a clean white cloth, fill with the spices and tie tightly)
2 Cinnamon sticks
Tsp Coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
Tsp cumin seeds
Tsp caraway seeds
Tsp cardamom seeds, crushed open
2 pieces star anise
Thumbnail-sized piece of peeled fresh ginger.
2 shots of aguardiente (clear or herb flavoured)
Dissolve the sugar, hooch and honey in the juice and bring slowly to a simmer. Gently cook it to a syrupy consistency. Add the spice bag and all of the wine. Heat through, for about 20 minutes, but do not boil.
Remove spice bag, and pour into tin or enamel cups to serve (I have copper mugs which are great for this and other punch recipes). A slice of orange studded with a few cloves, and a cinnamon stirring stick is a nice garnish if you want to be posh.