With all this rich history behind the garrapiñadas, they might prove irresistible, not to mention that,
made from traditional recipe, they are exquisite. Go through the ritual of buying them
from the Convent of the Poor Clares and immerse yourself in history and
culture while you’re at it. It could be quite an experience.
by Rose Maramba
Photos courtesy Dream Alcalá unless stated otherwise
The documented existence of the caramelized almonds in Alcalá de Henares, 35 km northeast of the nation’s capital, dates back to the 18th century, although it is probably Arab in origin and as such these garrapiñadas (the Spanish name for candied almonds) would date much further back.
You can buy “Almonds of Alacalá” garrapiñadas at the stores but there’s nothing like buying them from the Convent of the Poor Clares of San Diego (Convento de las Clarisas de San Diego), probably the nearest thing to the candied almonds’ birthplace. The Poor Clares have been making garrapiñadas since their Order was established in Alcalá de Henares around 1670 by one Catalina García Fernández who, as a widow, entered the Convent of the Franciscans where she adopted the name Catherine of Jesus and St. Francis. The Convent of the Poor Clares of San Diego sprang from Catalina’s School of the Poor Maidens of Santa Clara (Colegio de Doncellas Pobres de Santa Clara).
Others would however have it that the Convent of the Poor Clares was founded in 1515 and Catalina’s school was merely associated with the predating convent.
Whichever is the right date, the convent is located in a quiet plaza beside the awesome Complutense University (University of Alacalá) which was founded by Cardinal Cisneros in 1499. Not that Cisneros founded the university from nothing. Much earlier, there already existed in the place a studium generale, the customary name for a university in medieval Europe, in 1293. So you can imagine the great ambiance that shrouds the vicinity in a kind of religious-scholarly mysticism.
Above the main door of the surprisingly unpretentious convent hangs the coat of arms of Cardinal Cisneros. The legend (or is it a historical fact?) behind this is that before the Convent ever existed, the printing press of the Cisnerian university was installed in one of the buildings that would comprise the cloister someday. It is said that that very press was where the first and best-known polyglot bible, authored by Cisneros, was printed. (Authorized by Pope Leo X, the Complutense Polyglot Bible was published in 1520.)
With all this rich history behind them, the garrapiñadas might prove irresistible, not to mention that, made from traditional recipe, they are exquisite. Go through the ritual of buying them from the Convent and immerse yourself in history and culture while you’re at it. It could be quite an experience.
How does the ritual go? Cross the wooden entrance of the convent to get to an anteroom covered with tiles. There you’ll notice a small window in the wall that won’t let you see beyond. Displayed in the anteroom, above the mysterious window, are samples of containers of different makes, sizes and weights for the almonds, with their corresponding prices.
Once you’ve made your choice, hit the buzzer and place your order in the rotating window. Pay when you receive the goods. You won’t see who you’re dealing with. An American tourist called the vendor the “invisible nun”: “Pretty neat to be buying the exquisite garrapiñadas from an invisible nun.” Another tourist describes his experience as a “true local cultural experience of ordering the candy from a nun that you don’t see.”
You can’t possibly have expected to see her, can you? She’s a cloistered nun!
Convento de las Clarisas de San Diego
Calle de las Beatas, 5
Alcalá de Henares
Tel:+34 918 88 03 05
Renfe Cercanías C-1, C-2 and C7A.
Bus nº 223 (Intercambiador de Avenida de América)
Featured image collage: Sunset backdrop/Tincho Franco, Unsplash. Candied Almonds–generic photo/Tamorlan, CC BY-SA3.0
Fresco of St Clare and nuns/Gunnar Bach Pedersen, self-photographed, PD
University of Alcalá/Universidad de Alcalá, CC BY-SA3.0
Polyglot Bible/Francisco Jimenez de Cisneros, harvard.edu. Bilioteca Nacional de España. Uploaded by MaiDireLoLLo, PD
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