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buber.net > Basque > Food > Recipes > Bilbao's Zurrukutuna
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Bilbao's Zurrukutuna

by Jose A. Zorrilla

NOTE.- While Zumalacarregi relishes at his omelet by the fireplace at Lauaxeta, a couple of Bilbao defenders, Javi and Manu, have their meager rations inside the makeshift shelter they have managed to build in the fortifications of the "martyr town"- as the Madrid liberals called Bilbao besieged by Don Carlos troops. It is night time. No attack of the carlists is feared for the moment.

Javi and Manu are eagerly waiting for their rations to come. They are as hungry as Balmaseda wolfs and who knows if this is going to be their last meal anyway. So they entertain the wait talking. Talking politics, what else? The damm yokels! Now that finally Spain was awakening and becoming a modern country after centuries of Inquisition and Empire... that bunch of illiterate aborigines have to take to the hills in favour of...absolutism. Incredible! Manu has heard it many times from his father. The Spanish 1812 Constitution cited the Basques as the model for the freedom everybody should have had in Spain and now...what a treason! This boronos, rednecks, reactionaries...to have a country based upon notion of absolute power coming from God ...has not the French Revolution made law general and a equal citizen of each of them?

What the rednecks are after is the Church power, religion everywhere. Misery that is. The monks must be expelled from the monasteries and put to work like everybody else. And their lands sold at market prize. Then rented to the peasants at the reasonable percentage of the land's crop. As in the rest of the civilized world. England and Germany had done that in the XVI Century. No wonder they were rich now and the Spaniards a bunch of beggars after so many centuries of American gold. It is work that brings prosperity, not military glories. The increase in land prices was excellent news. The country was becoming richer and of course the agricultural production was going up. This is what has incensed both priests and yokels. The first stopped eating for free. And the rednecks began to work for real.

Good news too, Bilbaoans were able to receive cheap wheat from Castille because the customs left Vitoria and landed at Bilbao's port.Now they are where they belong. At the entrance of Spain, not at the limits of the BC. And of course no more free entrance of British and French products in Spain like in the days of Fuero. Biscaians needed protection (customs) to develop an industry. And of course they needed capital. Where to get it without selling the ore? And selling the ore was forbidden by the Fuero again. And who wants the Fuero, anyhow? Are they not all citizens of the same country? Do they not conform the same general will? What is all this shit of the King being King by God's grace? King because the citizens allowed him to. The origin of the power is the social contract between citizens.

33 million reales have they managed to scrap to help the Queen to conduct the war. And if they win, well, *when* thy win the first thing will be to create the first private Bank of Spain, they know how to do it, as a matter of fact they are the only ones who know how to do it. Bank of Bilbao will be a nice name. Yep. Bilbao is a nice name. First port of Spain, founded in 1300 by the King of Castille, first in goods, in exports...one of the most prosperous towns of the Kingdom. And no problems with the loss of the Empire. They fared well in the Middle Ages, they were the middle port between Burgos and Low Countries. They fared very well all along the Modern Ages, building ships and receiving all the goods Spain needed and along with San Sebastian they were the first to know what happened in Germany, England and France. They'll muddle through this one too and they'll put this bunch of rural savages where they belong. Such suits, such barbaric customs... they even let their hair grow as if they were women. What to say of that language of theirs...gothic like the cathedrals they planned to raze, like the walls of the cities to be demolished...a shame to all decent basques. Oh dear, the peasants, always the peasants, like in the days of the jacqueries, always Bilbao in their hatred...But once they win over this rag-n-tan...

Yet all this is but a dream now. They are hungry, of course, and the night is cold and wet . But they are the soldiers of freedom, the Civic Guard created to defend the new liberties that the Queen Governess has enacted after Ferdinand VII death. About time, Jesus, the "nefarious decade" has come to an end (1823-1833). New times have come and Javi and Manu are convinced they shall defeat the absolutists like the French bourgeois defeated Louis XVIII at the barricades of Paris couple of years ago.

Bego arrives with the dinner. Cod is all they have, dry cod. Happy that even if the town is besieged the sea belongs to the loyal navy. So, cod, at least, is something. Not the wonderful cod of the good ole days but cod nonetheless.

The dinner Bego has prepared for these two eager soldiers of freedom is simple and goes back probably to many years ago, especially the soup, of euskaldun name "zurrukutuna"



Bread (20 ounces, 10 in peace time)
Green or red pepper
10 ounces of dried cod in crumbles.

Since this is the first time we use cod, BE WARNED: Salted cod is always soaked before being used. Overnight is usually not enough so go for 24 hours at least and change the water every now and then.

Fry in oil some finely chopped onion, garlic and green pepper at medium heat. When it is transparent add the cod crumbles and mix well. Once everything seems kinda compact or uniform anyhow, add the bread duly cut in little pieces. Can be slices, cubes etc. Your choice. Add water or fish broth. Water is the way to go in a besieged town, and simmer. That's all. Primitive but effective to keep Javi and Manu on guard.

The main course is cod as well.


There are countless ways of preparing ajo arriero. This one is simple and war like.

10 ounces crumbled salted cod
10 ounces red roasted peppers

Soak the cod as above. ALWAYS soak the salted cod.

Fry half onion and a couple of garlic heads in oil. When they are brown add the cod and mix well. Then the roasted reddies as indicated in a previous posting ( peeled after roasting at 380F -around 45 minutes- and then simmered medium heat 45 minutes in oil where you have fried some garlic). It is a kinda scrambled crumbled cod and red peppers though in better times we would add potatoes to the basic thingammy.

An apple for dessert. No frills. The carlist may attack anytime.


The carlist shall try twice to conquest this fortress of liberalism without success. The coat of arms of the town shall bear ever since the inscription "Very loyal and very noble and twice undefeated city of Bilbao". This motto shall be eliminated to cancel all bad memories of civil strife. The same happened with the civic parade that every year the liberal society "El Sitio" set up to commemorate the event. The last parade took place in 1923 presided over by General Primo de Rivera.

But feelings run so high on the subject that the official francoist propaganda claimed the first troops to enter Bilbao during the Civil War (1936-1939) were the Navarran Carlists. Not true. The first to enter Bilbao were the italian armoured forces. I saw the pictures, when all this was a clandestine affair at a photoshop long gone, Buenos Aires street, Bilbao. The same photographer that took Gernika's after the bombing.


Use of this text is free as long as there is no commercial transaction involved. Please kindly inform the author of your intentions. Thank you.

Jose A. Zorrilla
Fax 416-925-4949

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