9. A Little Slice of Heaven

Published on 3 December 2022 at 04:21

By American standards, village houses or small farms in rural Spain are cheap and plentiful - but don’t expect there to be much in the way of facilities like running water or bathrooms. My brother and his wife bought their vacation home in Alhama de Granada for a song, but it wasn’t much more than a stone walled shell and had to undergo extensive renovations to make it habitable.

The family has deep roots here and Sandra’s grandmother still lives just up the street. Her Uncle Paco is the town’s rural guard, but his great passion is his finca, the small farm he works with his wife's Rosa up in the hills above Alhama.

Farms in Spain come in two forms, latifundios (large estates) or minifundios (small plots). Minifundios tend to be primitive and produce a low yield. Many are remote and isolated with no access to electricity or town water, so they have to be completely self-sufficient. Power comes from the sun, water from wells, and any crops or livestock raised are used to feed the farmer and his family, leaving little surplus for trade.

Like most small farmers Tito Paco has the usual assortment of goats, pigs, chickens, and horses. But he also has the odd, unusual pet roaming his yard. When we were there, he had a young deer that he had rescued and brought back to the farm to join his menagerie.

Then of course, as on most finca, you will find the ubiquitous dogs. Andalusians have a long and colorful history of dog breeding. Dogs are not usually bred as pets but as working animals used to herd sheep and goats or for hunting. Tito Paco’s dogs are well known in the area as good hunting stock. And both my brother and his father-in-law hunt in the Spanish Pyrenees with dogs bred on the farm.

Hunting is a passion in Spain. The traditional Monteria is a driven hunt using large packs of dogs and horses and is unique to Spain. The country is littered with hunting grounds where the prey ranges from rabbits, wood pigeon, and partridge, to wild boar and deer. If there is hunting close by, the local restaurants will often feature wild game on the menu. As you might recall from my previous blog, (https://www.roadtrippin.org/1067567_4-la-familia), the paella which we had so enjoyed with Sandra’s parents just after we arrived was a compilation of game bagged by her father's hunting endeavors.

While we were enjoying our breakfast of churros dunked in thick hot chocolate at our favorite café, “El Churrero” (the best place in town for fresh, home made churros), Tito Paco stopped by at our table and invited the family up to his finca for dinner.

We headed up to the farm just before sunset. After a quick tour, we gathered on the large, covered patio, which included an outdoor kitchen. Even in the summer, the nights get chilly up in the mountains, but the Spanish have an ingenious answer to staying warm. Rosa placed a brazier of hot coals under the table and draped a blanket over it. Then we all gathered round, our legs under the blanket, and our toes toastily warmed by the brazier.

La Comida, the midday meal, is the main meal of the day in Spain. It is usually eaten around 2pm, lasts a couple of hours, involves multiple courses, and is followed by a siesta. La Cena, a lighter evening meal is eaten around 9. Most evenings, instead of ordering food, we would just snack on tapas, small plates of hot or cold appetizers, that the cafes and bars would serve free alongside our drinks (in the more touristy destinations you will probably have to pay for these).

While Tito Paco began cooking his specialty, Choto (succulent, tender young goat), Rosa laid out the tapas - bowls of olives and plates of thinly shaved Jamón Serrano (dried, cured ham), sliced chorizo and Lomo Embuchado (fermented dry sausage) - all of which had been made on the farm.

We washed everything down with copious glasses of Tito Paco’s sweet homemade Rose’. And as we watched the sky blaze orang/gold and the hills turn purple in the valley below; with the delicious smell of roasting goat filling the air, and the wash of rapid Spanish conversation flowing around us; we found ourselves once again drawn into the heart of what it means to be part of la familia in Spain.

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