Emilia Pardo Bazán, cook and fan of croquettes

Grandma's croquettes.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 15:01
3 Reads
Emilia Pardo Bazán, cook and fan of croquettes

Grandma's croquettes. Is there a more Spanish specialty? And yet, these delicacies are neither so much ours nor have they been so much with us. In one of his National Episodes, Montes de Oca, published in 1900, Benito Pérez Galdós points out that these marvels came from France and were presented for the first time at the Genieys inn, a French-style and popular restaurant in 19th-century Madrid.

Poor Galdós, who despite his talent earned himself a cruel nickname from Valle-Inclán (“Don Benito, el Garbancero”), was passionate about good food. He and his lover agreed on that, nothing more and nothing less than a countess with as many first names as merits: Emilia Antonia Socorro Josefa Amalia Vicenta Eufemia. Her last names were Pardo-Bazán and de la Rúa-Figueroa. She has gone down in history as Emilia Pardo Bazán.

Two of our most conspicuous nineteenth-century writers are not what they seem, like croquettes. Despite the fact that his love affairs were an open secret in his time and that have given rise to essays, letters and even theatrical productions, schoolchildren today run the risk of being left with a flat, very simple image. That of a plump Galician lady and that of a gentleman from the Canary Islands who must have seemed tiny next to her. Nothing else?

The author of Los pazos de Ulloa and the author of Fortunata and Jacinta, fiery lovers and literary geniuses, are our literary croquettes. Her texts dazzle the most demanding palates. The Countess of Pardo Bazán, the true lady of the Pazo de Meirás, was a precursor and defender of feminism and feminine education. She did not care what they would say and while she was separated she had relations for two years with Galdós.

It was a slow-burn love. It started with a mutual admiration that gradually warmed up. She called him “miquiño mío del alma” and told him that she was going to eat him as soon as she saw him (“I'll eat your mustache”, to be exact). She is sincere to the point, she later admitted unequivocally that she was unfaithful with a handsome Andalusian. Love gave way to heartbreak, but both continued to correspond and respect each other throughout their lives.

Two of the lesser-known works of Emilia Pardo Bazán attest to her passion for gastronomy. La cocina española antigua, published for the first time in 1913, with almost 600 recipes, and La cocina española moderna, which was published in 1917, four years before her death, with more than 500 recipes, without repeating any of those from the first volume. The author humbly recognized that "more than teaching, I want to learn."

In La cocina española antigua, our character is presented more as a compiler than a creator: “It seems natural to me to say that I have no pretensions to mastering the science and art of cooking. I am just a modest fan." Her sparkling wit, however, turns what could have been just another cookbook into two books brimming with humor and erudition, as well as a passion for croquettes.

In La cocina española moderna she comes to give up to nine recipes for this preparation: bird croquettes, hake, sea bream, sea bass (which she calls robaliza), tuna, cod, beetroot, potato and lettuce! They can also be made "of beef, veal, ham, partridge or hare, all cooked or stewed beforehand". The secret, he explains, is in the frying. Oil or "fat from the toca (butter) of the pig", but the cook must be generous and not skimp on quantities.

What is going to be fried, said Emilia Pardo Bazán, must swim in the liquid and it must be very hot", since "the frying operation is quick and cannot be done beforehand, but only when the dish is going to be served" . One last piece of advice: “When removing the fried foods from the pan, drain them very well in a colander or sieve, but without giving them time to cool. A cold fry is abominable”. Almost as much as certain uses of language...

The author wrote the prologue to La cocina práctica (1905, by the gourmet Manuel Puga, Picadillo) and invented deconstruction before Ferran Adrià: she knew how to make “migas sin migar”. Her humor was sarcastic: "Almost every time a cook is asked what filigree she knows how to make, she says croquettes, even though she pronounces cocletas, crocretas or clocletas." She was also one of the first biographers of this dish of French origin.

The croquettes, said the writer, were undoubtedly from the Pyrenees, but they were so widespread in Spain that the novelist and diplomat Juan Valera "ate them many years ago at an inn in Despeñaperros." By acclimating in Spain, the croquette gained a lot: “The French one is huge, cork-shaped, hard and graceless. Here, on the contrary, if they are done correctly, the croquettes melt in the mouth, so soft and smooth”.

The Countess of Pardo Bazán was in favor of native flavors, although she was not averse to the cuisines of other countries either. This is how she explains it in Modern Spanish Cuisine: “Most of the foreign dishes can be made our way. I will not say that involved in the task of adapting them we have not damaged any; on the other hand, we have improved others (and I will cite the croquettes as an example) in third and fifth”.