“When it rains and it is cold, the rooster crows in the distance”, says the rich proverb from Salamanca. An expression that, like many other “salmantinisms”, has its origin in the provincial roots. However, in the capital of Tormes, this tradition could well refer, when low temperatures arrive, to the unalterable appearance in the shelter of the arcades of San Antonio, under the Plaza Mayor of the world, of the irreducible turroneras de La Alberca. Every year the “sweet November” arrives without fail, which, in Salamanca, lasts until Christmas Eve.
As a result of the select pairing between Las Arribes del Duero almond and Sierra de Francia honey, La Alberca nougat elevates the local product to the category of art. Of all the life, the craftsman. The one that generations and generations of nougat have been making that, every year, leave behind one of the most beautiful villages in Spain to offer Salamancans and visitors the delicacy of their crops. And the best of all is that, as they recognize, there is no key to lock up such a treasure. “There is no secret”, Paula Mancebo attests to Ical, after her nougat stand in front of the Central Market.
And it shows. “It is only to add the honey with a little sugar, let it form, then add the egg white until it is ready to thread, and that is when you have to add the almond,” he explains without fear of revealing the Coca-Cola formula. And the secret is not in the recipe, it is in the product. And they well know in La Alberca that what is born in their region is not given by any other site. Ana Becerro also knows it, who attends the Ical Agency while offering the test to whoever wants to taste it. “The key is that it is a natural product,” he says.
There are five nougat that every year come down from the Sierra to occupy each of their positions in the arcades of San Antonio, under the Plaza Mayor. And they not only sell nougat, especially ‘hard’, they also offer other indigenous products, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, caramelised almonds “with very little caramel”, and other derivatives of honey, such as royal jelly or propolis which, according to Ana , “They are a natural antiseptic that is very good for the respiratory tract.” They also sell natural royal jelly creams for skin care and local wafers. A complete assortment.
The inventory is recited by heart. Of course, it is impossible for the nougat companies to determine how many years they have been coming to Salamanca. They do, of course. Ana belongs to the fourth generation of her family that is dedicated to selling nougat and ‘low’ to Salamanca and Paula, for her part, turns 30 years old going to her appointment with the people of Salamanca. «I don’t know exact years, but I can say that there are photographs from when the Spanish Civil War», he comments.
Thus, Paula Mancebo confirms that the nougat used to travel to Salamanca during the armed conflict between Spaniards, from 1936 to 1939, and cites graphic documents that testify to this. But it goes further. “I imagine that the tradition must be quite old because, mind you, dare to come in the middle of the war to sell nougat …”, he says. And he is right. Paula assumes that only the adherence forged over the years could encourage the mountain nougat from then to continue their trips during the war. “I do not have any fixed data on the first year he came, but I know that in the Civil War they were already here,” he confirms.
So if anyone thought that the Covid-19 pandemic was going to undermine their tenacity, they were certainly wrong. If the Civil War could not with his loyalty, neither was this contemporary virus going to. Of course, the sales level will be the worst year in memory. In that they are no different from any other retail business that operates downtown. Restrictions in bars and restaurants and prohibitions related to mobility have reduced the traffic in the heart of the capital of Tormes. Not in vain, the charro agora has left images to remember, unknown until now, due to its loneliness. Nor does the city bus stop next to the stalls. All downsides.
Customers, also fixed
However, Ana Becerro does not lose heart. And more with the arrival of a bridge that, in Salamanca, has brought with it the reopening of the Horeca channel. «This year is a bit weak, but hey, you have to be hopeful and optimistic. We start from a base that is the fixed clientele. And if that doesn’t fail you, it won’t go wrong, “he admits. Paula Mancebo, for her part, adds that “the restrictions have affected a lot because Salamanca is a very touristy city. And the visitors, as soon as you give it to taste this nougat, they take it, especially the foreigners, who love it ”, he says.
And not only to outsiders, since Salamancans do not miss their appointment with the nougat from La Alberca, and with the nougat from the Sierra de Francia, that scenic jewel of the province that is the pride of the land. «The people of Salamanca treat us with great affection. We are very well received. They feel this product as their own, they consume it and they like it “, explains Ana, while Paula admits that” it is true that we have a lot to thank the public of Salamanca. It’s just seeing each other, and they’re already happy, ”he says happily.
As he says, passersby are happy to see them, although they cannot miss them too much because this 2020 marks the three-year anniversary of the installation of a monument erected in their honor. The City Council commissioned Gonzalo Coello to carve a sculpture representing a nougat, ax in hand, in full office. Since then, he has contemplated his “companions” with a veteran grin from the other side of Pozo Amarillo street. «For us it is a pride because it is a recognition, not only for those of us who come now, but for all the nougat companies from La Alberca that have passed through here, and have dedicated themselves to this work. That honors us a lot, ”admits Paula.
The truth is that at a time when large industries dominate the food markets, it is especially important that artisans have a reserved space. Everything to vindicate the traditions in order to preserve them, as well as to justly weigh the indigenous product in the face of globalization. In Salamanca, next to the Plaza Mayor, which is nothing more than its own heart, the one that, for many locals, remains the true Christmas market of the city. And it will not end, even if wars or world pandemics return.