Warning! This post by our expert Fiona Flores Watson in Seville, will have you putting on the calories. From figs, fried mushrooms, to pomegranates, etc., you may get some new cooking ideas. Andalucía is rich with wild and cultivated treats. But, why bother counting calories…you are in Spain.
By Fiona Flores Watson
“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, says English poet John Keats in his “Ode to Autumn”. This season brings a bounty of fruit – and some misty mornings in my neck of the woods – here in Andalucia.
In late summer/early autumn you can pick figs off the trees, which can be found growing wild, distinctive thanks to their large, rough, rounded leaves. They’re an unusual-looking fruit – purple, sensual, sweet-smelling. These make wonderful salad ingredients, and go perfectly with salty jamon serrano and creamy queso fresco (fresh cheese); or make a deliciously unusual pudding by baking them with honey and Pedro Ximenez (sherry) vinegar. Figs also make good home-made jam, and can be paired with cinnamon or brandy, for that extra kick.
Come the first rains of autumn, wild fungi start springing up all over fields and forests of Andalucia, especially in the Sierras del Norte (Sevilla), de Aracena (Huelva) and Ronda (Malaga). This region is the most diverse in Europe, with 3,800 varieties. Mushroom-hunting is a popular weekend pastime, and some towns in these areas hold mushrooms festivals or tapas routes, where you can feast on fungi cooked in every conceivable way – roast, fried, braised and in a revuelto (with scrambled eggs and jamon, for example). Setas (mushrooms) are easy to prepare – fry in olive oil with garlic, adding some wine at the end if you feel that way inclined. Also fabulous in risottos; try with flat-leaf parsley or thyme. Aracena’s many restaurants specialise in mushroom dishes during the season.
Be very careful if you go mushroom collecting: either take a book, or go with an expert friend or guide. Jornadas micologicas are mushroom-gathering expeditions organised by groups and clubs, usually ending up in a restaurant where you eat your foraged fungi. Typical varieties you can find in Andalucia are chantarella (chanterelle), tentullo (boletus), revello (bleeding milk cap), pie de muton (hedgehog mushroom, literally Sheep’s foot), and angula de monte (winter chanterelle, literally mountain eel); the gurumelo is not to be confused with a very similar deadly fungus.
Since Roman times, olives have been integral to Andalucia’s landscape and gastronomy, and now they’re essential to the region’s economy too. Some of the more innovative almazaras (olive oil mills) have started to produce seasonal bottlings of their EVOOs (extra virgin olive oils). Castilla de Canena, in Jaen, has a selection of three bottles produced over the three months of the season – October, November and December, each with its own distinctive taste. These gourmet olive oils are bottled within four hours of the olives being picked; the transparent glass (instead of the usual green tinted) is specially designed to protect the oils from UV rays which cause it to deteriorate, plus doesn’t a clear background show off those beautiful designs perfectly? In Jaen, you can visit (or even stay on) an olive farm, pick olives, watch the oil being pressed, and take home your own bottle. Agrotourism is coming to Andalucia at last.
One of my favourite autumn smells is roasting chestnuts, whether out in the street on a chilly but bright day, or in a cosy sitting room with a roaring log fire. Andalucia is famous for its chestnut forests in the Sierra de Huelva, Sierra del Norte (Sevilla) and Sierra de Ronda (Malaga). Towns known for their chestnuts include Castaño de Robledo, which produces half of Huelva province’s crop; in Malaga, Yunquera celebrates its Feria del Vino y de la Castaña in October; and Cartajima, Pujerra and Juzcal hold tostones (chestnut-roasting festivals) around 31 October – 1 November. Festival dates vary every year.
In a region one of whose greatest cities is named after this fruit, we have to mention the pomegranate, or granada. The seedy little sucker is full of vitamin C and can reduce risk of heart disease, and hence has acceded to the hall of “superfood” fame; its juice is now available to buy in supermarkets, along with apple and orange. Cut open its hard, dry, yellow skin to find bright pinky-red seeds – sometimes over 1000 of them. Some people like to add sugar, as pomegranate seeds are a little sour. Watch out – the juice stains (but it’s great in cocktails, so that’s OK).
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Fiona Flores Watson is a non-meat-eater who is always on the look-out for new fruit and vegetables to try in her adopted home town of Seville, and beyond. Here she looks at what seasonal foods you can find in southern Spain at this time of year, and their accompanying festivals. Read about her culinary and cultural adventures around Andalucia at scribblerinseville.com