Week three of my travels and the days are just getting sweeter. With the people that I am meeting, the scenes that I am seeing and, quite literally, with the ingredients I am tasting and cooking with. The oranges, the tomatoes, the ensaïmada pastries: heaven just got sprinkled in sugar!
First off, the oranges. Forget the man from Del Monte, I’ve met the man from Soller and we all say ‘yes’! Mallorca is famous for its oranges and no more so than Soller. So abundant is the fruit that the surrounding valley is known as the valley of gold; so perfect are the growing conditions for producing the sweetest of oranges that King Louis XIV of France would, it is said, eat no other oranges apart from those of Soller. The trees are laden and ready for harvesting as I visit and I joined brothers Josep and Pere on their orange farm for a traditional breakfast of ham, cheese, sobrassada sausage, tomatoes, olive oil, oranges and, with not an eyebrow raise, a carafe of wine. When in Soller and all that. . . My dish of the day was a fig, orange and feta salad. Sunshine on a plate.
Next up on the life-is-sweet front: the tomatoes. Once famous for their vineyards, a late 19th century virus destroyed wine production and the vines were replaced by tomatoes. One surviving Malvasia vine was nursed back to health in the 1980s so now the terraces are doubly sweet with the grapes and tomatoes growing side by side. Ramellet tomatoes are an intriguing and important part of Mallorcan cuisine and unlike any tomato I’ve come across. They store incredibly well and, once strung up in bunches, can be kept from harvest in late July until the following May, providing near year-round fresh tomatoes. The size and consistency of these tomatoes makes them great for rubbing on to bread. Pamboli – with various toppings of cheese, meat and vegetables – is a Mallorcan obsession. Top quality tomatoes, fresh crusty bread, salty white cheese: what more does a meal need?
The sugar-laced trilogy ends with the ubiquitous ensaïmadas: a spiral of pastry with fillings ranging from chocolate to various jams to the savoury option of sobrassada sausage. The secret to their making is a combination of the Mallorcan sea air – connoisseurs say they can taste the difference between a Mallorcan ensaïmadas and those ‘imitators’ from other islands – and the less island-specific (and significantly more artery-clogging) amount of lard used in the cooking. I visited the oldest bakery on the island, Pomar, run today by the fifth generation in the family to do so. The ensaïmadas have, I can confirm after a fair amount of sampling, been perfected!