The nuns have based their products on old recipes but with new ingredients and ideas. / SUR

Nuns bake sweet treats to help make ends meet

There have been nuns at the Encarnación convent in the town since 1536; before, they worked doing embroidery and needlework, but the crisis has also hit their community

ANTONIO J. GUERRERO ANTEQUERA.

The working hours for nuns in closed orders have just been extended, at least in the case of La Encarnación convent in Antequera where the community of Carmelite nuns has had to start making cakes and other treats in order to keep their 16th-century home and church open. The reason is the higher electricity bills and rising cost of living, and these nuns have now followed the example of other monasteries and convents, sweetening the lives of others to try to make ends meet.

Their convent is in the old centre of the town, between the Plaza de San Sebastián and Plaza del Coso Viejo. Sor Milagros, who is 98, is the only surviving member of the old embroidery school. The nuns used to make dresses for ladies and cloaks and other items for religious brotherhoods, but over time the art of needlework became obsolete. Now the current team of young nuns from Kenya, who arrived in 1997, had been wondering for some time what they could do to maintain their large church and convent. Making cakes and sweets and selling them to the general public was the answer.

"We've been thinking about doing this for a while. For us, prayer is the priority in our contemplative life, but even so we need resources. The cost of everything has gone up so much and there are six nuns in our community. We had to find a way to make some money," the mother superior, Angelina Ngina, explained.

Space was no problem because the old kitchen at the convent was ideal, but they needed an oven. Then help arrived from a family with close links to the order.

"It has been a miracle for us. Jerónimo, Javier and Carmen Santolalla are siblings and they had seen what their parents have done for us [in the past], helping us with what we need, and so they have donated the oven," she said. The nuns applied for the relevant permits and on 14 September their first products went on sale.

"They are based on old recipes we had in our archives, but we have added new ingredients and different approaches to pastries and desserts. We are making special products for Christmas, but our idea is to keep baking all year round," said Ngina.

From biscuits to brownies

Their specialities include homemade pastries, sponge cakes, madeleines, doughnuts, oatmeal biscuits, ginger and cinnamon biscuits, chocolate biscuits and brownies.

"These are things that people buy and take away so they can be eaten for breakfast or as a snack during the day. This is going to be a very special Christmas for everybody because, thanks be to God, we no longer have to wear masks. We love Antequera and feel very much part of the town. We pray for all its people and since September we have been sweetening their lives as well with our delicious convent-made cakes and biscuits.

"As people have to come here to buy them they get a bit of exercise on the way here and back, and so we won't be making people put on weight," the mother superior laughed.

The nuns' products can be purchased every day of the week, using the convent entrance in Calle de Los Tintes. The opening hours are from 9am to 2pm and 5pm to 7pm Mondays to Saturdays, and on Sundays from 10am, when the 9am Mass has finished. The nuns can also be contacted by email at antequera.carmelitas@diocesismalaga.es or by phone on 952 73 90 09.

When the next electricity bill arrives these nuns will be praying that they can pay it. If they can, their hard work and their constant daily prayers at La Encarnación convent in Antequera will have had the required result.