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All Saints Red Sauce
by Jose A. Zorrilla
Nov 2nd is All Saints in a catholic country. And a very important holiday it is. The dead have always been the link with the beyond and as such a decisive part in anybody's heritage. We know that towns existed because the cemeteries tell us where these people dwelt. Catholic churches were always built on a martyr's relic and in theological terms all the dead and saved by the grace constitute a Holy Communion of Saints of whose grace repository we all are supposed to benefit. My aunt used to pray to the Souls in Purgatory when she wanted to find forgotten things and more often than not she found them. That's not my case. Who believes in Purgatory? Parole is all that counts now.
On a less solemn level, Nov 2nd used to be the date to wear a coat for the first time. The official opening of the winter in fashion terms. Now, glossy new thigs straight from the shopping bag are not the acme of elegance. Nov the 2nd was the day of the year to indulge in killing your neighbour with envy- a gorgeous cachemire thingammy or something. Well, i am talking of things past. Today Nov 2nd is a long week end to be spent in the nearest-or farthest- resort. Mothers and other inveterate sufferers still go to the cemeteries though and leave some flowers on the beloved ones cold tombs. It is time of remembrance and collection. It is the day of the dead.
I thought that perhaps today would be the day to discuss red sauce. As you know Spain had something to do with the American history and one of the things that came from that new continent were peppers and tomatoes. The peppers in all Spain became part of the diet and to this day one of the features of the Spanish cooking is paprika. This is why you have chorizo, for instance, and so many dishes in which pimenton is the essential ingredient. Basques used a very old procedure to preserve the peppers. To sun dry them. So, now, next time you heard that the latest fanciest healthiest southern-french-apache-seminola-california-nouvelle cuisine is sun dried based, smile and say nothing. You know best. This is nyoras in basque. That is n with a tilde on top, the funny Spanish letter computers dont have.
The action takes place somewhere in the BC, late sixties or early seventies. The actors are Manuel Garcia Garcia, Civil Guard of first class and Antonio Lopez Intxausti, alias Andi, who has just joined ETA. Imaginary characters, imaginary action. Unhappily based upon actual facts.
Manuel Garcia has just left the Quarter House (civil guards dwell in houses apart from the civil population which at the same time serve as HQ of the unit) and under the command of corporal Munoz continues on active duty after forty hours of uninterrupted service. Munoz has received the order to control road 33, more precisely the intersection that after winding down from the mountain makes it possible for the traveler to go east or west. The road follows the old pattern of a roman path and was, and is, one of the essential arteries of access to the region. No way to go anywhere without hitting that patch of asphalt. Unles you do it on foot. A rather improbable choice in this time of the year, november, where on the distant heights you begin to see snow. A stolen car might pop up anytime, or so the information service has hinted. Nothing particularly dangerous even if there have been some problems lately with the resurrection of basque separatism. But this is mostly a french affair, the exiles who lost the war and live still beyond the frontier.
So Munoz and Garcia take to the road by car. It is not really their turf, they should not be there but there is no one available from the nearest quarter house. It is exceptional that they be allowed to drive a car, let alone one that looks like a normal one. First for it is not raining and the use of motorized means is reserved for such occassions. Second because non green cars are the privilege of the information service. Well, orders are orders. The mission is all that counts. The 33 shall be controlled at all costs.
Garcia is a twenty something, a NCO's son brought up in the house of somebody who respected law and order and who fought the Civil War as soldier of Mola and Varela. Garcia does not know very much about the Civil War. The communists wanted to take over and the Army had to intervene and uprise against the anarchy and danger of a true national mayhem. Now rules Franco without which most likely Spain would relapse again in civil strife.
For Garcia the Civil Guard is not even a craft but a way of life. He has never known any other way. He was born and raised in a Quarter House and his bride is a NCO's daughter. Hoping they can marry soon. She is very worried in Leon, all this separatist story going on in the BC, but for Garcia things are perfectly under control. He heard the histories of the anti-francoist maquis when he was a child, his father earned his stripes in those years, it cannot be worse than that and they have not reached that point yet. Or any other point for that matter. He heard once the scream "Gora Euskadi" but he pretended not to have heard it. Relations with the locals are touchy, first commandment of a civil guard. His father is tougher, was tougher, though. In the BC too, though in another village, of course. He once brought a couple of blokes to the HQ and beat the shit out of them. Better than taking them to court and fucking their lives for ever. That was his father's philosophy.
That's all there was to report in his father's village for the past thirty years. The same can be said of his own for now. Not that he dislikes particularly the place. Of course the south is more appealing. Warmer and cheaper. But the Civil Guard is a rural guard. And he could be posted somewhere in the Pyrinees and remain isolated by the snow all the winter. "There is always a worse post than the one you're in"-used to say his father. And of course he was right. Garcia knows the story of the Corps. It was created in 1848 by the Duke of Ahumada to fight bandits and unsafe roads and of course to preserve the agrarian public order. Spain had new land owners. The ones that bought at public auction the lands belonging to monasteries, villages and the like. The peasants did not like it. Enters the Civil Guard. The Corps was not deployed in the BC though, till 1868, being the basques as they were a foral part of Spain.
But what Garcia thinks while he walks his way to the crossroad has nothing to do with the past. He is dead tired, having being on active duty for more than forty hours, common practice, of course, this is what to be a guard is all about,obbey and keep your mouth shut, and he would like to have something in his stomach. He will likely put up with another ten hours of service at least. No such a thing as a lying civil guard. Unless dead. And he feels like hell without a decent meal. So, respectfully requests from the corporal, permission to stop a moment by the venta and gulp something. Just five minutes.
Munoz considers the request and ponders whether to say yes or no. They have orders to carry out and orders are carried out just like that. Of course Garcia is a child and not being married yet, his chances to eat something decent are scarce. And who knows if after this mission another one comes. To be a guard is a man's work, what the hell. And damm well they do it. The captain once said it. "You are the heirs of a tradition that goes back to the oldest centralised police in the world. The Santa Hermandad of the Catholic Kings" True. This is what they are. And keep doing. Yet, Garcia, a Corps' son...his father...he is about to marry...
OK, he says. Five minutes.
So, they make a pause at the little house beside the road and cross the door. For Maite, the maid, they are not a welcome couple. He dislikes these uniforms and what they do and her only hope is to see them leaving. Yet, she is a pro, so she'll offer then what the house has. No good customers, no rich people, never good tips. Always in a hurry and making the customers feel uncomfortable, puah!
Patxi, the owner, see things in a different way. He has always been for authority and iron hand and that comprises the civil guard. They are there and that means order. Lucia in the kitchen thinks the same. If she were to choose, she rather had civil guards than not. Both wave the guards hello when they see them enter and summon Maite to take care of them at once.
The menu that day is simple, as usual. First potatoes and pork chop in red sauce and then...no, cuts Munoz, no time for frills, that will have to do. So Maite goes to the kitchen and brings the rib and potatoes to the table.
RIB AND POTATOES RED SAUCE
You can use for this recipe either pork or beef ribs. Pork is easier for it takes less time to cook. One pound of pork or beef ribs Four big potatoes, old and wrinkled Some garlic Pimenton or the pulp of sun dried red peppers.If you use them let them soak in water for some hours and then get the fruit's meat with a fork or a spoon. Oil or pork scraps.
Fry the pork scraps (bacon without smoke or salt, chicharron, typersty) with garlic and the ribs, or use olive oil instead. When the ribs are more or less brown add a spoonful of pimenton or the pepper's pulp. Cover with water and a cube of broth and let cook till tender. If you use a pressure cooker (pck) it will be faster. After half an hour of pck or more in a conventional pan, add the potatoes. At medium heat they should be ready in fifteen minutes or so. Follow always the first commandment of the home made basque cooking. Stir.
Garcia gulps the exquisite plate under the watchful eye of Munoz who has refused to accept anything just to make things hastier. As Garcia puts an end to his meal and stands, Lucia rushes from the kitchen and offers to the young guard a couple of marrons glaces that she makes for the best Azcoitia's confectionery. It is no big deal, they are broken anyway, so they could no go with the other ones. But it is always a good idea to be in good terms with the police. Munoz raises the palm of his hand to say no with a rotund gesture. He is not a sweet tooth kid.
This is a sort of home made marron glace. Very good, though.
Chestnuts Butter Cinnamon A shot of brandy (not indispensable) Water Sugar
Get the chestnuts and boil them in water till they are tender though not too much. Difficult to guess not knowing your kitchen and the chestnuts. Ten, twenty minutes full heat?
Let them cool and peel them.Try not to break them in the process. Get a pan and put some butter and cinnamon into it. Fry the chestnuts slowly and gently in that grease. When you think they are fit for the next step, glazed in butter that is, add the sugar and the water. Say a good soup spoonful and a normal glass of water. If you want them to have a peculiar taste you can add some brandy.
Simmer slowly till complete evaporation. The chestnuts will be glazed in a kind of caramel. Switch the fire off before burning, of course. And if you are a sweet tooth and the brandy excellent and the butter from high pasture and the chestnuts straight away from their thorny sheath...hmmm.
So, Garcia thanks the gift and walks out with this taste of sweet relish in his mouth. He feels it like a communion with the land in which he has lived all his life. The 33 is waiting for him now. For them, rather. A Civil Guard never goes alone. And as all infantry manuals teach, Munoz shall cover him in the unlikely event anything goes wrong. But nothing shall go wrong. Nothing ever has gone wrong in the past thirty years. The Army sees to it. And Franco on top of it all. Spain is all that counts. "All for the homeland" is the Corp's motto.
In Errotazar, an old baserri, not so far by, Inas, the baserri's kid has brought a friend to sleep over, Andi. Now, Carmen, the ama(mom), does not have the slightest idea who this kid is but Inas has said he is his friend, that's enough. For her it is as if he were a new son, he will be treated like Ina's brother, Fernando, who is ending his studies at Deusto. So expects she that Inas be treated by other mothers. By Andi's mother, for instance, if Inas ever hits his friend's house.
But this will be a rather unlikely occurrence. In fact Inas is away for good and the police is real close. Andi has just one night of truce before beginning a similar trek to nowhere. Well, where the Organization sends him. Which is nowhere, for that matter. All links cut.
Not that Carmen is calm. Amas (moms) know everything. And she smells something strange in all this. Andi is not a friend. Inas has never spoken of him before. To bring him to Errotazar to prepare the exams? Does he really want to prepare an exam? Mmmm. He does not look like the student type. His clothes are not those of a student. His shoes are a ruin. He is not properly shaved. We'll see what aita says when he comes back from San Sebastian.
Andi is real frightened. Things are not going well at all. His contact failed, both at the first and second appointment. The telephone of emergency did not answer. Nobody showed up but Inas, as puzzled as himself. So both knew each other and both broke the most elementary security rules. They acknowledged each other and decided to make for Errotazar, to bet on some extra hours. No alternative. Inas would take care of the car and Andi would wait at his place. In case everything had blown they would still have the car to go near the muga. Hopefully. Then they would use excursion paths and after that they would request help from a sepherd they knew from the good ole days of the village church excursion group.
Those were the days. They used to gather every thursday to talk about how bad the world was and how it should be improved. Talk, talk, talk. How about some action for a change? No way.
But there were guys who did not talk but acted. They knew what they wanted and took the destiny in their hands. And to the very end. Txabi Etxebarrieta for one. A professor at the Faculty of Economics.He had fallen at a shoot out with the Civil Guard being less than thirty years old. And the military were talking now of organizing a trial at Burgos with people who had already been tried and were serving life sentences. But who the hell these military thought they were? The Basques were a people and a class. The Basque people and the working class people. No nonsense of basque names or origins or race or whatever. No religion either. He who lived and worked in the BC was exploited and therefore was basque and therefore had the right to answer. National and social oppression were the same thing.
And of course they were going to answer. They knew how. Like cubans and algerians had.Were they not a Spanish colony like Algeria had been a French colony? Or they would act following the vietnamese example, barefoot peasants who were defeating the mighty americans. Nguyen Van Gyap had said how. First, fight. Then the enemy replies. But since he does not abide by any rule he hurts a lot of ppl. Next time the insurgency is even bigger and the reply more brutal and indiscriminate. So more ppl join the fight till eventually the balance of power inclines on the part of the ppl. It had happened in Cuba and Algeria. It was happening in Vietnam. Why not in Euskadi?
So, one day he got fed up of talking and decided to go for the real thing. No more groups of reflexion with the vicar, no more nonsense of what we have to do, just do it and do it now. And if he fell in the fight others would follow. Carmen calls him to the kitchen. The meal is ready. She knows the kid has had a huge breakfast (eggs, chorizo, panceta and talo) but she flairs too that he is leaving anytime soon, even if nobody has told her, and she wants to make sure he leaves Errotazar well fed.
Carmen has cooked stuffed red peppers. A recipe she learned from a sister in law that worked as a waitress in Eibar. She will serve two to Andi. It is more than enough after all he has eaten this morning.
STUFFED RED PEPPERS IN RED SAUCE
Two medium red peppers (that is, not bell peppers. To stuff bell peppers you would need pounds and pounds of meat) Minced meat. Around a pound, It depends on the peppers size. Something about that is a good guess. Some garlic Some onion Some flat parsley A little flour A little cup of milk Two eggs One or two carrots A cube of broth Olive oil Patience and love as usual.
Fry the minced meat in oil with some garlic, onion and just to make it tastier add some parsley as well. Now, just minced meat can be tough after cooking inside a pepper, so what you have to do is add some flour (not too much) and blend it lovingly with a little cup of milk. A fancy classical cook would make a light bechamel and add it to the meat but this is Errotazar. Some ability in the handling of flour and milk will have the same effect without much trouble. While you wait for the meat to cool, you take the peppers from the oven where they have roasted at 380 F for about half an hour, perhaps forty five minutes. After some time in the frig to let them cool you peel them without breaking them, of course, they are gonna be stuffed.
Once peeled they are ready to be stuffed with the meat. Do it and close the pepper spearing the top with a toothpick.
Second step. You have to fry the peppers. First you rub them in some flour. Then you dip them in beaten eggs. You fry them obviously in the remnants of the meat proceedings plus some extra oil.
Once this process completed, you fry some onion and garlic in that oil, add a spoonful of flour, a glass of water,a cube of broth *and* so that the sauce does not appear as pale as a phantom's cloak, a couple of boiled carrots that you mash with a fork or in a processor.
Once the sauce is ready, filter it if you see the flour is not completely blended. (Small white slumps are tell-tale signs) The complete process takes some time. When the sauce is ready you will know because the colour is harmonious, reddish brown. Should not boil too fast or too slow. And the final result should be thick and creamy. No lumps of flour,of course. All this is the result of the proper medium heat and the adequate length of cooking.
The fried and stuffed peppers enter the sauce and stay in there for fifteen minutes or so.Stir gently every now and then.
Andi eats the dish and Carmen feels sorry for him and for her dish because this is the kind of food that has to wait at least a full afternoon before being eaten. There are rules of time to respect too. This one applies to stuffed red peppers. So what? That's life.
There are some leftovers of beaten egg and milk on the kitchen so Carmen decides to go for a quick dessert. Kids like Andi are never filled. A good dessert will help whatever it is behind all this strange story. An exam or something else. Something else most likely. And as she begins to cut the bread in slices she hopes that it will not be anything grave.
Ina's mom is going to cook one of the most popular basque desserts. Tostadas.
Slices of italian bread. Beaten eggs Milk Cinnamon
Leave the slices of bread to soak in milk for some time. Dip them then in beaten egg and fry in a mixture of butter and oil. Put some sugar and cinnamon on top.
As Andi gulps the last bit of tostada Ina's car engine is heard on its way to Errotazar. Lagun, the dog, begins to bark. It is Ina's allright. While Carmen wipes her hands to receive her child, Andi goes to the bag on the floor and picks the "pipe", an 9 m/m Parabellum whith which he has had some training at Urbasa. Not that he thinks it will be necessary, they will be where they have to be in minutes. But who knows?
And as he picks up his bag and passes by Carmen he waves good bye to her and enters the car. She smiles and waves back. Ina twinkles an eye to his buddy. Everything is under control. The txakurras (dogs) are somewhere else. The road is safe. Then the car leaves.
And so Manuel Garcia Garcia and Antonio Lopez Intxausti begin an improbable quest that will end in an encounter at the crossroad of the 33 road. One is a first class Civil Guard on his way to become corporal and then, most likely NCO. The other, a Forjas de Amorebieta welder and an ETA activist. Both born on the same land. Both, kids who have known no woman yet. Both warriors of their own cause and willing to give their lives for what they stand. As it will be the case. For if they have shared the fruits of the same earth almost at the same time, it has been at the threshold of the most intense moments of their short lives. Very soon they shall be sharing this very same basque earth forever though in a different manner: Manuel Garcia Garcia and Antonio Lopez Intxausti can't know it. But they have just had their last meal. Sit eis terra levis.
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Jose A. Zorrilla