Basque ethnography at a glance

Table of authorities by José Arrue

Agintarien mahaia. Table of authorities by José Arrue. Courtesy of Orozkoko Garrafa Kultur Elkartea.

Cannot beat a nice cold drink on a hot summer day!

But, believe it or not, drinking iced beverages was not customary in ancient times. It was not until the 14th century that physicians incorporated ice into their practice, arguing that it cured burning fevers and protected against the plague.

The demand and use of ice increased significantly ever since, mainly for therapeutic reasons. Icehouses built high up in the mountains and ice pits, known as edur-zuloak, served for storage and preservation of snow.

Ice was used for curative purposes but also to cool drinks and make ice-cold beverages, among them garrafa, which took its name from the container for making it.

Garrafa is the name of the wooden bucket with a metal canister sitting inside it, where boozy lemonade was traditionally chilled. A miraculous blend of ice and salt packed between the wood and the metal brought the temperature of the celebratory drink down, as it churned to a satisfactory consistency.

Garrafa making in Orozko (Bizkaia), c. 1960

Garrafa making in Orozko (Bizkaia), c. 1960. Courtesy of Orozkoko Garrafa Kultur Elkartea.

Each family had its favourite recipe, the basic ingredients being white wine or txakolin, water, sugar, and lemon juice —a touch of brandy may be added if desired—.

In the very old days the mixture was poured into a two-handle vessel and placed inside a broader bucket filled with ice and salt. Using both hands to rotate the vessel to and fro —zirin-zaran, they used to say—, the drink eventually thickened and was then ready to serve.

As from the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, cylindrical steel freezers started to be used, hermetically sealed and with a removable lid that turned to one side and then to the other using a single hand. More modern iced-drink makers sported a manual wheel that made them so much easier to operate, and included as a novelty a series of dashers that turned in opposite direction to the cylinder itself, allowing the content to freeze into the perfectly slushy refreshment a lot quicker.

Iced white wine lemonade gained popularity among the local bourgeoisie. Initially reserved for the wealthiest households, it eventually became accessible to people of all backgrounds. Once common in Bilbao, the custom of the garrafa thrived in smaller localities in Bizkaia, such as Zeanuri, Areatza, Otxandio, Gernika, Amurrio, Orduña, and Llodio, being particularly deeply rooted in Orozko.

More than 400 old-time frozen drink makers of diverse provenance have been preserved to date in Orozko.

In the book Historia general de Vizcaya [General history of Biscay] the historian Juan Ramón de Iturriza talks about the masterful skill with which the people of Orozko prepared this festive and frosty drink. And so it is that on 2 September, St Antoninus’ Day, a garrafa contest is held annually and tasting offered to visitors. The tradition used to be likewise observed on the occasion of the Feast of Our Lady of Begoña, on 15 August, a big day in the neighbourhood of Ibarra in Orozko.

Itziar Rotaetxe – Popular Cultural Heritage Department – Labayru Fundazioa

Translated by Jaione Bilbao – Ethnography Department – Labayru Fundazioa

Our most heartfelt thanks to Niko Astobitza, member of the Orozkoko Garrafa Kultur Elkartea association.

Reference for further information: Orozkoko garrafa. La garrafa de Orozko [The garrafa of Orozko]. Orozkoko Garrafa Kultur Elkartea, 2009.

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