The Book Stall

Bread & Oil

Bread and Oil
Majorcan Culture's Last Stand 
by Tomas Graves
The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002

"People say to me, incredulously: 'You mean to say you're writing A Whole Book about bread and oil?', as if the subject warranted no more than a paragraph. Oh, come on!" exclaims Tomas Graves, the author of "Bread and Oil: Majorcan Culture's Last Stand."

"People write doctoral theses on germs you can't even see without your reading glasses, so why is there no book written about this age-old invention? For centuries it was the pillar of the Balearic survival diet. It was the only thing left between hunger and starvation, feeding generation upon generation of islanders, and without it many would not be here today: it deserves full recognition."

Majorca, a popular tourist destination in the Balearic Islands off the southeast coast of Spain, was once largely rural and agricultural and the consumption of pa amb oli (bread and oil) is as traditional as beer in Germany. For Graves, and others, the pa amb oli is one of the final remnants of a Majorcan culture that's largely been overrun by modern-day Visigoths in Mercedes and four-wheel-drives Vitaras.

Writing with passion and irony, Graves has composed a food book in which history is the main ingredient and which has more social commentary than recipes. By defending and elevating pa amb oil, a cheap and cheerful food, he hopes to preserve some portion of the true Majorcan essence from the fancified cookbooks aimed at up-market visitors from other lands.

Originally published as "Volem pa amb oli" in the native Catalan language of the Balearics, the new English-language edition of Graves' book offers an informative guide not only to a overlooked culinary tradition but also to the immense cultural transition that's changing the face of Europe.


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Bread & Oil
Majorcan Culture's Last Stand

Recipe: Oliva negra o blava

'Blue' olives
Rain water
Vinegar
Garlic, bay leaf
Virgin olive oil, salt

The last Majorcan olives to ripen on the tree, those which missed the last trip to the oil press and yet were spared by the thrushes, aren't really black but more of an indigo colour. Some people prepare them the same way as whole green olives, although there's no need to soak them first to get rid of the bitterness; nor do they keep quite as long. This is how Na Fiola, the baker, prepares them:

"Wash the olives and place them in a clean alfabia (glazed amphore-shaped pot). For every two kilo of olives add four cloves of garlic, two bay leaves and two coffee spoons of salt. Prepare a mixture of two parts vinegar to three of water and pour it over the olives until they are covered. Add a dash of virgin olive oil (to keep the flavour in and the microbes out) and leave them, covered with a saucer, for at least a month. The olives will be an intense black colour."



 
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