Saturday, December 3, 2011


GIN* Minorca’s most typical drink is, perhaps, the distilled spirit of juniper, and is called <<gin>> or <<ginebra>>.  It is made as follows:
     Put 12 ounces  (350 grs) of juniper seeds to infuse for forty-eight hours in 9 litres 85 cls. (2 gallons 1 pint approx.) of over-proof <<aguardiente **>>  adding 2 litres 50 cls. of pure distilled water (in old days rain water was used). 
      Put the container with this liquid into a bain-marie, and leave it until the aguardiente used has been given off, and then bottle.
      If it is desired to give the colour of Holland’s Gin to the liquor, it will suffice to burn a little sugar in a spoon, taking care to move it about whilst it is being heated, and withdrawing it from the fire before it gets burnt.  Then mix it with the liquor.

* The British occupied Minorca for most of the 18th century, leaving behind gin as one of their legacies. Soldiers and sailors asked for gin in the island’s taverns and soon local artisans began to import juniper berries to keep them happy. Gin’s special flavour is attributable to the fruit of the juniper bush (Junniperus communis), a fundamental original ingredient. When it is industrially distilled, tradition is observed: copper stills and wood fuel are used. Afterwards, the gin is stored in oak barrels before it is bottled. During the manufacturing process, no additives are used.

For centuries, juniper berries have been used thanks to their healing properties. In pharmacopoeias, they were used to make oil, honey or gums. They were boiled with wine or taken as pills. Their beneficial properties were used in numerous different situations: to cleanse the kidneys and blood, to avoid flatulence, and bring on menstruation. It was also said that if the berries were burnt, the smoke protected against the plague.

In the reign of William 3rd of Britain,
aqua juniperi, the result of distilling alcohols with juniper berries, became spectacularly popular. So many abuses occurred when gin was made that the British Parliament passed a Gin Act in 1736 prohibiting its production and consumption. Far away from their country, the British on the island of Minorca continued to drink gin, a variety made with alcohol produced from grapes.

The Minorcans reduce its strength by drinking it as a
pomada (with lemonade) or pellofa (with soda water and lemon peel).



**  Aguardinete (Spanish), aiguardent (Catalan), aguardente (Portuguese), and augadente (Galician) are generic terms for alcoholic beverages that contain between 29% and 60% alcohol by volume.  The terms mean “fiery water.”   The word is a compound word that combines the words for “water” (agua in Spanish; água in Portuguese; auga in Galician) and “fiery” (ardiente in Spanish; ardente in Portuguese and Galician).

<< CARQUINYOLIS>>  -- Almond biscuits – Ingredients:    12 ounces (350 grs approx.) of sugar.
¼ pint of water.

6 ounces (175 grs approx.) of chopped up almonds.

12 ounces (350 grs approx.) of flour.

Knead all together and flatten the dough out with a rolling pin to the thickness of a centimeter.  Cut out strips measuring one and a half centimeter wide and about 10 centimetres long .  Put them on flat molds so that they don’t touch each other and cook in the oven.

Why Gin?  Why Minorca? Why Almond biscuits?  

Some years ago a friend mentioned in a letter that he was abandoning his established Mallorcan abode for Minorca.  I was (briefly, idly) curious whether this was a positive or negative move on his part, but soon realized that the decampment really was predictable and characteristic.  I myself tend to the “lonely sociable.”  My friend is “lonely unsociable.”  Even his small town in Mallorca had grown too big for him.

Over the years I began researching Minorca in books, occasionally at the cheese counter (Formatge de Maó), and in my little Luis Ripoll [1] pamphlet, the source of these recipes.  Everything looked appealing and I think I myself might be happy there if a few variables seemed less so.  Everything seems far too variable lately except bad news headlines and snarky broadcast opinions polluting the universe. We’re a long way from the peaceful, wide-eyed optimism of C.T.A. 102. [2]

Personally, I love gin (not all gins – that’s the point, they vary too – but something tells me I would like the Minorcan style of gin, which I suspect would remind me of the Hollands varieties I’ve tried)  and these almond biscuits seem perfect. It's a beautiful Mediterranean flag also with the medieval castle, the high walls, etc. 

[1]  From Luis Ripoll, 125 Cookery Recipes of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza (translated by William Kirkbride).  Palma de Mallorca, 1975.

 [2]  C.T.A. 102 -- The Byrds


  1. Wow, it looks like an interesting place to visit, if not to live there. I like the label, lonely unsociable. As opposed to lonely sociable, which applies to most poets I know.
    It does look like a simpler world, if there is such a thing.

  2. I believe Minorca is the second-in-size Balaeric island -- larger (and quieter) than Ibiza and smaller than Mallorca. My friend in Mallorca loved it there and lived in a small town with only a couple of telephones. Living without a phone was really important to him. But his town became super-fashionable and he had to find a new hideout. Eventually he moved on from Minorca and is now in southwestern France in a similarly remote situation, although eventually he was persuaded that having a phone was a good idea since he liked to be in touch with his daughter. I'll certainly try to visit Minorca at some point. Those small ancient kingdoms with their own dialects really excite the imagination. Curtis