Soup for a Crowd — Talavera de la Reina, Spain, 1980


It's 1980 and we're living in Talavera de la Reina at Calle del Prado,11. Our apartment is above
a furniture store across the road from Simago, a large supermarket. Nice central location! 
Early afternoon in our apartment building is full of smells, some not so bad, and others, well, they
take a bit getting used to. Garlic, cheap cologne, black tobacco, sweat and even more garlic all
whiff up your nostrils and explode in a gigantic kaleidoscope of olfactory dizziness. It's lunch time,
and the occupants next door get ready for the main meal of the day.
Our next door neighbours own a restaurant just down the road. By the way they entertain every
 day one would think that their restaurant was actually inside their apartment!  Through open
 windows you can  hear the lady of the house whisk eggs which she uses to fry up her special
tortilla espanola. Pungent odours of fried garlic  mysterioiusly float through the air and settle
 onto windowsills as the ritual for cooking for a crowd commences. 
First to arrive are the youngest children, yelling and calling out. After they  finish eating, 
an older crowd arrive, also yelling and calling out. I think there's  even a third group of
 people that arrives, all the while yelling their heads off as if everyone is deaf. 
The lady of the house certainly does enjoy cooking. She even cooks for the restaurant, in addition
to serving up meals for some twenty or so people each day in her own apartment. Although we
 haven't spoken too much, she isn't  unfriendly, by any means. She's just simply too busy to
be dealing with la extranjera, the foreigner, whose Spanish leaves a lot to be desired, and whose
pale, pale skin is just, well, too pale for around these parts. She always gives me a huge wave
and a gigantic grin as she marches by any time we meet in the corridor. 
Therefore, I don't mind at all when my husband asks me to get her recipe for alubias blancas,
white beans. We ate at her restaurant a few times, and he really enjoyed her white bean soup.
He loved soaking his bread in the soup bowl as he made sure he'd get every single drop of this
 nectar.
"You want the recipe for my sopa de alubias blancas?"  Her face lights up as she pronounces
"sopa de alubias blancas" with pride and genuine caring. She grins kindly on me as if we
have suddenly become best friends.
"Yes, please. My husband really loves it.  And I do too, of course." I hastily add. 
" You start off with a good caldo, broth. White beans, paprika, garlic, olive oil. And, what gives
it that special flavour is the head of a cow."
"The head of a cow?" I try not to sound too uninformed. 
"Claro que si. Of course, The head of a cow.  That's what we use in the restaurant."  She taps
 me on the shoulder and proceeds to walk away.
"Oh. Wait a minute. It's just for you and your husband, isn't it? Then, the head of a cow might be
too big. Use the head of a pig. Yes, that would be better. Sometimes I've used the head of a pig
 instead."
"The head of a pig?"  I mumble, wondering where on earth I could find the head of a pig.
"Oh. Since it's just for two people, then maybe the ear of a pig would be quite sufficient."
"Thank you. Thank you so much. I can't wait to try your recipe." 
I really can't wait to try her recipe. But, I'm afraid I won't place any head in it. Not even
a tiny head!