What do the late Queen Fabiola of Belgium, Infanta Pilar de Borbón, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner or Spanish politicians and senators past and present have in common?
They have all been avid patrons of Madrid´s oldest sweet shop, La Pajarita. Named after a popular origami figure that the literati made out of paper napkins in the tertulia cafés, La Pajarita first opened its doors in the newly done up Puerta de Sol in 1852.
The founder, Vicente Hijós Palacio was a regular fixture at the intellectual social gatherings in the fashionable local tea and coffee houses of the day and a good friend of writer and philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno.
I have to admit that I find it a lot easier to digest copious quantities of artisanal candy and chocolate than weighty tomes of 19th Century Spanish literature, which nearly finished me off at university. However, I can imagine a generous dose of La Pajarita´s violet sweets would probably make any literary tertulia considerably more palatable.
Unlike many other businesses, La Pajarita remained operational during the Civil War, and their underground cellars provided a welcome safe haven for neighbours in which to shelter during the bombings with many a clandestine mass being celebrated for those seeking spiritual relief.
In 1969 La Pajarita moved to Calle Villanueva 14 in the Barrio de Salamanca where you will find 17 different flavours of candy and a wide assortment of chocolates from 32% to 70% cacao. Upstairs in a tiny office bustles the great grand-daughter of the founder, Rocío Aznárez Ramos, who left her investment banking career to take up the helm of La Pajarita alongside her husband, Carlos Lemus. The dynamic duo are responsible for bringing the business into the 21st century without foregoing any of its quality vintage character.
Before he died, Rosa´s grandfather was amazed to see that sales could still be made while the shop was shut thanks to the internet. He had never used a computer and all of his business dealings were sealed with a gentleman´s handshake.
La Pajarita´s signature sweets are the violets and they jealously guard their original recipe that has been perfected over the years and which enables them to stand out from the more commercial varieties available. La Pajarita violets are crafted with a touch of acidity and a layer of contrasting sweet syrup unlike the more cloyingly-sweet versions.
It´s always heartening to see a 171-year-old family business thriving on the tradition of producing high quality products whilst preparing the company to flourish for the next five generations. So I shall definitely be adding my mother in law to the long line of illustrious La Pajarita customers this Christmas. Knowing her, she´d appreciate a few volumes of Unamuno as well.