November 21, 2011

That Perfect Gift: Cute Kitchenware

L'escuraeta is the diminutive in catalán for the cleaning, which
I would guess in the case of this traditional May market refers to getting
rid of things with the spring cleaning like at a "rastro," or flea market.
Every May in Valencia there is a wonderful visiting artisanal market at the Plaza de la Reina, known as the "mercat de l'escuraeta." Traditionally a pottery market, today you can find a wide variety of products made by local artisans. Why am I mentioning it now, in November, as a Christmas gift idea? Because this past year I discovered that many of this market's treasures, which make for excellent gifts, can be acquired throughout the year online or in regular shops in Spain. Here I mention two of my favorite typical Spanish kitchenware items which you might consider getting for that foodie friend of yours who loves to cook.

    • Cubiertos de madera
As we all now, olive oil and olives form a basic part of the Mediterranean cuisine. So not surprisingly, one can find a lot of olive tree ("el olivo") groves throughout Spain. What you may not have known is that olive wood ("madera de olivo") is excellent material for wooden cooking utensils. One of the stands at Mercat de l'escuraeta every year for 3-4 weeks of May is that of Los Oliveros [Miguel Beltrán s/n 12360 Chert (Cs), Xert/Chert, Castellón 12360; p: 964 490 359  f: 964 490 359], an artisanal shop specializing in carved wooden products using olive wood, and based in the small town of Chert in Castellón. If you visit their online shop, you can get a sense of their product line and contact them to make an order.

Los Oliveros makes really beautiful craft wooden kitchenware and utensils
The olive tree, iconic feature of the
Mediterranean landscape.
You should have no fear of ordering from them by mail (at least within Spain). They can arrange to mail it to you such that you don't have to pay for the order until you pick up the package at the Post Office. I have purchased a variety of things from them using this online/via mail method, including salad utensils ("cubiertos"), i.e. a serving spoon and fork, a spoon for cooking ("cuchara clásica"), and a flat spatula ("paleta") for cooking meats. I have been totally happy with my purchases. And as my in-laws tell me, a cooking spoon made from olive wood is "para toda la vida" [translation: it will last a lifetime].

    • Recipientes de barro cocido
The more traditional items at the market were "loza," i.e. crockery, a.k.a. earthen cooking pots. Two of the traditional ones make for great keepsakes from Spain. One is that traditional mortar ("mortero"), usually yellow with a dash of green on it. While is is meant to come as a set to use as a mortar and pestle, I bought a small one to use as a dip bowl (for example, for ajoaceite to serve with paella), which is a common use for it nowadays in Spain. The other typical kitchen item is a "cazuela de barro (cocido)" or (baked) clay pot, which is used here in Valencia for arroz al horno. If the standard, serves-four cazuela is too large and heavy for you to take on a plane back to the States, you can buy a smaller one for making crema catalana, gambas al ajillo, or huevos al plato. And you don't have to wait until the spring to buy one at this Valencian market. You can find them in most supermarkets or a bazaar chino all year long throughout Spain.

Whether wooden or clay, functional or decorative, these products help to dress up one's kitchen and one's meals and are, as they say here, "typical espanish"!

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