by Sarah Lyon and Gordon Nary
St. Isidro (Isadore) Labrador is the patron saint of Madrid. He is sometimes confused with St. Isidro of Seville, a sixth century scholar who was noted for his Etymologies, the forerunner of the encyclopedia St. Isidro of Madrid, or as he is sometimes known, was an eleventh century farm servant who spent his entire life working for the same employer on a farm at Torrelaguna outside of Madrid.
Isidro led a remarkably prosaic life, and with his wife Mary, worked very hard and practiced all of the positive Christian virtues, which didn't make him that much different from many of his contemporaries. Possibly in an attempt to glorify the role of the dedicated laborer, a fictionalized biography was written about Isidro about 150 year after he died. The Latin penchant for the pomp and pageantry of sainthood kept embellishing Isidro's life with alleged miracles until King Phillip III forced Isidro's canonization after Phillip recovered from a severe illness after praying to Isidro to be cured.
There is also a legend that St Isidro miraculously made a spring gush by banging the ground while he was plowing. A hermitage dedicated to the saint was built on this spot in 1528, ordered by the Empress Isabel, after Prince Felipe came back into health by drinking water from the spring. Later, Baltasar de Zúñiga, Marquess of Valero, built the current day hermitage, with a single nave and a dome. In 1811 the Sacramental Cemetery San Isidro was built on the apse.
St. Isidro's feast day is one of the major holidays in Madrid and is celebrated for a month. On May 15, starting first thing in the morning, the La Pradera de St.Isidro (the San Isidro Meadow) plays host to a thronging pilgrimage, which dates back to shortly after the death of the saint. One of the highlights is the month long bullfight festival, La Fería de San Isidro, takes place in Madrid's bullring, Corrida de Toros de Las Ventas. There are also numerous musical performances at Plaza Casa de Campo or at the Sports Palace. This is also a time to enjoy Madrid's most famous food dishes including Cocido Madrileño, Callos Madrileños, and Rabo de Toro (stewed bull's tail), and a variety of foods bearing the saint's name, such as the Bunuelos de San Isidro, a type of cream filled Bismark.
Bunuelos de San Isidro
(Cream Filled Fried Pastries)
4 large eggs, separated
4 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
oil for frying
1 cup milk
1 TB grated lemon zest
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp butter
powdered sugar for dusting
Beat egg yolks in a bowl until lemon colored. Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until they are stiff. Fold whites into yolks.
Blend the flour, baking powder, and sugar in a separate bowl. Fold mixture into egg mixture, alternately with the milk, little by little.
Drop by large spoonfuls into hot oil.
Fry until browned. Turn over and fry until browned. Remove from oil, drain on paper towels and set aside.
Place milk, sugar, and zest in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat until mixture boils. Reduce heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
Place yolks in a bowl and whisk until pale yellow. Whisk in flour and gradually pour in heated milk in a small stream, whisking constantly.
Place over low heat and simmer for 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Remove from heat and add butter. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally.
When filling is cooked, put in in a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain tube. Make a slit in the top of each buinelos. Fill with custard. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.
© 2011 Gordon Nary