Friday, 20 February 2009

Home made bread

At hotel Posada del Valle we are proud to say that we make and bake our own bread and have been doing so for the last three years. Before that we use to buy partly baked deep frozen bread, but we decided this wasn’t in keeping with our environmental principles and we wanted to serve organic bread. The reason we started baking our own bread was that our nearest organic bakery could not deliver bread to the hotel until a day and half after it had been baked. So we decided the solution was to bake it ourselves.

At first it seamed quite an awesome task to bake bread each day for both breakfasts and evening meals. But Joe with her characteristic cooking skills soon made light work of the bread making and we’ve been serving tasty home made bread ever since.

Other than time, the ingredients needed for home made “Slow Bread” are really very simple – just flour (preferably organic), water, yeast and salt. We use a very simple basic recipe and then add all sorts of different seeds, nuts, grains, fruit and even vegetables, to produce a wide range of tasty breads, some for breakfast and some for the evening meal. Walnut, poppy seed, multi grain, muesli, cheese and onion, garlic and parsley, beer, the range of bread is never ending. We use a mixture of white and brown flours and in the main our breads tend to be quite wholesome.

The bread we make at the hotel takes two to four hours depending on the room temperature and we have no special bread making machinery. The bread is kneaded by hand, there are living organisms (yeasts) involved in the process, and a need to match the fermentation period to the amount of gluten in the flour. Bread made slowly has no need of improvers, enzymes or other additives.

This home made slow bread is such a contrast to the refined bread you buy in the supermarkets which has its origin in the Chorleywood Bread-making Process (CBP) invented in 1961. This is based primarily upon a really fast dough mixer, but also involves more yeast and higher temperatures than conventional bread-making. This enabled the initial ‘bulk fermentation’ period to be cut from three hours to a few minutes and the process to be carried out in factories by semi-skilled operators.

Contrary to many peoples belief making bread at home really is very simple and easy. We thoroughly recommend you try it yourself. Find a good flour, try different recipes and methods and experiment until you find a bread that suits your taste. Then you can enjoy the taste of home baked bread

Good bread is one of the foundation stones of a healthy diet. When we talk about good bread we mean that it will taste good, be cleanly produced (better for you and the planet) and be fairly produced and rewarded. Good, clean and fair this is the ethos of slow food movement and home baked or slow bread symbolises so much of what slow food is about. Some people even go as far to say that making your own bread is the activism of every day. What is sure is that our home made bread tastes lovely and must be healthier for you. Slow bread is also more easily digestible as the yeast will have had time to feed and ripen the gluten.
What’s also nice for us is that by serving the slow bread we make and which symbolises many of our beliefs, we can share our philosophies with guests simply by letting them enjoy the bread we have cooked.

If you’re interested in bread making this will be one of the topics in the cookery courses Joe will be instructing this year.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Valle Moro

The abandoned village of Valle Moro

Valle Moro or “Valley of the Moors” is a small abandoned village in the Ponga Mountains, not so far from the hotel. A couple of weeks ago I did a very magical walk visiting this rather remote village and thought it would be interesting to write about it.

Houses in Valle Moro

The last permanent inhabitants of Valle Moro abandoned the village almost 30 years ago, although until recently, a couple of farmers still used some of the buildings in the village during the summer whilst caring for their animals on the surrounding pastures, woods and mountains. Legend has it that the origin of the village comes from a settlement of Moors who hid in this remote place when they were being pursued by King Pelayo in the 8th century. This doesn’t appear to be true though and the village wasn’t always that isolated. Over a hundred years ago it used to be on an important route from Oviedo to Covadonga, but as easier alternative roads were built and the traditional farming passes became less used so Valle Moro slipped into isolation.

The walled cemetery just above the village.

Inside the cemetery

Looking out of the cemetery door.

Surrounded by mountains woods and river gorges, the positioning of Valle Moro is very spectacular. There are various ways to get to the village and I approached the village from the slopes and pastures of the Maoño Mountain, passing by a coppiced beach forest and traditional pastures. Great care is needed when walking in the area of Valle Moro as it is extremely easy to get lost .The easiest way to reach Valle Moro is from Taranes along a cemented agricultural track although the bridge over the river at the end of the track is broken.

Descending from the Maoño Mountain towards the Valle Moro

There is an old stone road leading to the village from the broken bridge and just to the south of the village are the best and most productive pastures. The inhabitants of this village must have had a wealth of knowledge on how to survive in such a difficult terrain and how to live and work with nature in such a sustainable way.

But there are new ideas for Valle Moro and the town hall of Ponga is looking for private capital to develop an “ecotourism project” in this abandoned village. A new road has been marked out zigzagging up through the most productive pastures, making easier access but with no respect to what was important to the former inhabitants of this village. It’s difficult to know what’s best for abandoned villages like this, but I’ve got an awful feeling that if the project goes ahead Valle Moro is more likely to become a “theme park” rather than eco tourism.

Inside an abandoned house

Restoring and developing the traditions of these mountain villages is very important and the local inhabitants and particularly the farmers need to be able to make a respectful livelihood in the process. These are the people who maintain the village, the customs and manage the surroundings. But may be where that’s not been possible, it’s best to let the village die a natural death and let the land return to its former state even though this means a loss of rural patrimony, because the alternative may mean creating something totally false in such a natural habitat.

The peaceful setting of Valle Moro

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

A Gathering of Like Minds

Each year in the hotel we have a gathering of like minded friends where we eat, talk, try to put the world right and then normally go for a short walk. We celebrated this gathering last Sunday and as always it was a very enjoyable event.

Drinking cider and waiting for all the people to arrive

The first such gathering we organised 5 years ago with the idea of strengthening the relationship between some of the people who we work with and know, but don’t always have the time to relax and talk with in a way we would like.

Most of the people who come are involved with organic farming and some of them with tourism. They all have an interest in maintaining a strong rural base to Asturias and are keen for other people to learn about the culture and customs of this area.

Manolo and Javier are two brothers who both graduated in geography and organise a guided tour; “The Cider and Cheese Route.” They take groups of people on a 2 hour walk through the mountain village of Asiego and explain about the traditions of the area, talking about farming, cheese making, cider making etc. They then finish the tour with a meal, where the people can try a lot of the local produce. They also grow cider apples, produce cider and have xalda sheep.

Antonio and Paula also grow apples and small fruits, they produce jam, apple juice and cider as well as run a small guest house in Peñamellera Baja.

Aquilino and Loude have an organic small holding in Sariego, producing vegetables and small fruits to sell in the local market. They also grow apples and produce cider and honey.

Luis and Conche have a bio constructed guest house just outside Infiesto, they also have Asturcon Ponies.

Severino and Daniela were pioneers in rural tourism opening a small guest house 16 years ago in Arguero near Villaviciosa. They breed xalda sheep, Asturcon Ponies, run a small eco museum on indigenous breeds and produce traditional ceramic pottery.

Aquilino "pouring" traditional cider

Manolo sampling "table" cider

Antonio with a slightly "sparkling" cider

We talk about many different topics; this year discussing the new types of cider which are now available particularly “table cider” the pros and cons of veering away from the traditional ciders and entering into new markets. We also talked about the rural development of abandoned villages in Asturias, whether these villages should just be left to die and become overgrown with brambles or what can be done to prevent this happening.

As you can imagine a lot of interesting discussion, particularly after all that food, wine and cider!


Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.