Blog | Spanish farmhouse near Seville | B&B Aracena | Self-catering cottages Andalucia

The blog of Finca Buenvino Bed & Breakfast near Aracena, Seville, Andalucia, Spain in the Sierra de Aracena National Park. Set amongst a chestnut and cork-oak forest we operate as a family B&B and self-catering holiday cottages. We run cookery courses, photography courses, creative writing retreats and fitness retreats. Hiking trails and stunning views.

Rutting Stags

There was a huge, not-quite-full moon last night and at between 3 and 4.30 in the morning we heard the stags' hoarse voices calling across the valleys and hills. Jeannie went out onto the balcony, and just across the valley from the house she could hear the clash of antlers as two stags fought over mastery of the hinds.

Autumn creeps in hesitantly

Some cold nights, some rain, the bracken turning to rust: these harbingers of autumn remind us that we must lay in logs.

An e-mail arrived this morning announcing the first meeting of the season at the chestnut cooperative SCA Castañera Serrana, to be held at the end of the month. It's good to get together and plan this season's campaign.

Volunteer work picking Chestnuts.

Our chestnuts won't be ready for gathering until late October or early November and we shall be looking for young physically energetic people to come and help with the harvest in exchange for board and lodging.

Our team in 2013 ! We only had about1.5 tonnes that year.

Our team in 2013 ! We only had about1.5 tonnes that year.

Usually we have 6- 8 helpers for the first two weeks of November. They stay in our holiday cottages and we provide the ingredients for breakfast and dinner which they cook for themselves. Lunch is always up at the main house and is a convivial affair. Picking is from 9 - 2.30pm 0r 3pm if going well. After lunch time to play.

At 5pm we will need some help to load the sacks into the van and deliver them to the co-op. Most applicants come through www.helpx.net or www.workaway.info

Our chestnut co-operative, the Castañera Serrana,  cleans the nuts naturally, using water at different temperatures, without the use of  chemical agents which can affect the environment as well as  the final product.  The cooperative was founded in the early 80’s, and presently has more   than 280 active partners,  within the "Sierra de Aracena and  Picos de Aroche natural park", which contains about 3.000 chestnut trees and an   average total  production of around one million kg.

They have a lyrical webpage in English about the seasons on a chestnut farm. Here it is:-


"Our chestnut forests are made up of trees, many of them hundreds of years old,  which form one of the richest ecosystems in Andalusia. They are an perfect example of respect for and balance within the environment.

These beautiful chestnut landscapes, occupy the highest and steepest slopes of the southern ranges in the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park. They are particularly widespread in Fuenteheridos, Galaroza, Los Marines, Castaño del Robledo and Aracena.

 
The Chestnut Year


 
SPRING
In the fields of the Sierra de Aracena (Huelva), the winter frosts give way to heavy rainfall. On drier days, early morning dews refresh the grass, which starts to grow strongly. Pigs can forage on roots and herbs in the meadows, and their offspring grow healthily. The wild mushrooms of the area (umbrella mushrooms, saffron milkcaps, and edible amanita ponderosa),  flourish and the farmer sees in this surge of new life the surest proof of overcoming the sterile winter, as well as the hope that the nuts will mature between summer and autumn.
Little by little the chestnut forests are covered in dense and intensely green foliage  which in June is dappled with the paler starbursts of chestnut catkins.

 SUMMER
Unlike the flowering and growth which is usual at this season in most of Europe, the Mediterranean countryside seems to die under the torrid heat of summer. The gushing rivulets and streams unleashed by the recent spring rains turn to a trickle and eventually dry up; the river banks and watercourses are dry. The grasses, herbs and flowers left by the spring wither and die, leaving bare the dusty ground. The chestnuts drop their large catkins and life seems to go into a deep torpor.

But the collapse is only apparent, for once the trees and shrubs have finished flowering, their fruits start to form, to grow and to promise an autumn harvest.


AUTUMN
The first autumnal rains cool the atmosphere and soak the bare ground. The chestnut trees change the colour of their leaves, which turn to yellow and drop lazily. Finally the time has come to start collecting the precious and exquisite chestnuts. There are different varieties: the locally named Pelon, Wide-Alájar, Helechal, Dieguina or Vazquez etc.

The harvesting of the chestnuts, which drop to the ground wrapped in a spiky protective shell known as a hedgehog, takes place in November and in the first half of December. The whole family is usually involved: while women and children concentrate on gathering the nuts, the men are in charge of loading the sacks and transporting them to the trucks, some use mules and others have 4 x 4 cars.

The chestnuts are usually eaten raw or roasted in the fireplace (the latter known as tostones or escafotes). Sometimes, to keep them longer, they are spread out onto a slatted upper floor in an old building known as a zarzo, where they are dried and smoked over wood fires lit on the floor below. These will become the popular pilongas or castañas enzarzadas which are very hard and need soaking after which they are easy to eat raw, or can be stewed (typical chestnut soup).

Currently, large numbers of excellent varieties of our mountain chestnuts, are exported to the United States, Brazil, Canada and other European countries where they are highly prized for making marrons glacés or chestnut jams.

 
WINTER
The days grow short and it grows cold. The chestnut trees stand leafless, and have become grey shadows silhouetted in the fog.  The naked forest  meanders  melancholy between the dark meadows. The shadows are long and the dreaded frost returns.

During the winter months peasants perform maintenance work on our forests of chestnut trees.

Expert hands shape and prune the chestnut trees with the axe, eliminating all unproductive branches and strengthening the health and vitality of the tree."




Copyright - cserrana.com

Sunday Lunch in Good company

Elaine Kingett (@elainekingett) is here once again with one of her intimate writing groups. They are creative, cathartic and allow participants to get in touch with their inner selves,  relax mentally as well as physically (with yoga, walks, meditation and swimming)

On Sunday we were 15 for lunch, joined by Javier and Paula Hidalgo   as well as David Swann, and Maria Jose Sevilla to keep us entertained with wine and sailing stories as we sipped.

Menu: Cold solomillo of Iberian pork with pimientos del piquillo, smoked aubergine caviar, tomato, feta and almond salad, fried green peppers, green salad, pasta salad, assorted Spanish cheeses with candied aubergines, watermelon from the garden, and sourdough buns.

Cookery Courses for January and February 2017

We will be running two four-night courses at the start of the year.

Comida de Cuchara; "Spoon-Food" Spain's comfort Food!

Our winter landscape: the chestnut trees are bare and sometimes cold winds do blow.

Our winter landscape: the chestnut trees are bare and sometimes cold winds do blow.

 

We love Spanish spoon-food - comida de cuchara - it's comforting on cold winter days. What is better than a deep bowl of soupy rice with fish, or butter beans with tomatoes and clams? Or a traditional cocido, with plenty of chorizo and chick-peas, and chopped chard or spinach leaves, and a spoonful of smoked sweet paprika from la Vera? Salt cod is delicious when flavouring a dish of potatoes and onions with turmeric; sometimes we add a few green beans if there are any to be had fresh from the coast.

In the autumn we get plenty of wild mushrooms, some of which we dry, and freeze and the are then available for us to throw into our soupy stocks to form a flavoursome basis for our barley or rice dishes. Rabbit bones make an excellent stock, as do those of quails or chickens, so we may start the course with some roasted birds or rabbits or a paella, and afterwards learn to make our light stocks from the bones and fresh vegetables.

It's healthy, economic food, delicious, honest and filling. We will also be baking our own sourdough breads or quick wholemeal seeded breads to accompany these winter delights.

Our Spanish Spoon-Food course is running from 25th - 29th of January; Cost €900 includes all tuition, lodging wine and food, and pick up and drop off from Seville

Our second 4 day course will be running in February

Cerdo Ibérico, learning to cook with Iberian pork: and how to appreciate good quality Jamón Iberico de Bellota.

 

We live in the heart of the Iberian pig country with its beautiful wild landscape, where the Iberian pigs roam free from November to March, and gorge themselves on the sweet acorns of the holm-oak trees.

We will be visiting one of the top ham producers of the area, and lunching on a farm to see the animals in their natural environment. We will watch a demonstration of how to carve a ham, and we will taste different parts of a leg to see how the flavour changes.

We will be learning how to prepare slow- cooked Iberian pork cheeks in white wine with bay-leaves and peppercorns, on a bed of root vegetables chopped and softened in Olive oil.

We will be preparing the fillet mignon or solomillo of Iberian pork, with butter and sage or sweet roasted peppers and sherry. The meat is best served slightly underdone, as unlike ordinary pork it is a red meat, and can even be eaten raw as a carpaccio, with a tiny spoonful of homemade mayonnaise on the side perhaps, but it is so delicate you won't want to overwhelm the flavour.

The liver is often served fried and cut into thin strips as a salad in a vinaigrette made of sherryvinegar and olive oil. Pieces of crispy fried garlic are dropped into the salad and a sweet confit of onions is also good. Serve with a bunch of watercress or rocket.

Our Iberian Pork and Jamon Iberico de Bellota course is running from 8th - 12th February 2017; Cost €1200 includes all tuition, excursions, lodging wine and food, and pick up and drop off from Seville.

Please get in touch via our contact page if you are interested in either course!

Day 5: Candied Aubergines in Honey

Candied Aiubergines in Honey syrup with ginger.

Candied Aiubergines in Honey syrup with ginger.

Following on from where we left off on day 2, the process is the same for two more days. Remove the aubergines in the morning, add 500 gr. of sugar to the syrup, bring to the boil, replace the aubergines in the thickened syrup and bring back up to the boil once more. Switch of heat and allow to cool. Do this once more in the late evening, adding a further 500 gr of sugar.

Repeat this sequence on day 4. By the end you should have added around 3 Kgs of sugar and have a dense ginger-flavoured syrup. The aubergines will gradually continue to absorb the sugar, becoming quite translucent.

Day 5. Remover the eggplant, and the ginger; throw away the ginger root. Add 1kg. of runny honey, and bring back to a simmer. Replace the aubergines and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

In the meantime warm several 1Kg or 2Kg preserving jars in the oven to a temperature of 100ºC. Turn the heat off under the syruppan, and allow the syrup and the fruit to settle until the liquid is still.

Bottle carefully with a ladle. The syrup is very hot! Tighten the lid of the jar when full, making sure the aubergines are covered by plenty of the liquid. It's best not to overfill the jar with fruit. It does not matter if there is a lot of syrup on top. Allow to cool all day before storing in a cool cellar or larder.

To Serve

We place one or two whole aubergines on a shallow dish with knife and fork, and serve it with strong manchego cheese, or fresh goat's cheese. Just cut a slice and place it on top of a slice of cheese. Eat!

Home made vanilla ice cream goes well with these; dice them intotranslucent cubes, and pour some of the extra syrup over the ice cream.

Candied Aubergines

Jeannie is peeling and pricking the aubergines with a fork.

It's that time of year again: a glut of aubergines coming up from the vegetable garden every day, and one of the ways to enjoy them in another guise through winter and spring, is to candy them and flavour them with ginger. They are perfect with manchego cheese, or can be used to decorate a honey ice cream.

The process starts 1st thing in the morning, so that you have time to make the first sugar syrup before retiring to bed on day 1. Start with peeling them, and pricking them all over with a fork.

Lu Kingett and Claire Victory are helping to peel and prick. A couple of dozen were done in minutes and dropped into lemon acidulated water.

Lu Kingett and Claire Victory are helping to peel and prick. A couple of dozen were done in minutes and dropped into lemon acidulated water.

Here is how they look as soon as they go into the water

Here is how they look as soon as they go into the water

The aubergines are then brought to a simmer with 2 or three fresh ginger roots cut into small chunks, and the zest of an unwaxed lemon. To begin with there is a tendency for them to float, so they must be weighed down with a plate to keep them submerged. the pan is then taken off the heat and allowed to cool until evening.

 In the early evening, fish them out, one by one with a slotted spoon. Add sugar to the water. This time we put in 500gr, or roughly 1 lb. Bring the weak syrup to a simmer, ensuring the sugar is all melted, then gently drop the aubergines back into the liquid. allow them to come to a simmer again and cook them gently for about 15 minutes. with the plate over them.

This is how they look after one night in the weak sugar syrup.

This is how they look after one night in the weak sugar syrup.

Next morning fish them out once more with a slotted spoon and place them in a deep bowl as they will shed their syrup. Add the next 500gr/1lb sugar to the syrup in the pan, bring to a simmer, and place the aubergines back in the liquid along with any liquid they may have shed. Bring back to a simmer, cover with a plate, weigh them down and stand them until evening. ........more to follow!

Late summer madness

Well, it seems we need not have worried about the initial hesitation and panic caused by the Brexit referendum. People have decided that they need a holiday come hell or high water.

New clients, old clients who have become personal friends, even longer standing personal friends who have become clients; writing groups, cooking groups, people who stay and laze, read and swim, or people who walk the mule trails or jog through the forest with all the latest Fit Bit tech strapped to their manly torsos; elderly ladies who identify butterflies, bat-men who set up lights and traps to see which varieties are about, ant-girls who are writing about bio-diversity in the organic veggie patch for their theses at Scandinavian universities; all are here or have been here or will be here this year.

We have just returned from a week in Bulgaria, eating Sereni cheese baked between filo pastry sheets with dill and lovage (but it's not really lovage, but a kind of sharp celery leaf); soft, soft breads from the Tsentralni Hali market in Sofia; huge pink beef tomatoes much like the ones grown in the Sierra de Aracena, and enormous juicy peaches, heaped upon roadside stands manned by smiling lady farmers.

Our Spanish shop peaches arrive chilled from Sevilla or Valencia, generally waiting to ripen in a warm kitchen, so they do not always have the same yielding sweetness unless we are able to get them locally. In the mountains everything is later due to our spring frosts. The peaches of La Nava, which is nearby, are celebrated in one of our last early autumn festivals at the end of September.

Our kitchen is smelling of these new inspirations. Our filo pastry and Burgos cheese, beaten with eggs is spiced with fennel seeds from the garden and this summer's basil pesto. Sourdough is rising in a large pottery bowl. A Bulgarian brioche is glowing in its egg-yolk glaze like a pale conker. Peaches are being fried in butter with sweet sherry, to accompany theduck breasts which we are serving tonight.

Things that go grunt in the night

Hot day in the low 30ºsC yesterday, so we went up for a midnight swim and then lay out under the stars, watching the satellites slide silently through the sky.

As I came through the arch to extinguish the lanterns on the terrace, a wild boar grunted and rushed off into the woods.

Brexit, let's hope........

There was a stunned silence on Friday morning, 24th June. I came down stairs to make coffee and was met by a guest sobbing quietly. We all felt betrayed. Of course there was no vote for us as we have lived out of the UK for over 30 years, but from outside it seems that British politicians do not care how much damage they do to the economies of other nations, let alone to their own.

On a cheerier note, summer is here, the climbing roses are out, chestnut blossom is spilling from the trees in starbursts, the pool is lovely and we have a houseful of guests from Northern Europe and the United States. We were 12 for dinner last night and nobody mentioned the B word. Beetroot and yogurt jellies with cumin were followed by Iberian pork fillets with pimientos del piquillo. After that Medjoul date and custard tart (from Rory O'Connell.)

We washed it down with bottles of Palacio Quemado, from the Ribera del Guadiana D.O just up the road from here, North East of Villafranca de Barros. Later, under the stars we drank chilled glasses of iced Vino de Naranja, from the Condado de Huelva......F the B word!

Fitness Week (June 18th - 25th 2016)

 

Al Fresco Mediterranean Lunch will keep you going until tapas and dinner!

Prizewinning Fitness and Lifestyle Instructor, Sarah Maxwell arrives on Saturday for another magic week of morning yoga on the lawn, long walks, swimming and pool exercises, all accompanied by excellent Mediterranean cooking, Spanish wines in the evenings and starlit conversations. Check wonderwoman out on http://www.sarahmaxwell.co.uk/

La lluvia en España.....

Prizewinning Lifestyle and Fitness Instructor, Sarah Maxwell, arrives on Saturday to start one of her #magic weeks of #walking,#swimming, morning #yoga on the lawn and #mindful eating! Should be fun, what with the excellent #Mediterranean food, and Spanish #wine in the evenings, and #starlit #conversation.

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Chintzy cheeriness.

Tried out these bedspreads but almost immediately decided that this was the War of the Roses.

Hooray,hooray, the 1st of May.....and yes, the swimming pool is ready and blue and sparkling, if a mite chilly. Guests have been swimming like mad, though, so it does feel as though summer is on the way.

"Write it Down" Weeks for 2016

I have just been sent the beautifully designed new webpage for "Write it Down" weeks at Finca Buenvino. That's a great job Elaine Kingett. Take a look by clicking Here. We are looking forward to more fun, more creativity and naughtiness, more introspection when it's necessary, some smiles, some tears, but mainly a lot of joy and self discovery. Participants are often astounded by their own creativity, which has been unlocked by this week in beautiful surroundings under the careful guidance of mentor Elaine Kingett.

Misty mountains and muted light......and our photography week has begun!

It has been raining all night.

Well, the mushrooms are happy, the chestnuts are swelling, the quinces are putting on weight, the winter cabbages are drinking. The tomatoes are bursting.

The acorns are falling, and the pigs are gobbling. The sheep have been locked into a grassy enclosure so as not to eat the falling chestnuts before we can begin harvesting in early November.

Tim Clinch arrived, fresh from Burgundy, where he has been photographing great wine houses for Le Pan Magazine

This week he is coming down a notch and staying at our B&B, where he is running his five night photography course. Food and Travel; portraits, still life, village and landscapes. Platescapes.

Of course we shall be eating and drinking, and we shall also visit 5 Jotas

Here we will see how their exquisite Ibérico hams are produced. The piglets are followed through life; by careful selection, breeding,  and diet. They lead a life spent out in the perfect dehesa landscape of wildflowers, grasses, roots, herbs, autumn mushrooms and acorns.

This is how the dehesa looks in springtime!

Misty mountains and muted light......and our photography week has begun!

It has been raining all night.

Well, the mushrooms are happy, the chestnuts are swelling, the quinces are putting on weight, the winter cabbages are drinking. The tomatoes are bursting.

The acorns are falling, and the pigs are gobbling. The sheep have been locked into a grassy enclosure so as not to eat the falling chestnuts before we can begin harvesting in early November.

Tim Clinch arrived, fresh from Burgundy, where he has been photographing great wine houses for @LEPANMedia

This week he is coming down a notch and staying at our B&B, where he is running his five night photography course. Food and Travel; portraits, still life, village and landscapes. Platescapes.

Of course we shall be eating and drinking, and we shall also visit 5 Jotas

Here we will see how their exquisite Ibérico hams are produced. The piglets are followed through life; by careful selection, breeding,  and diet. They lead a life spent out in the perfect dehesa landscape of wildflowers, grasses, roots, herbs, autumn mushrooms and acorns.

This is how the dehesa looks in springtime!