Thursday, December 09, 2004


Roman Catholic nuns have many talents—not all of which involve the infliction of corporal punishment. In Spain, at least, nuns wield a wooden spoon as skillfully as they do a wooden ruler.

Perhaps I should clarify that last statement.

Cities and towns throughout Spain are dotted with cloistered nun convents. Most convents run some sort of commercial venture – e.g., charging admission to view their art collections, or selling needlecraft and other hand-made trinkets – in order to support their existence and charitable endeavors. But the most common (and popular) way for nuns to raise funds is to make and sell sweets.

Nun-made sweets range from almond-based cookies (like the Rosquillas de Almendra pictured above) to jellies and marmalades to moist little buttons of sugar and egg yolk called yemas. Some convents specialize in one or two items; others offer of a long list of choices. Offerings are typically influenced by the availability of local products—and donations. Yemas, for example, are often available at convents in wine regions. Why? Because many wineries use egg whites to clarify their wines, then donate the yolks to the nearest order of nuns.

But it’s not just the sweets that cause me to seek out convents whenever I visit a new city. I get equally excited by the transaction itself. Suffice it to say, a certain etiquette must be followed when buying from nuns. Let me tell you what it is.

When a convent is open for business (typically between the hours 9am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm), the front door will be cracked open. Enter through the door and you will often find yourself in a foyer. Built into the far wall of the foyer is a Lazy Susan-type revolving tray. If you’ve seen that famous M*A*S*H episode in which the doctors gave an abandoned baby to a community of cloistered monks, then you know what I’m talking about.

Mounted on the wall next to the Lazy Susan are a buzzer and (usually) a list of the sweets for sale. Press the buzzer and – sooner or later – a nun’s voice will chirp from behind the Lazy Susan. Now this is the important part. Before the transaction takes place, you must recite the following script:
Nun: Ave María purísima. [Translation: Most pure Ave María.]

You: Sin pecado concebida. [Translation: Conceived without sin. Don’t ask.]
Now you may place your order. Once you do so, the nun will tell you the price. Put your money on the Lazy Susan, and give it a gentle spin. The nun behind the wall will take your money, put the box of sweets that you ordered (plus your change, if any) on the Lazy Susan and spin it back to you.

And that’s it! The transaction is over. The nuns walk away with the money. You walk away with the sweets. And nobody’s knuckles get whacked with a ruler.

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At 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Conceived without sin?? Sal - is there something your are not telling us? How can a one be "conceived without sin" and then grow up to become a lawyer? ;o)

Your anonymous friend from Denmark.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Sal DeTraglia said...

Conceived without sin? Oh damn! That's a typo. I meant to say "Conceived without Gin."

Wait a minute! Conceived without Gin?! That's rarer still.

At 3:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can assure you and all your readers that you were indeed conceived without sin - having been born 9 months and 14 days after a wedding ceremony.

Big Mama


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