“Mind your head,” Nati tells me as I part the hanging bead curtains and enter her home. Inside the white kitchen she introduces her family—kisses on both cheeks from her father, her mother Natividad, her brother Prudencio, sister in law and young nephew. They sit at the kitchen at the table, each with a pruning knife, adding peach slices to a large plastic bowl.
“Preparando preservos.” Preparing preserves, they tell me. Juice, jams, gifts for the neighbors—Nati’s father laughs—they have more peaches than they know what to do with.
The Martinez family home is a cave. As a young couple, Nati´s parents turned the hillside caves into homes in the 1950s, adding amenities like running water and electricity as recently as the 1970s. The family has been on the land in Andalusia for over five generations, every year harvesting food, pressing olives into oil and stomping the grapes down to wine.
I can tell Nati is proud of her family’s history—of the cave houses and of the natural way of living. She leads me through the cave maze that is her family’s home, not missing a room, closet, or bathroom along the way. The many bedrooms, sitting room, patios and gardens have been added to the original small cave as the family has grown. The white walls hold decorated plates as well as paintings of saints, First Communion photographs, and children’s drawings. The Andalusian home feels more like haunted and forgotten tunnels, with new rooms dug farther underground for the mere sake of construction, of creation pushing through.
The Martinez family has lived and worked this land for generations. I now understand when she refers to her village, she really means it.
The gifts I have been given thus far on my trip are so great I feel I cannot express my true gratitude. Irish Rebecca and her mother Margaret last week with the apple struedel, “Feliz Cumpleanos” candles rapidly melting into the pastry. The daily phone calls fro Nati checking up to make sure I’ve gotten along okay. The “Welcome to our Family” hug from the school principal. Last night when Nati took me for tapas and then to her family’s home, she gave me a plastic bag filled with almonds, grapes, eggplant, apples, tomatoes, parsley, peaches and melon from the farm’s storeroom. When she opened the door to the cellar she watched my face—knowing it would be something I’d never seen. The cellar was similar to what we would think of as a workroom or a tool shed, cement floor and walls, no windows and workman’s tools scattered about. Sinister hooks hung from the ceiling.
“To hang the ham dry,” Nati noted.
The room put off a surprisingly pleasant smell of ripe summer fruit and drafty air. The colors were just as appetizing. Thousands of almonds, still in their festive casings, carpeted half of the cement floor. Parsley lie drying upon a pink bed sheet in front of the almond sea, and grapes of all colors and sizes lounged on the table. Pumpkins and melons crowded the far corner of the cellar, while apples, peaches and prickly pears filled the brown sacks around the doorway.
We stood in the storeroom and cracked the almonds with our teeth. More than the sound of the nut cracking, I remember the percussion like beat of the almonds as I ran my hands across all the shells. On the inside of my mouth, the inside of the nut tasted immediately creamy, like a sweet milk, very giving in its chewiness, and very rich.
Perhaps having to work for the treasure inside—the cracking and picking apart, the brave work of the teeth and nails—makes it in fact more delicious, more rewarding, than dipping your hand in a bag and throwing four salty almonds on your tongue. These cellar almonds are strong and bold, some bigger than others, each unique in appearance, but not in taste. I want to eat almonds like this forever.