After Thanksgiving in the United States, we start seeing the sweet symbols of the holiday season: candy canes, ginger bread houses, and the infamous fruit cake. In Spain, the sweet of the season is Turron, a delicacy made from the almonds the region of Valencia is known for. There are two traditional varieties, hard Alicante Turron and soft Jijona Turron, both named after the cities in which each originated. In Spain everyone has a favorite. Some like the crunchy Alicante Turron, which has the consistency of peanut brittle and is made by roasting the fresh almonds and slow cooking them with honey and egg white. Some like the smooth and chewy Jijona Turron, which is made by grinding an almond and honey mix into a smooth nougat-like paste.
Once Upon a Time in Alicante
One of the beautiful things about Spain is that most traditional foods have a long and interesting history; Turron is no exception. Many stories tell the history of this sweet, but the one we like the best is all about princesses, snow, and romance. This legend dates back to the 11t h century, when the Moors ruled Spain and is set in beautiful Alicante on the Southeastern coast of Spain. The reigning Moorish king at the time, Emir Ali, was a pretty cosmopolitan guy. During his world travels, he met and fell in love with a beautiful Scandinavian princess named Ilda, whom he married and took back to sunny and beautiful Alicante. But the princess longed for her native Scandinavian landscape, with its snow-capped mountains. Clearly the princess had never spent a winter in Chicago, for surely she would have been more appreciative of the weather in Valencia. But let’s get back to our story. The king only wanted to make his princess happy, so he had the genius idea of planting thousands of almond trees around his kingdom. The following spring, the almond trees burst into bloom and the entire landscape was showered with their white petals. For that moment, even if just for an instant, Ilda felt at ease as the falling petals reminded her of her snowy home.
Let it Snow
Seeing the joy in his wife’s eyes, the emir made it his mission to prolong the happiness the almond trees provided all year long. The emir looked throughout his kingdom, and the solution was found in a small bakery in Jijona, where a local baker created a sweet confection made with the fruits of the almond tree. By crafting a sweet confection that could be enjoyed during the whole year, even Ilda could enjoy the pleasures of the spring blooms all year long. Because Turron was meant to remind us of the pleasures of the first blooms in spring, over time it came to be enjoyed as a winter tradition, when we need to be reminded of spring the most.
A Treat Fit for a King
More than a simple dessert, historically Turron was sold as a delicacy in Valencia. Turron and fig bread were served together to important visitors to the city of Alicante. This winter, why not serve Turron and fig bread, as an accompaniment to your favorite cheese plate. The nutty crunch of Alicante Turron is a nice accent for a blue cheese like Covadonga, and the smooth and honeyed flavor of Jijona Turron goes well with a semi-soft cheese like Tetilla D.O. With the variety of cheeses that Spain offers, your options are limitless.
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