Now that winter is fast approaching and I’ve already started wrapping up and drinking tea like crazy I think it’s the perfect time to talk about a real winter ‘institution’ in homes in Extremadura – the heated table (mesa camilla, in Spanish).
What is it?
The mesa camilla is a table (generally round, although it can be oval or square as well) under which a heater (brasero) is placed, and is covered with a cloth (faldilla) that extends to the floor. Bear in mind that in Spain they only started installing central heating in newly built houses about 15 years ago, so the brasero was a good way of keeping everyone warm in the same room.
The original brasero
Originally, the brasero was made of picón (charcoal, usually from holm oaks). The embers would be placed in a metallic brazier and, to avoid anyone getting burnt, you would put a wire cage over it. It is considered quite dangerous, as the combustion would happen with very little oxygen due to the brasero being covered, resulting in carbon monoxide being generated. Therefore, the room would need very good ventilation. When the embers started getting colder, you would need to move them a bit using a fire shovel (badila).
Today electric heaters are used instead. However, you can still find some stubborn grannies (mine included) refusing to give up their beloved brasero de picón, ignoring all advice and warnings given by their families.
How is picón made?
As I said, charcoal is rarely used these days but if you are interested in knowing how picón is made have a look at this video below (in English):
Why do you still use braseros?
Even though most newly built houses have central heating, having the brasero is a good way to reduce costs while keeping everyone warm. And I say ‘everyone’ because families spend winter evenings sitting together at the table after dinner watching a film, chatting or playing games.
Heated tables help members of a family interact with each other, as everyone wants to be nice and warm. Although, disputes may also arise when somebody complains someone is wrapping himself/herself up to their neck allowing the heat to escape!
I can’t wait to go home for Christmas and spend a whole evening chatting with my family at the heated table until my mum hints she is not in the mood to cook dinner and suggests buying some churros and thick drinking chocolate… Yes!
If you want to tell somebody about this weird thing people in Extremadura use to keep themselves warm at home here is a list of key terms you can use to show off your Spanish speaking skills:
Mesa camilla/camilla – heated table
Brasero – heater/brazier
Badila – fire shovel
Alambrera – wire cage
Picón – charcoal
Faldilla – cloth