Do you have any thoughts on garbanzos (or chickpeas, if you prefer)? In 1851 they were not as well-known in Britain and the USA as they are today, so the author of Gatherings from Spain, (Richard Ford) published the same year, felt it necessary to discuss them in detail. The particular chapter heading reads, in full:
A Spanish Cook—Philosophy of Spanish Cuisine—Sauce—Difficulty of Commissariat—The Provend—Spanish Hares and Rabbits—The Olla— Garbanzo—Spanish Pigs—Bacon and Hams—Omelette—Salad and Gazpacho.
The complete chapter is far too lengthy to include here in its entirety, so I have edited it significantly, - but included the recipe, of course - and have saved the equally interesting section on Spanish Pigs for tomorrow. The author opines first of all on Spanish cooking in general:
It would exhaust a couple of Colonial numbers at least to discuss properly the merits and digest Spanish cookery. All that can be now done is to skim the subject, which is indeed fat and unctuous. Those meats and drinks will be briefly noticed which are of daily occurrence, and those dishes described which we have often helped to make, and oftener helped to eat, in the most larderless ventas and hungriest districts of the Peninsula, and which provident wayfarers may make and eat again, and, as we pray, with no worse appetite. To be a good cook, which few Spaniards are, a man must not only understand his master's taste, but be able to make something out of nothing; just as a clever French artiste converts an old shoe into an epigramme d'agneau, or a Parisian milliner dresses up two deal boards into a fine live Madame, whose only fault is the appearance of too much embonpoint. Genuine and legitimate Spanish dishes are excellent in their way, for no man nor man-cook ever is ridiculous when he does not attempt to be what he is not. The au naturel may occasionally be somewhat plain, but seldom makes one sick; at all events it would be as hopeless to make a Spaniard understand real French cookery as to endeavour to explain to a depute the meaning of our constitution or parliament. The ruin of Spanish cooks is their futile attempts to imitate foreign ones: just as their silly grandees murder the glorious Castilian tongue, by substituting what they fancy is pure Parisian, which they speak comme des vaches Espagnoles. Dis moi ce que tu manges etje te dirai ce que tu es is "un mot profond " of the great equity judge, Brillat Savarin, who also discovered that "Les destinies des nations dependent de la maniere dont elles se nourrissent;" since which General Foy has attributed all the accidental victories of the British to rum and beef. And this great fact much enhances our serious respect for punch, and our true love for the ros-bif of old England, of which, by the way, very little will be got in the Peninsula, where bulls are bred for baiting, and oxen for the plough, not the spit. The national cookery of Spain is for the most part Oriental; and the ruling principle of its preparation is stewing; for, from a scarcity of fuel, roasting is almost unknown; their notion of which is putting meat into a pan, setting it in hot ashes, and then covering the lid with burning embers. The pot, or olla, has accordingly become a synonyme for the dinner of Spaniards, just as beefsteaks or frogs are vulgarly supposed to constitute the whole bill of fare of two other mighty nations. Wherever meats are bad and thin, the sauce is very important; it is based in Spain on oil, garlic, saffron, and red peppers. In hot countries, where beasts are lean, oil supplies the place of fat, as garlic does the want of flavour, while a stimulating condiment excites or curries up the coats of a languid stomach. It has been said of our heretical countrymen that we have but one form of sauce—melted butter—and a hundred different forms of religion, whereas in orthodox Spain there is but one of each, and, as with religion, so to change this sauce would be little short of heresy.
…. The olla is only well made in Andalucia, and there alone in careful, well-appointed houses; it is called a puchero in the rest of Spain, where it is but a poor affair, made of dry beef, or rather cow, boiled with garbanzos or chick peas, and a few sausages. These garbanzos are the vegetable, the potato of the land; and their use argues a low state of horticultural knowledge. The taste for them was introduced by the Carthaginians—the puls punica, which (like the fides punica, an especial ingredient in all Spanish governments and finance) afforded such merriment to Plautus, that he introduced the chick-pea eating Pcenus, pultiphagonides, speaking Punic, just as Shakspere did the toasted cheese eating Welshman talking Welsh. These garbanzos require much soaking, being otherwise hard as bullets; indeed, a lively Frenchman, after what he calls an apology for a dinner, compared them, in his empty stomach, as he was jumbled away in the dilly, to peas rattling in a child's drum. The veritable olla—the ancient time-honoured olla podrida, or pot pourri—the epithet is now obsolete—is difficult to be made: a tolerable one is never to be eaten out of Spain, since it requires many Spanish things to concoct it, and much care; the cook must throw his whole soul into the pan, or rather pot; it may be made in one, but two are better. They must be of earthenware; for, like the French pot au feu, the dish is good for nothing when made in an iron or copper vessel; take therefore two, and put them on their separate stoves with water. Place into No. 1, Garbanzos, which have been placed to soak over-night. Add a good piece of beef, a chicken, a large piece of bacon; let it boil once and quickly; then let it simmer; it requires four or five hours to be well done. Meanwhile place into No. 2, with water, whatever vegetables are to be had: lettuces, cabbage, a slice of gourd, of beef, carrots, beans, celery, endive, onions and garlic, long peppers. These must be previously well washed and cut, as if they were destined to make a salad; then add red sausages, or "chorizos;" half a salted pig's face, which should have been soaked over-night. When all is sufficiently boiled, strain off the water, and throw it away. Remember constantly to skim the scum of both saucepans. When all this is sufficiently dressed, take a large dish, lay in the bottom the vegetables, the beef in the centre, flanked by the bacon, chicken, and pig's face. The sausages should be arranged around, en couronne; pour over some of the soup of No. 1, and serve hot, as Horace did: "Uncta satis—ponuntur oluscula lardo." No violets come up to the perfume which a coming olla casts before it; the mouth-watering bystanders sigh, as they see and smell the rich freight steaming away from them.
This is the olla en grande, such as Don Quixote says was eaten only by canons and presidents of colleges; like turtle-soup, it is so rich and satisfactory that it is a dinner of itself. A worthy dignitary of Seville, in the good old times, before reform and appropriation had put out the churches' kitchen fire, and whose daily pot-luck was transcendental, told us, as a wrinkle, that he on feast-days used turkeys instead of chickens, and added two sharp Ronda apples, and three sweet potatoes of Malaga. His advice is worth attention: he was a good Roman Catholic canon, who believed everything, absolved everything, drank everything, ate everything, and digested everything. In fact, as a general rule, anything that is good in itself is good for an olla, provided, as old Spanish books always conclude, that it contains nothing contrary to the holy mother church, to orthodoxy, and to good manners—"que no contiene cosa que se oponga d nuestra madre Iglesia, y santa fe catolica, y buenas costumbres." Such an olla as this is not to be got on the road, but may be made to restore exhausted nature when halting in the cities. Of course, every olla must everywhere be made according to what can be got. In private families the contents of No. 1, the soup, is served up with bread, in a tureen, and the frugal table decked with the separate contents of the olla in separate platters; the remains coldly serve, or are warmed up, for supper. The vegetables and bacon are absolute necessaries; without the former an olla has neither grace nor sustenance; la olla sin verdura, ni tiene gracia ni hartura, while the latter is as essential in this stew as a text from Saint Augustine is in a sermon:
No hay olla sin tocino,
Ni sermon sin Agustino.
[No pot without bacon,
Nor sermon without Augustine.]