This week’s post is inspired by a trip I made to the Harinera del Guadaíra this weekend. I understood the gist of the guided tour but not all of it, so I thought it might be fun (and good Spanish practice) to take photos of their info signs and try translating them into English. And since I used to work in the bakery of a supermarket back home (and am generally waaaay too into food – I’m telling you, it’s a real problem), it’s actually something I’m quite interested in too. So, without further ado, here is summary of what I learned over the course of the weekend!
As I’m sure you already know, the main ingredient in bread is flour, which is the powder that we extract from grinding grains. The most commonly used flour in Europe (according to their information signs anyway) is wheat flour, but flour can also be extracted from rye, oats, corn, rice, etc. Bread is one of the staple foods of many European, Middle Eastern, and African diets (in comparison with many East Asian countries, where rice is generally the staple).
Although initially bread-production was an artisan process, it’s popular appeal gave rise to (pun intended) rapid industrialisation, which is reflected in Alcalá de Guadaíra which used to have two working harineras (more-industrialised and modern version of a flour mill…don’t think there’s a direct translation to English, but if there are any bilingual bread fans out there who know for sure, hit me up), as well as multiple bakeries.
Now, a little about the flour-extraction process. In the Harinera del Guadaíra the grains followed a zigzag path over many floors of the building, which took advantage of the force of gravity in order to grind and refine the grains. After being collected, the grain was washed and soaked multiple times and air currents were used to separate dust, straw, and empty shells from the grain. The grains then passed through a series of rotating cylinders which separated them according to their size and shape, before being broken and hulled, that is, having their shells removed. Once the grains were cleaned, separated, and hulled, they had to be ground and refined in order to get the flour. The grinding was done by a series of rough and smooth cylinders and then the flour passed through a succession of sieves so as to separate it into different qualities.
Alcalá is the town in Andalucía with the most flour mills and there are many still in existence along the banks of the Guadaíra river (the majority of which can be dated back to the Middle Ages). The presence of the river Guadaíra flowing through the town and its proximity to Sevilla (the capital of the province) contributed to the thriving flour and bread-making industry here. In fact, between 1840 and 1934 bakeries in Alcalá supplied the capital with a third of bread it ate daily. As a primarily industrial town with a prosperous bread-making industry, it’s only natural that the daily working day in Alcalá was closely tied to that industry. The bakers started at night preparing the doughs, they baked the bread in the early hours of the morning, and they travelled with it to Sevilla at dawn so that there was bread available in the capital as soon as business opened for the morning. During the day, while the bread was being sold in Sevilla, the flour factories, such as the Harinera del Guadaíra were working in order to supply the flour for the following night’s bake.
Originally, the bread-makers followed the river on donkey-back in order to reach the capital – a journey that took more than two hours! However, in 1873 a railway line was constructed which greatly eased this process and reduced the journey time to half an hour. Every day for almost 100 years the well-known ‘tren de los panaderos‘ took the trip to Seville, making its last journey in 1962. The train route ran the 42k between Sevilla and Carmona, taking in Alcalá, Mairena del Alcor, and El Viso del Alcor, and made two trips a day from Alcalá to Sevilla, the first at 5:40am and the second at 8:30am. There were separate carriages for the bread-makers and their animals (although the donkeys no longer had to walk for more than two hours to reach Sevilla, they did have to take the train every day).
So there you have it, a brief history of bread-making in Alcalá de Guadaíra. I hope you found it somewhat interesting! Let me know if you’d like more posts in the same kind of vein as this. Until next time!