Tuesday, September 13, 2016

culinary memories from León

Last month it was my aunt's 92nd birthday. She, along with her brother, sister and mother (my grandmother on my father's side), immigrated to Mexico from the province of León, Spain, in the 1920's to join my grandfather, who had immigrated before them. Together with them they brought not only their Castilian accent, which they never lost, but plenty of traditions and recipes that were passed on from generation to generation.

And at this birthday I had the chance to try once more, after some three decades, a couple of things that would generally make their way to the table at Christmas and other family gatherings. And this totally qualified for an exception to my usually vegan diet. The thrill of reliving tastes from my childhood, and that reconnect my to that part of my family that comes from León? Priceless. 

We had tortilla de patatas (known in Mexico as tortilla española – Spanish omelette) and empanada, a pastry stuffed with pleny of chorizo, pancetta, prepared with pimentón (a Spanish kind of paprika?)... Although, in all honesty, this empanada stood for another more traditional dish that my grandmother used to bake but that nobody had the courage, time or kitchen to attempt – bollu preñáu, which is similar, but the bread is a lot softer, the filling is way oilier, and it actually impregnates the bread and stains it red in the inside. Still, the empanada was similar enough to bring back memories aplenty.

And as dessert? Flan! But some recipe that made it a sort of mix between a flan and a custard. I myself can't explain the difference between these, but I assure you that was the general consensus of those at the table! LOL And my aunt is adamant not to share her recipe, so that all of us can appreciate it at those few occasions we can get it. She says she'll pass it on after she dies. And why not? Everybody was raving about it, so I guess the strategy of keeping it special does work! 

When you try to find info on what the Leonese spirit, values or personality are like, you realize resources are incredibly scarce. The Basques, the Catalans, the Galicians, the Andalusians... there's plenty about them – serious discussions, clichés, jokes, even films! But the Leonese? Due to their intimate historical link to nowadays way more famous Castile and the fact that these two sort of form the "default" or "standard" of what a Spaniard is – and against which the other regions can be compared –, León simply doesn't seem to get much attention. 

What little you do find, though, talks about the Leonese placing great value on freedom and, along with that, on individuality. There is a joke about how León is known more for the number of its associations than for the number of associates at any of them. And my habib – who is my outsider eye that helps me spot things I may have taken as a given – did comment on how everybody at the party (four generations) seemed to be unusually respectful of everybody's differences and individuality. Sure, there's the usual gentle joking, but apparently no judgement and lots of factual acceptance. So maybe my grandparents brought with themselves more than tasty recipes from their beloved León, eh?

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