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Gastronomy

Sugar Suspiros in a green land

In Moya we can’t go on about “how green was my valley”, because here the terrain is so steep, but it does have a green aroma, emanating from its natural lush vegetation, from its banana plantations and its potato and corn orchards and fields.

Some of its woods are eucalyptus, so it is not hard to see man’s doing in that. They were planted to provide sturdy sticks to hold up the heavy, overhanging bunches of bananas. And what with these and other kinds of trees, from here, plus the rest of the island, and the Atlantic, along with others from Australia which root so quickly, the ground is suddenly a breeding ground for, that’s it…. mushrooms! Some to be eaten, others just to be looked at, and in both cases to take great pleasure in photographing, adding a magical presence to an environment that is a haven for walkers and hikers.

Youngsters looking for mushrooms in the countryside.
Close up of a mushroom

We are right at the north of the island, where the villagers (with a very sweet tooth!) have been baking enthusiasts for years and have had a select few women who were specialists in cooking such delights for friends and neighbours… in their own homes. These were neighbours who were entertaining important visitors, or preparing a christening or a wedding, or who had just one more sweet tooth than anyone else, who had to provide the eggs for the baking lady to come round and make their cakes to order.

This is the way Moya became specialized in sponge cakes, and led to them carrying the name of the town, with this original name of suspiros (also the word for “sigh” in Spanish), which will certainly cause many a satisfied sigh, for which there is no recipe, unlike the cakes! Yet it all came about because of a mix up in the oven. The story is told by former Moya Culture Councillor, Teodoro Perera, when writing the town’s festival programme some years ago:

A baker with a tray of Moya spongecakes

“Those who are a little longer in the (sweet) tooth tell us that the Moya spongecakes came to life, over a century ago, by the hand of a certain lady called Cha Manuela. She was around fifty years old when, moved by the impoverished circumstances she found herself in, she started to make her first sponges, with no particular aim other than to stave off her own deep misery”.

With just the ingredients her neighbours gave her for the job, the lady baked some exquisite sponges and suspiros. But let’s allow Perera to take over: “About that time, the only bakery that existed in the area belonged to seña Antonia (…). It was there that Cha Manuela would go and find a small gap in the smoky oven to make her sponges. She only had an old basin, but was a cheeky character to the end”.

Suspiros from Moya straight from the oven

Other women in the village followed the example , recipe in hand, set by the skillful Cha Manuela with the mixer, and this led to another lady, Cha Jacinta, accidently discovering the method of making what is today’s Moya suspiros spongecakes. The story is well known around here, so let’s allow one of the modern day producers of the cakes, Josefa González, to reveal all: “It was said that Cha Jacinta burnt one of her sponges one day, and she said to herself: ‘Let’s add a bit of shine to cover the burnt patch’, and that’s how it happened”. The result is a sponge which is baked twice, the first time it comes out spongy and the second time it is topped with brushed on meringue, left to dry so it can be dipped in milk or milk chocolate.