Oliva´s Moors and Christian Armies, Marching on their Stomachs!

Oliva Market Square.

Oliva Market Square.

Oliva is a small town South of Valencia on the old coastal road from Valencia to Alicante. It sits in the `comarca´ of La Safor and like all parts of the Valencian Community ( and Spain generally)  has its own culinary traditions. It is generally believed to be the original home of the hamburger, called `figatells´ here. These burgers are made from the liver, kidneys and shoulder of pork, spiced with nutmeg and given texture with pine-nuts and parsley and are wrapped in caul-fat to hold them together when being barbecued or cooked on the plancha. It closely resembles similar North African skewers ( though these are made from lamb!) and `sheftalia´ from Cyprus and parts of Greece and Turkey.

Oliva is an old town and has roman ruins.

Along with many such towns it has its traditions celebrating not just Fallas, the Valencian Spring festival,  but also the Moors and Christians.

Trebuquers discharging their Muskets.

Trebuquers discharging their Muskets.

These latter traditions are not exclusive to the South of Valencia but are certainly concentrated in towns such as Oliva and those more in the Interior and parts of Alicante such as Xativa, Alcoi and Sax to name but three. What is commemorated is the conquest of the then Islamic part of Spain, or Al Andaluz, by Jaime ( or Jaume) 1st who stormed Valencia after decisive battles North of the City.

Impromptue Dancing in the Square.

Impromptue Dancing in the Square.

Today if you go to see a Moors and Christians event you will be dazzled by the colour , spectacle and noise! The two armies are represented by `filas´who parade slowly through towns such as Oliva to the music of a brass band playing marching music, the Christian `Trabuquers´or musket firers whilst the Moors wave scimitars ( though it is by no means an exact science!) Vast amounts of money is spent on costumes, horseriders charge up and down and great fun is had by all!

But, this is not a travel guide or tourist blog!

Putxero, One Pot Dish.

Putxero, One Pot Dish.

Olivas´ food traditions are still important and this weekend has seen two separate food festivals celebrated by the townsfolk! Saturday saw the Paella competition and parades of the tradition Faelleras and Faelleros in their colourful costumes……Spring is after all just around the corner! The paellas here are highly decorated too….the result of there being a prize for presentation which today sees traditional Valencian Paella surmounted by gaudy piles of carved fruit, melon, oranges, lemon and  bread amongst other things!

Sunday was the turn of the twelve bands of Olivas´ Federation of Moors and Christians Societies, six of each variety. They began the day very early ( parking had been suspended around the Market square from about 7am) parading in turn throughout the town and up to the castle and back all the while discharging their muskets. I arrived in the square at 10.15 in time to see them return and I do not think they had lost any enthusiasm for their noisy passage! Having arrived there the bbq´s were lit and bocadillos ( French sticks) full of local longanizas (sausage), morcillas (black pudding) and pancetta ( proper thick pork rashers!) were being dispensed with beer, wine, spirits ( particularly anis) and bataxarra ( anis and sweet moscatel wine) being very popular.

Cooking Sausages and Pancetta!

Cooking Sausages and Pancetta!

You may be forgiven for thinking that this fare would be sufficient after the mornings stroll through the streets! No, this is but a warm up for the main dish!

Whilst the breakfast was cooking and being eaten the band played and people spontaneously formed up into the lines or `filas´ of the parade and stepped slowly in time, advancing no more than an inch at a time, swaying and sashaying with the simple double step whilst occasionally a `captain´ would emerge and lead them with the flamboyant gestures that go with the role. Quietly   sheltered from the breeze, twelve `ollas´ or large metal stew pots were full of putxero, bubbling away over gas rings!

Yesterday may have been the half-year ( or migany) celebration and there is no better dish for a celebration than a putxero! It is in fact more popular than Paella Valencia for a fiesta!



This is a one pot dish. Starting with marrow bones, spine, a pigs trotter and or tocino in water set to boil until the meat is falling of the bone at which point beef shin and chicken and sometimes lamb neck are added. Then the vegetables, cardoon stalks, chickpeas, carrots , potatos, parsnip and cabbage is added. The stock is seasoned and spiced with  colourant and salt and the final addition is made, `pilotes´ or large pork meatballs with bread , parsley and cinnamon and/or nutmeg wrapped in cabbage leaves go in. When these are ready so is the meal!

I have written about Putxero before and the links are below. The description above is not prescriptive. This is after all Valencia and everyone has their own family recipe so there were twelve different putxeros there to be tried! Having been invited to judge the competition along with a number of local worthies and journalists there was serious work to do! Just after 1pm we retired to the interior of the market where a  presentation dish of each was laid out! Outside the filas tucked into their own putxeros and awaited our decision.

The last time I did this (in L´Alcudia) the chefs had all been professionals from restaurants across Spain. On this occasion the chefs were all amateurs! But I can say there was greater consistency this time. There were no dodgy stocks  ( or caldos ) where marrow bones had been cooked separately, concentrated and added back to give special depth of flavour!

Classic Presentation  of Putxero.

Classic Presentation of Putxero.

The dish here was traditionally presented with all the ingredients on a single charger some embellished with lemon and orange, others with a bit of panache but no decoration. The stock was served in a jug. It was with this we started to check for concentration and  balance between spice and salt. Then the pilotes were tasted, to see if they were dry , or spongy, over or under-salted. Next was the green veg ( cardoon is difficult to cook ) to see if it was stringy , melted in the mouth or was mushy. Then the meat, either the shin or chicken was tasted for texture and flavour followed by the chickpeas which also are easily undercooked or lose their flavour when overcooked! Finally  the presentation was assessed.

Whilst lack of or too much salt was common in the stock, the biggest error for me were the dishes embellished with lemon, the juice of which had permeated the pilotes in at least two cases! The standard was however high and we enjoyed our task immensely!

Winners! Corsaris!

Winners! Corsaris!

These occasions are not to be missed! The whole day was electric, the square alive with people enjoying themselves, the filas impromptu dancing demonstrating a real unity and camaraderie between the different bands, everyone mixing freely and even the chefs happily slapping each other on the back! One big happy family and it was a huge pleasure and honour to have been part of that family for a day! Not to mention enjoying such a wonderful meal!

Thank you to David Veiguela ( President of the Federation), Miquel Angel Font Sempere ( Radio Safor journalist and fellow supporter of the Platform for Gastronomic Information who set it up!) and Deborah Markham of the Fila Pirata who made me very welcome on the day. Congratulations to Fila Corsaris who won this year!

http://wp.me/p16pqB-sV  L´Alcudia, Feria Gastronomica and the Putxero competition. http://wp.me/p16pqB-oa  In Search of El Gran Putxero, Valencia´s Classic Stew.

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