On the eve of World Nutrition Day, we look into the diet of the monks who lived in the abbey and the relationship between monastic traditions and the contemporary emphasis on local produce and the zero km concept.
A return to the past is very much in evidence in today’s commitment to all things local and in the search for sustainability. In addition to its spirituality, the foundation of Retuerta and other monasteries and abbeys in the Duero region during the Middle Ages helped to clear land and spread cultivation. The obvious transport limitations of the time called for self-sufficiency and the efficient use of environmental resources.
Thanks to the historical data compiled by Patricia Andrés González, a historian at the University of Valladolid, we know that, at least in the 19th century, the monks of Retuerta grew and sold wheat, oats, barley or chickpeas.
Food and wine
But they also bought products that they did not grow directly and, based on the information we have, their diet was fairly diverse. The records reveal allocations of money for the purchase of a variety of foods but also for special supplies to celebrate important days. The list includes oranges, asparagus, hake, salmon, sugar, rice, bacon, cherries, chorizo sausages, loin, piques and pig’s ears, nougat for Christmas, milk rolls, cheese from Villalón, sea bream, pickled fish, conger eel, Cordoba olives, as well as “trout for the day of the patriarch” and “sponge cakes for the day of the prior”.
The wine was almost always the abbey’s own. The monks worked a small vineyard within the cloister for their own needs, whereas the vineyards around the abbey, which appear on a map dating from 1790 drawn up by Tomas López, were often rented out. There is evidence that the monks occasionally bought jugs of white wine, which suggests that their standard production was clarete, the area’s traditional blend of white and red grapes. The colour of clarete varied according to the proportion of red and white grapes in their vineyards.
With the seizure of assets by the Spanish government in 1836 (the desamortización), many religious properties changed hands in Spain. After the exclaustration of the monks, the auction inventory published in Diario de Madrid on October 24, 1844, mentioned an orchard measuring “47 obradas and 399 estatales (old farming measurements) with 193 elms, 48 plum trees and 6 pear trees” and producing “an annual income of 100 reales per orchard”. The rest of the property, which was not leased, was auctioned for 307,811 reales.
Retuerta’s agricultural tradition can be traced back to the beginning of its existence. After the acquisition of the property in 1898, Julio Pimentel turned it into one of the leading estates in the area, alongside Vega Sicilia. Subsequent inventories attest to the existence of 300 hectares of pine woods, 700 of holm oaks, 600 hectares devoted to crops of cereals and tubers and a vineyard. The successive owners, and in particular the Prodes seed company which purchased the estate in 1920, encouraged farming activities. When Sandoz (now Novartis) bought the property in the 1990s, the vineyard had disappeared. The only remnants of the past were some wild vines found in an area known as Prado del Aceite in 2007.
Vineyard and orchard
The Retuerta Abbey of the 21st century has replaced crops for vines and restored the monks’ old orchard with exquisite care, as it sought to recreate it in the same spot where it once was. The fruit and vegetables that are grown here now find their ideal home in Refectorio and Vinoteca, the two restaurants of LeDomaine Hotel, where they can be paired with the estate’s wines. After centuries of comings and goings, the food circle is closed again. The self-sufficiency of the past is the zero km food of today.