buber.net > Basque > Food > Recipes > Zumalacarregi Omelet
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by Jose A. Zorrilla
PRELUDE: Ferdinand the VII was the last absolute King of Spain. When he died in 1833 a new era opened for Spain and some implementation of the French Revolution principles began. The country lacked a strong Spanish bourgeoisie and the resistance to the new paradigm was not a simple Vendee like in France but a full fledged Civil War in which Navarre and the Basque Provinces played a decisive role. But in the Provinces the country split between city and country. The country sided with Carlism (of the name of absolutist Pretender, Don Carlos) and the towns and most specially Bilbao, cristinos (of M Cristina, the Regentess liberal Queen). The action takes place during the Carlist siege of liberal Bilbao, somewhere in the first half of the XIX Century. Not a historically accurate account.
It is raining like hell and a party of Carlists storms in the farm Lauaxeta. The family was sleeping, of course, it is eleven already and even if they know the country is at war they couldn't care less because they are surrounded by friends. One of their sons is on the Pretender's side as well, somewhere in foreign land, in wolf's land as they say in their own language. The party consists of six men. All of them in redcoats, all of them euskalduns.They politely request lodging according to the old laws of the Kingdom. A place by the fire, some hay to sleep, flour, oil and vinegar. No problem as far as fire and hay are concerned. Oil and vinegar nil. All has already being given to the Pretender's suppliers.Flour, very little. They have some pork scraps, some eggs and potatoes. That's all. The etxekoandre,(homemaker) Felisa, is ashamed not to be able to offer anything else but things are what they are. The country is at war. Bartolo, the father, suggests going to the next farm and try to pinch something. But the soldiers inform him that they had already being there and that the situation is pretty much the same. The boss, then, the commanding officer of the party says,"eggs will do, or whatever. Dont worry madam".
The officer's words put an end to the question.The air of poise of that guy intrigues Felisa. The captain covers himself with a thick coat and when he gives it to his aide de camp Felisa almost faints. This noble factions, this light brown beard...then the officer hands his beret to his nearest aid and there is no doubt. The Carlist officer that is requesting hospitality at her place is...Zumalacarregi, the mythical general of the carlist's troops that is defeating the demons, these atheist and brutal foreigners that want to kill God and give Spain to the devil, according to Dn Domingo, the village's priest.
What to do, what to offer to this crusader? Just eggs?
She does not know and she is desperate.
While Felisa reflects on that grave issue, Zuma sits by the fireplace and begins discussing the positioning of the artillery with Juan, his nearest aid, a chap from Vitoria. The siege of Bilbao has began and Bilbao has to fall. And it has to fall now. Damm Babylon! Of all the Provinces' cities the worst is of course San Sebastian, being as near to the French frontier as it is, no wonder. But Bilbao...surrounded by the Basque field how on earth have they become what they have become, the very fortress of evil, the liberal town of Spain!...the bullets that are killing Don Carlos soldiers everywhere were paid with Bilbao money, bilbaoans lended money to that usurper witch, the so called Queen of Spain, God condemms her to everlasting hell!
He concentrates for a moment on the type of ammunition he is going to use next morning. The batteries are all around Begonya and have not been precisely positioned yet. But both himself and Juan are exhausted. They cannot concentrate either on the ammo or on the maps drawn by the peasants. And they began to talk. Of the Provinces, of course, what else?
Juan comes from Vitoria. He led a happy life there. His father was in charge of the local customs. Then, this Madrid liberal decision of putting the customs at the frontiers of Spain (Bilbao,Irun) destroyed his life forever. When the goods went out the Provinces at Alava that was a good deal for the basques because that made of them a land without customs, puerto franco policy, duty free Provinces. Everything was cheap in those days. British iron, cloth, sugar...all you needed to live cost nothing. And peasants could make both ends meet with a bit of smuggling. Who cared? Smuggling after all is no high treason. Of course life was easier too because they could send the sheep to graze to the common pasture. But pastures are no longer common. They were sold at public auction and the rich bought them. Therefore now they make you pay high rents for what used to be free. Breeding is no longer possible. Farms the same. While they belong to the officers of the Real Armada or the Army the tenants paid low rents. Now, how? They belong to Bilbao doctors and lawyers and they want their due. It is impossible to make a living.
Why? Because before this sinister revolutionaries took over, only noblemen could be officers. And all Gipuzcoans, Biscaians and Arabans had a way to make a living provided they spoke Spanish, of course. For all were noblemen.Therefore they served the King for good and requested modest rents from their tenants. And the tenants didn't pay taxes either, of course.Another good ole law. Those were the days! These are the Fueros they are willing to die for! As they sing in their hymn, Oriamendi. "At whichever cost/ we'll make it/ well put King Don Carlos/at the court in Madrid." Ah, not to mention the Church, expropiated of all its possessions. The act was sacrilegous in itself but how about charity? Now how were the poor going to be tended? The Church had been doing that for time immemorial. So the poors took to the wolf's land, abroad. Not even King's territory any longer for the Spanish Empire was gone for good.
And what to say of the social contract, that incredible frog abomination? Felisa interrupts for a moment the heated debate. She has already taken all the grease from the pork scraps and needs more place at the fire place to proceed with her cooking. She has had an idea and it might even work. We'll see.
So she hands the fried pork scraps to the two men (torreznos) with some talo and a bottle of txakoli (wine) and begins an original recipe, the first omelet that will eventually became one of the most popular and widely practiced dishes everywhere, be it BC, Andalusia or Galice. An omelet with no name at the time, let's say, Zumalacarregi omelet, after rechristened potato omelet or Spanish omelet.
SPANISH OMELET OR POTATO OMELET.
Four big potatoes Four or five beaten eggs
The potatoes are cut into tiny pieces and fried in medium heat oil so that under no circumstance they become crispy. This is going to happen in a natural manner in Lauaxeta because the grease Felisa uses is pork grease whose melting point is not that high as olive oil. After they are fried and have become a sort of mass they are taken out of the pan and left to cool. Otherwise they would make the beaten eggs cook when time comes to mix the fried potatoes and eggs, which is the next step. Once they are together in a kind of soupy thicky yellow dough Felisa beats it over and over so that potatoes and egg blend in the most intimate manner. Then she pours this mix in the pan and fries it at medium heat for no more than two or three minutes. Then the difficult moment comes. One of the sides of the omelette is done. The other is still uncooked. But she is a bright etxekoandre. She grabs the lid of a pan, covers the omelet and in a quick gesture turns the pan upside down so that the cooked part shows. It is beautiful yellow brown. Then she slips the omelet again into the pan and wait for the other half to be completely cooked.
Meanwhile Zuma and Juan continue their diatribe against Rousseau. Society a compact between equals? Power the result of a common agreement? The source of all authority is God. From him it goes to the people and from the people to the King. The King rules before God and if he becomes a tyrant and does not abide by the Fueros it is legitimate to rise against him and even kill him, as Father Mariana explained very well. What a mayhem! Vote, Constitution, gee! Power is not men's will. Power is religion. Are we animals to leave the management of public things loose the seal of divinity? Was to rule a country like renting a house?
The superb omelet arrives on the table. Since the hens eat corn only the yellow of the dish is glowing, irresistible. Without stopping their agitated talk both men wolf on the dish. It is the first time- or so the legend goes- that the most popular Spanish/Basque dish is on the table. Zuma will die very soon. Before forty, before the Bilbao that shall never fall. Let him now relish at the treat.
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Jose A. Zorrilla