Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nuts In September: Santa Margalida

The feast day of Saint Matthew the Apostle is 21 September. In Santa Margalida, they started celebrating Sant Mateu in a particular way last year. Matt is the patron saint for a number of professions: accountants, bankers, tax collectors. With this little lot, why would anyone want to celebrate his day? Indeed, how did he ever manage to get the gig as an apostle and acquire sainthood? Something must have gone very badly wrong among Christ's recruitment people when they appointed him. He had himself been a tax collector. What were they thinking of?

Ok, so Matt did have a conversion and saw the errors of his ways, but he has been unfortunate enough to have been lumbered with all this patronage for the past couple of thousand years. Why couldn't he have had something altogether more pleasant to watch over? Like almonds. As far as I am aware, Saint Matt does not have and never has had anything to do with almonds. For all I know, he may never have eaten one or sampled the delights of the Battenberg cake or the Bakewell tart. But this hasn't stopped Santa Margalida using almonds as the excuse for putting on a few days celebration in his honour. Or maybe it's the other way round. Either way, from the 19th to the 28th of September there is to be the second almond "show" (for Sant Mateu) in the town and next Saturday (the big Matt day) and Sunday there will be a "picametla", which involves local bars and restaurants serving snacks and meals made with almonds. "Ametla" means almond.

Almonds are important to the economy of Santa Margalida, as they are important to Mallorca's agricultural economy as a whole. But this traditional fruit crop is under threat. In the five years to the end of 2011, the total amount of land that had been devoted to almond growing had fallen by a quarter. The almond was a victim of a number of factors - foreign competition and the Common Agricultural Policy being of greatest importance.

Olive production benefited as a result of CAP subsidies and minimum prices. Though subsidies are no longer as they were, olive growing has continued to increase, pushing aside more traditional crops, such as almonds. In addition, a subsidy known as coupled payment suppression meant a 13% reduction on margins for Spanish nut farmers.

Santa Margalida's celebration of the almond is, therefore, more than just a typical fair devoted to local produce, as with, for instance, Sa Pobla's potato fair. It is about a fruit which, while not endangered with extinction, is being lessened in its traditional importance.

If the growing of almonds is cut back further, it might be that some traditional local food is affected. It is the almond which went into the making of the original Mallorcan ice-cream (almond milk at any rate) along with ice gathered from the mountains. Almond goes into "turrón", the nougaty thing which is especially popular at Christmas, and into "gató", the local sponge cake.

There probably wouldn't be any effect on this in that substitutes would be used. That, though, would be sacrilege, especially if the Californian imported almond were to be used instead. You can tell a Mallorcan almond from most others and certainly from a Californian one. Why? It doesn't taste as good.

Almonds and hazelnuts, these are Mallorca's main nuts. They shouldn't be lost. Go to Santa Margalida and support your local almond, therefore. And if you see some beardy bloke who says he isn't a tax collector but who might be snooping around the stalls selling almond produce, tell him he's a banker.

Any comments to please.

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