The South is beaten in a mortar

Matías Ferrer

December 13, 2018

I think the oldest memory of me in the kitchen I can think of is from when I was five years old. My father got in with bag full of “teleras”, Cordoba’s most typical bread. My land’s bread has a dense crumb and thin yet firm crust. My mother used to divide it for different purposes: as a side, for breakfast and of course, “salmorejo”.

I remember she always would say about the latter: “It will be spectacular tomorrow. Do we have tomatoes?”. So she would keep some of that dense bread in a fabric bag so it could get the perfect consistency for our star dish of the week. Fresh bread just wouldn’t do.

It was summer. It’s always been summer when salmorejo joins our daily meal. The season for Cordoba’s pink tomatoes starts in the middle of July, when the sun scourges the Andalusian lands and this delicious veggie cream eases the heat in all households.

Almost 300 grams per piece and a colour that opens the appetite even in the most satisfied dinner. Cordoba’s tomatoes have always been a whole institution the land of salmorejo. They are the main character of our cooling summer soup and so delicious that one cannot resist having a bite fresh with just a pinch of salt. “Leave them in the bowl! We want it nice and red!”, my mom would say if she caught us committing that little crime before lunch.

 

I perfectly remember the smell of freshly beaten tomatoes with garlic and the pieces of bread soaked in salt, vinegar and our lovely olive oil.

It is impossible to forget that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that we use for our salmorejo is the “chorreón”. This is an essential key to ensure the taste and texture are the right ones. It is indeed Andalusia’s gold and agricultural base that we admire as spectators eager to try it daily.

In the old days, these simple ingredients used to be mixed and beaten by hand with a mortar and pestle to obtain the salmorejo. Nowadays, we just pug our blender to make the process easier and quicker. But my father would always say “your grandmother used to leave everything in the mortar the whole morning and once back from work, she would order me to mix it all. I enjoyed it like a kid and the flavour was just spectacular. You could still bite some of the ingredients.”

Laughter in the kitchen used to join sighs of desire while the dish was being made. We knew it was never the main dish but the only one that could not be left out. Sometimes “pisquitos” – tiny pieces of ham -, pieces of hard-boiled eggs or “picatostes de pan” – sort of fried croutons – would adorn each spoonful.

With just these three ingredients, measured by eye by our grandmothers, I can ensure that this memory of when I was five years old is so unforgettable that each year, at the beginning of July, my palate asks “but, do we have tomatoes?”.

 

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