Friday, July 20, 2012

Turron de Jijona

The Simpsons once did an episode about Springfield's lemon tree being stolen by some of the residents of Shelbyville. Jebediah Springfiled and his followers planted a lemon tree because it was the sweetest fruit available at the time. This show was about small town rivalry, something which I grew up with and am truly familiar with. When your world is small, you tend to attach significance to stupid things because you're not worldly enough to realize their insignificance. At the end of the episode, the Springfield mob steals back their lemon tree and they all enjoy a glass of lemonade as the Shelbyville denizens have a glass of turnip juice, because that was likely the only thing they had available at the time.

The reason I mention this is that so much of our food culture is about what is available at this time. The Moors, while occupying the Iberian Peninsula, sat around thinking about how they'd like to satisfy their sweet tooths (sweet teeth?). Unfortunately, they'd just conquered an area which was lacking in sesame seeds so getting their chefs to whip up some halva was rather tricky. Since they'd pretty much finished with taking over the Iberian peninsula, they put on their thinking caps and thought about what to do. Fortunately, Marcona almonds were close at hand and they decided to make halva out of it. Voila, turron was born.*

I never saw halva for sale when I was living in Japan, nor did I see turron. In fact, one of the first things I picked up at an American convenience store was a pistachio halva bar because I had been reading about it and wanted to try it. It was sticky, hard, and slightly bitter and I was not a fan. However, when my sister-in-law asked if I wanted anything from Spain when she visited there, I checked out traditional Spanish sweets and came across turron. She brought me back this box.

There are many types of turron and you can find them in various ethnic markets as well as available online. One type is like a nut brittle. This one is like an enormous wet slab of chalky nut butter. When you open the box, there's a sealed packet with lots of what looks like unpleasant meat juices swimming between the clear plastic and shiny plastic. It looks insanely nasty. 

Undoubtedly, turron de jijona is hard to handle because it is slightly soft, tends to break off in soggy clumps, and has a lot of wetness around it. That being said, it's worth the mess. It's a rich, sweet mass of almond butter mixed with honey. Turron de jijona is a form of nougat, so it is made with egg whites, sometimes raw ones, but I'm sure any packaged stuff that you buy is safe. I've had pistachio halva before and this was much, much better both in terms of texture and flavor. The halva I bought (from a convenience store in a package like a candy bar) was bitter and hard, like taffy. This was soft, melt in your mouth fatty, sweet but not too sweet, rich, almond, nougat and honey delight. There really aren't enough positive adjectives for how much I liked this.

In Japan, most of the nut-based sweets were made with peanuts or sesame, because that must be what they have on hand. In Spain, many things contain almonds. Fortunately, neither one of these countries ended up with "a cool glass of turnip juice". They both had lemons and made lemonade in their food cultures.

*I made most of this up. I don't think thinking caps existed back then.


Shen said...

Hey, this is the first time I comment. Let me tell you, I love both your blog about your experiences in Japan and this one.

This post has really caught my attention, because I'm not too far from Jijona myself, and I've been to turron factories a couple times. Having Turron from a box is really nice generally, but there's absolutely nothing like just made turron. It's more consistent, less sticky and also has less 'meat juices', but having grown up with generally exceedingly moist treats, I see juices in food as a good signal.

Any kind of soft turron is really recommendable, although hard turron is pretty tasty too. A fair warning though: they're absolute calorie bombs, so you should take them in winter rather than summer.


miyazaki said...

Hi. When I went to visit my dad in Kamakura I brought him a nice block of halva, or as we call it "Jewish crack"...He has been living there since '89 and had never seen it for sale there. Out of all the foodstuffs I brought from San Francisco, that was what made a hit! I have had turron and I was a little suspicious at first about the way it looked when I opened the package...

Orchid64 said...

Shen: Thank you for reading and your kind words!

I would LOVE to have fresh turron, but that isn't likely to be in the cards for me since I'm very far from Spain. ;-) And I figured it was a calorie bomb... but I consider it worth the explosion.

Miyazaki: I like halva, but the mass manufactured stuff I tried was not the best. I hope to sample more and wider types of it soon. I can very much understand your suspicion about turron. My husband felt the same way. ;-)Thanks for commenting!