Things ain’t what they used to be: Pulse checking

Things ain’t what they used to be: Pulse checking

: PYRAMIDS: Built with the aid of lentils Photo credit: CC/Ricardo Liberato

NOT long ago, granola sold in Waitrose, Tesco and Ocado was urgently recalled as unsafe to eat.

“This product may contain small stones which could be a choking hazard and could possibly cause harm if bitten,” a Food Standards Agency warned.

The Agency should have gone to Spain decades ago when no-one dreamt of using lentils without picking through them first to remove any small stones.  These were definitely a choking hazard as they were practically the same colour as the lentils.

That was when UK newspapers were broadsheets so I would tip out the lentils onto one side of a double page, pushing the lentils over to the other before sliding them all into the pot.

It was a pleasant, mindless task that could be done on autopilot, satisfying when there was a good haul of stones but worrying when you found none and wondered who would break a tooth.

The Mediterranean diet hadn’t yet been enshrined when I first lived here.  This was what most people ate anyway, even in Madrid, although it became meat-richer the further north you went.

It took me a while to recognise the virtues of pulses which in my early days I bumptiously assured a Spanish friend weren’t comparable to food eaten outside Spain.

I received a lecture, little of which I took in, although I do remember her saying that a plate of lentils provided twice as much iron as a 125-gramme steak.

I thought of her recently when I read that Herodotus spoke of Egyptian inscriptions stipulating that lentils should be provided for the workmen building the Pyramids.

So that’s why a Menu del Dia invariably offers lentils, a throwback to the days when a Menu was aimed at the construction workers busily putting up tower blocks and hotels as well as the tourists occupied them.

I had never eaten a lentil, let alone a chickpea before living in Spain, although there were baked beans, of course.  I also had a nodding acquaintance with the butter beans my grandmother added – although not on a Spanish scale – when she cooked oxtail.

That was as far as my knowledge of pulses went, although I soon found myself the object of much mirth in my unsuccessful quest to find barley for lamb stew.

I’d given up looking for barley in Benidorm shops but one day in a small inland mountain village I saw one of those small shops that sold everything from sausages to scythes,

If anyone had barley they would, I reasoned.

I explained that I wanted barley to a comfortable-looking lady wearing a colourful wraparound pinny over a black frock.  She shook her head and said she was sorry, but she didn’t stock it.

“You’ve got animals, then?  You want it for them?” she asked.

“No, it’s for lamb stew.”

She looked astonished.  “You mean you want to eat it.  Barley?  But we give that to the animals here.  Not people.”

So there I was with the tables turned, convincing a village shopkeeper that foreign food wasn’t comparable to what was eaten inside Spain.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at


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