After 10 years in our Spanish mountain village, we know what to expect in summer. The village fills up with people we haven’t seen for a year as families arrive to escape the heat of the cities. Children, a foot taller than last year, run wild in the streets and the jasmine-scented air is heavy with the sound of our neighbours’ guitar music.
In summer, the swallows wheel high overhead, snatching insects on the wing. House martins return to claim and refurbish the nests under the eaves that they use every year.
This year has been slightly different, and we don’t know why. The swallows arrived, but there were far fewer than previous years, and our house martin pair never showed up at all.There seem to have been less flies around this year, perhaps that’s why the swallows didn’t come?
However, we’ve seen other creatures that we don’t normally encounter, like the time I was watering the flowers.
I pointed and we watched a beautiful snake slide soundlessly out of the flowers, down the steps and under the garden gate to freedom. It clearly didn’t enjoy the shower from my watering can. We weren’t afraid; there are no harmful snakes in Spain, apart from the viper, which is so shy you’ll never see one.
We’ve seen wild mountain goats, or ibex, a couple of times in the past, but this summer we’ve seen them two or three times a week. The first time, I grabbed my camera.
“Stop the car!” I squeaked, pointing.
The goats stared at us briefly, then cantered away, melting into the scrubland before I had time to point the camera.
The second time, I was prepared. These ibex were close, seven of them, right by the side of the road. But in my excitement I couldn’t manage a single good photo. With no difficulty the herd scrambled up the mountainside until all we could see were their horns, silhouetted against the blue sky.
The next time we saw wild goats they were grazing in olive trees that they’d climbed. There is something extraordinary about seeing goats up trees, but they jumped down before I could get a decent picture.
No, I didn’t manage any good wildlife pictures this year. No pictures of baby house martins, their beaks agape, begging insects from their industrious parents. No silver snake in the garden. No shots of the iconic ibex on the dry, craggy mountainsides.
But there was one little creature I managed to snap, not outside, but in our living room. We have no idea where it came from but we guess it might have fallen down our chimney.
What was it?
A tiny bat that squeaked crossly as Joe gently coaxed it onto the dustpan before setting it free outside. It stayed obligingly still while I clicked the shutter, but I still didn’t manage to take a good photo. I guess I’d better stick to writing and leave the wildlife photography to the experts.
Spanish Recipe of the Month
60 – 70 minutes preparation and cooking
This chilli chutney is a great way of savouring the warm summer flavours, long after the heat of the sun has gone and the winter draws in. Seasonal eating is a way of life here and towards the end of September you get the last, and the best, of the season’s sweet red peppers and local red chillies. It does have a bite but combined with the chargrilled sweetness of red peppers, the chillies appear warm and the blend is amazing. If you use sterilised jars, the chutney will last unopened for about two months. The perfect accompaniment to Manchego cheese and fresh bread to capture the summer warmth, and it’s great on toast with melted cheese or with a selection of sliced cold meats.
8 ripe red peppers
8 fresh red chillies
2 medium onions (white or red), peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
Sprig fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
1 small cinnamon stick (about 5 cm)
100g (3.5oz) brown sugar
150ml (5 fl oz) balsamic vinegar
Salt and black pepper
1. This makes about 500g (18 oz) so if you want to preserve the chutney, you will need about 3 or 4 sterilised jars, depending on size.
2. The first step is to chargrill the peppers and chillies so place first the red peppers onto a hot griddle pan or under a hot grill. Cook, turning from time to time until they are blackened all over. Add the chillies after about 5 minutes as they will cook quicker.
3. When they are all black and blistered all over, carefully remove (you can do this as they cook) and place into a plastic bag and allow to cool.
4. While the peppers and chillies are cooling down, prepare the other ingredients: Heat a large saucepan and add a splash of olive oil. Add your sliced onions, herbs and cinnamon stick. Season with a little salt and pepper and cook over the lowest heat, very slowly for about 20-25 minutes until your onions are soft and sticky. Stir from time to time to prevent sticking.
5. While the onions are softening, prepare the peppers and chillies. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, remove from the plastic bag and peel off the blackened skins. Trim the stalks and remove the seeds and any white bits.
6. Finely slice or chop the chillies and peppers depending if you want the chutney to be chunky or more smooth and set aside (remember to wash your hands or even wear gloves as the chillies have a lasting effect!)
7. When the onions are soft, add the prepared peppers and chillies to the pan along with the vinegar and sugar. Continue to cook over a very low heat for another 20-30 minutes so the liquid reduces and you end up with a rich, dark, sticky chutney.
8. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves, then season again if necessary.
9. The chutney can then be put into your sterilised jars for later use, or left to cool and then stored in the fridge if you want to use it over the next few days.
Find more Spanish recipes at Orce Serrano Hams.
by Victoria Twead.
Victoria is a New York Times bestselling author. In 2004 she nagged poor, long-suffering Joe into leaving Britain and relocating to a tiny, remote mountain village in Andalucía, where they became reluctant chicken farmers and owned the most dangerous cockerel in Spain. Village life inspired Victoria’s first book, Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools, and was quickly followed by two more in the Old Fools series, all of which fast became Amazon bestsellers.
Victoria and Joe continue to enjoy life keeping chickens, writing, sampling the local wine and living alongside their colourful neighbours.
Read Victoria's other Expat Focus articles here or click the button below to view her own blog…