the Christian king Jaume I's triumphal entrance into the city of Valencia having defeated the Muslims and removed them from the region in 1238. It is the stuff of local legends, and I'm sure there will be many more opportunities to fill you in on all the myths, traditions, and local iconography that surrounds Jaume I the Conqueror.
The story behind the dulces de Sant Donís is interesting in itself. According to one site, in the 18th century, following the Spanish War of Succession, the Bourbon royal family prohibited the celebrations and especially the use of fireworks surrounding the 9 D'Octubre festivities. As a response to this ban, the local bakers in the city produced sweets using mazapán which took the shape of hand fireworks (petardos), and whose phallic and round forms were also said to evoke male and female sexual organs. The piuleta i tronador, whose nomenclature also has a sexual ring to it, became a classic sweet for men to buy their beloved, often wrapping them in a scarf or "mocador" in Catalán (a.k.a. pañuelo in Spanish) the namesake for the holiday tradition.
|The piuleta i tronador surrounded by the "huerta de Valencia".|
|This valentine tradition is an opportunity for bakeries to flex their artisanal skills|
and demonstrate the art of baking.
Alongside these valentine sweets, bakers also made mazapán sweets in the shape of fruits and vegetables, "fruites de massapà" to evoke the fertility of "la huerta de Valencia" (literally the "orchard", but more figuratively the "fertile agrarian region of Valencia"). Legend was that fruits and vegetables had been gifted to Doña Violante de Hungría, the wife of Jaume I, by the people of Valencia when Jaume I entered the city back in the 13th century. Valencians could rebel symbolically against the Bourbon slight on their local traditions by gifting these sweets to each other. And eventually a new tradition was born in parallel with the 9 D'Octubre regional celebrations. Following this tradition, a woman could keep her scarves gifted to her year after year and thereby have a collection marking all the years together with her beloved.
|If it's a fruit or vegetable it's healthy for you to eat, right?|
Whether or not you're feeling regional pride for Valencia or sentimental affection for your lover, it is difficult to resist these adorable and creative confectionery creations. They're a big hit here in the city. Last year the city's confectioners estimated they used around 40,000 kilos of mazapán to make them. (Addendum: by tradition all the fruites de massapà will taste the same, made from the same mazapán base, except the potatoes and mushrooms which have cinnamon added to them.) So if you walk by a bakery in Valencia the week leading up to 9 D'Octubre, be sure to drop in and buy some. They're as much a visual work of art as culinary joy, quite a treat!