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CHRISTMAS

Turrón: Ten things you didn’t know about Spain’s sweet Christmas treat

Take a stroll through any Spanish supermarket during the festive season, and you’ll surely have seen isles and isles of turrón. Spaniards love it, and it’s everywhere at this time of year. But what is turrón, exactly? And why is it so popular at Christmas?

turrón spain
The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is based largely on turrón production. Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP

What is turrón?

Turrón is a nougaty sweet treat made from eggs, sugar, honey and toasted nuts. Almonds are traditionally used, but there are other types sometimes used too, like pistachios. To make turrón, you heat honey until it begins to caramelize, then add the sugar and egg whites. The next step is to add the toasted nuts to the mixture and blend it all together before leaving it to rest and set. It can be kept for up to a year if it is stored properly.

What are the different types of turrón?  

While there are lots of different flavoured turrónes available today, in reality there are only two types of turrón. Hard nougat (turrón duro) is known as Alicante nougat and soft nougat (turrón blando) as nearby Jijona nougat because they were originally made in those locations in Spain’s Valencia region. 

Almonds are usually harvested at the end summer, hence why turrón is traditionally eaten at Christmas in Spain. Photo: Ulrike Leone/Pixabay

What have the Moors ever done for us?

We owe the origin of nougat to the Arabs. Not only did the Islamic Empire leave its mark architecturally and linguistically, but nougat consumption in Spain is believed to have been around since the beginning of the 11th century. The Arabs called it turum and it was a common dessert that today’s recipe remains quite faithful to. The Moors brought the treat to Europe where it became popular in France, Italy, and most of all, Spain.

Renaissance recipe

In fact, the first nougat recipe appears in a cookbook from the beginning of the 16th century in a “Women’s Manual” kept in the Palatine Library of Parma and the recipe is included in an encyclopedia of the tasks that the high-ranking ladies had to do at home back then. 

The turrón tour

Despite Alicante and Jijona’s fame, there are many regions in Spain where nougat is made. Soria is a province with a lot of nougat tradition, having a truly delicious variety of Soriano butter, and another very famous variety is guirlache or guirlache nougat, which without being turrón in the strictest sense, is associated with turrón and is very typical of Aragon and southern Catalonia. They are also traditionally consumed around Christmas time. 

An employee at Madrid’s famous “La Casa Mira” sweet ship where turrón is made by boiling honey, sugar and egg white, and then adding toasted almonds and other ingredients for flavour. AFP PHOTO/ DANI POZO

Not always sweet

There’s also a salty nougat: a delicious snack that is challenging tradition. The idea was thought up by a Michelin-starred chef in…. you guessed it, Alicante.

Turrón that breaks the bank

The festive tradition of turrón is believed to be connected to the high cost that it has always had, which is why it is saved for special occasions. Turrón can be expensive – the ‘most expensive Turrón in the world’ is believed to be from Jijona and sets you back €250 for a half kilo!

G&T (Gin & Turrón)

For the G&T lovers out there, there is nougat gin! Created in 2017, its name nods to the Arab origin of nougat: Turum. 

The dessert of kings

The Spanish Royal Family is reputed to have always had a sweet tooth and a soft spot for turrón. In fact, the first place where nougat was consumed was at the Royal Court, and it has been a dessert of royalty since the time of Charles V.

Turronomics

The economy of the Valencian town of Jijona is centred around turrón production. There’s even a turrón museum that chronicles the process and history of the sweet located within the factory that makes both the famous “El Lobo” and “1880” brands of turrón.

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LIFE IN SPAIN

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get around three months of holiday over the summer, but finding childcare options during this time can be challenging for parents, especially if they have to work. So what is available?

What childcare options are available over the summer in Spain?

Kids in Spain get to enjoy a ten to 12-week summer vacation, starting towards the end of June and lasting until around the second week in September. This is one of the longest summer holidays in Europe.

In the UK, kids get around half of this time with around five or six weeks, while in France they get around eight weeks and in Germany around six weeks.

Unless you are a teacher or are self-employed, most salaried workers in Spain, according to the Workers’ Statue, can only take up to two-weeks vacation at a time, meaning that parents are often stuck with what to do with the kids for the rest of the summer.

If you’re in this situation, what are your options for summer childcare and how affordable is it?

Summer school camps

Most regular schools in Spain offer campamentos de verano or summer camps. This means that your kids can carry on going to their normal school, even after the term ends. But instead of doing their lessons, they’ll get to do fun daily activities, crafts and games, as well as a variety of day trips.

If your children’s school doesn’t offer this option, then there’s always the possibility of signing up to a campamento at another nearby school.

Remember, you’ll need to enrol your kids in advance to make sure they’re able to get a spot.

The price for these is around €70 to €100 per week if your child is going all day, and this typically includes lunch. Be aware that these school summer camps are usually not available during the whole of the summer, so you may need to still organise childcare for the month of August or a couple of weeks in August, if you’re taking your vacation then too.

The advantage of these is that your kids will often get to be with their friends and will know the surroundings already, however it may not really feel like much of a holiday or a break from school for them, if they’re in the same environment. 

Specialised or themed summer camps

Another option, rather than going to a summer camp at a school, is a themed summer camp, based on your kids’ hobbies or the activities they love. There are many different summer camps across the country, focused on everything from sports and languages to music or even theatre.

For example, in Barcelona, the city zoo offers a summer camp, as does FC Barcelona, where kids can learn football from the pros all day.

In Valencia, the Bioparc offers a summer camp, as do a couple of the local outdoor swimming pools.

Try searching online for campamento de verano (summer camp) plus the name of the town or city where you will be, there are options across almost all of Spain.

As these are private companies, not sponsored by the state schools, they typically cost considerably more than the school summer camps.

Expect to pay anywhere upwards from €200 per week, and double this for popular summer camps. The general rule is that the better the facilities, staff and transport, the more expensive it will be. 

Temporary nanny or Au-pair

If summer camps or schools are not an option, or you’d prefer for your kids to get more attention or be around the house, hiring a summer nanny or au-pair is also a good choice.

There are many young people who want summer jobs in order to earn a bit of extra money and many career nannies who may be stuck without a job with their regular family in the summer.

This could be a good chance for your kids to learn another language, by hiring a native speaker from a different country. Many Spanish families hire native English speakers to look after their kids in the summer, so you could hire a Spanish nanny if your kids need to brush up on their language skills or even a French or Italian nanny, if you want them to learn new language skills.

According to Au-Pair agency Au-Pairs.com, the salary of an Au Pair in Spain is €70 per week if you live in the countryside, and €80 per week if you live in the city, which means between €280 and €320 euros per month, if they live in and more if they live out.  In cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, expect to pay a nanny around €10 per hour.

Ask family members for help

Many Spaniards will rely on family members such as grandparents to help look after their kids during the summer holidays.

If you don’t have family members in Spain then during the summer, you may be able to entice some family members to come over and help look after your kids or your children might enjoy a holiday back in your home country, if family members are able to take them in.

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