The village of Sayalonga has the whole annual fiesta thing sorted. Some villages have fiestas that move around, depending on the whether the relevant saint’s birthday is midweek, or there is a full moon and more than three vowels in the month. Sayalonga has fixed its Dia del Nispero on the first Sunday in May. It is an elegant solution that makes the date easy to remember, and enables the village to use the same huge banner year after year.
The good thing about a one-day festival in May is that you have all the fun of the summer ferias, but in more temperate weather. The Dia del Nispero is counted as a festival of ‘special touristic interest’ in Andalucia. Around eight thousand visitors throng the little white village (population 1500) filling the narrow, winding streets and the attractive Plaza Don Rafael Alcobar. Stalls line the roads, selling handicrafts, sweets, and all manner of nispero related products. If it can be done with a nispero, someone will be in the village doing it.
The bars have all their tables and chairs arranged along the road sides, and do a brisk trade, serving ice cold drinks and a variety of tapas: chicken with almonds, squid, chicken in local wine, meatballs, ensalada russe, pork in tomato sauce. Everything is available with chips, and is served on small plates with tiny forks and a basket of bread, presumably there for mopping up the last of the tasty sauces.
The plaza is covered with a specially erected awning, and a large stage fills one end. Throughout the day there are speeches extolling the virtues of the nispero, and displays of flamenco dancing. Troupes of dancers of all ages take it in turns to entertain the crowds gathered in the plaza. Even the tiniest children have the sinuous hand movements perfected, and stamp and wiggle in their bright costumes, loving the limelight.
At one side of the plaza, a stall hands out free nisperos and samples of the local nispero liqueur. The town hall has a stash of freebies to give away, and the streets are full of people sporting this year’s item: a bright orange shopping bag that folds itself cunningly into a nispero-shape pouch with a green felt leaf attached. The movement of the crowd milling about is reminiscent of nature programmes about bees. Admittedly there is no noticeable bottom wiggling to communicate where the best food is to be found, but you know what I mean.
So what is this fabulous nispero? Otherwise known as a Loquat, it is an orangey-yellow fruit, about the size of a large plum, which grows on the hillsides around Sayalonga. Wikipedia describes the flavour as a mixture of peach, citrus and mild mango. I am not sure I totally agree with the description, but I cannot think of a way I could improve upon it. Whatever the flavour is, I love nisperos, and look forward to their short season each year.
I have a feeling that nisperos would make a fantastic sorbet, but not having a freezer makes it impossible for me to try it out. I have plans for a nispero pavlova, as I am sure the tartness of the fruit would work fantastically with the sweetness of meringue.
I have, however, already been busy with the box of nisperos I brought back from our trip to Sayalonga on Sunday. After a flash of inspiration a couple of years ago, that led to a batch of deeply yummy nispero chutney, the first Sunday of May has now become the official start of my chutney making season.
The preserving pan is taken down from its hook, Mercadona sales of vinegar rocket, and I dislocate virtually everything, reaching to retrieve the jam jars I have been tucking away in the most inaccessible cupboard in the kitchen.
When I have a moment, I shall share some photographs and the recipe for the batch of chutney I made today. For now, I must go and scrub under my fingernails yet again, in the hope that the brown staining from preparing six pounds of the choicest nisperos will not prove too permanent.