FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Growing up Rican
My Grandmom raised my sisters and I VERY different from my Mom. Without going into extreme detail she changed how she viewed children in the kitchen. In Puerto Rico you have only one person in the kitchen (unless it's a large holiday gathering and you need the manpower to create so many meals).. Unless you wanted to get hacked by a machete.. you did not go into the woman's realm... Unfortunately, Mom didn't get the benefit of learning from her Mom how to cook and since she was on her own very early in her life she had to learn almost painfully. If ya know me by now.. I'm inquisitive.. well I was just like that as a kid. Half the time I swear Mamá was just keeping me in the kitchen just so I won't get in trouble outside beating up kids.. From there I learned a lot about Puerto Rican Cuisine and Spanish Cuisine (Mamá is Spaniard). She was the mother of all inventions. We grew up dirt poor and had to improvise a LOT to get food on the table. I learned how to improvise with 3 things in the pantry LOL. As any good Puerto Rican family though.. we always had rice. And.. even though we lived in the inner city.. we always had some sort of garden. Lord help us if we couldn't get sofrito done.. the world would end..
Long live mangoes.. food of the Gods I swear... Fruit is a huge part of our diet
My oldest sister also had a very large role in my life when it came to not only cooking but even upbringing. Mom always came home late so it was my sisters who raised me during the months Mamá was on the Island. Dad was the disciplinarian.. we didn't exactly get along all that hot. He did however make sure we knew how to cook. You would know a man's wrath if the man doesn't have his rice and beans.. Being by far the youngest (I'm 7 years younger than my oldest sis and 3 1/2 years younger than my middle sis) I benefited not only education wise (my sisters taught me everything they learned in school so I could read and write (in 2 languages) by the age of 3) and taught me how to cook (by the age of 4 on my own). Going back and forth from the US to Puerto Rico (we visited a LOT.. it's sorta a Rican tradition.. even if we didn't have the money... we HAD to go back to the Island.. almost like getting air to breathe long enough to go back to the US and hold our breath).
Pasteles (recipe here).. pain in the nards to make.. usually people do this as a massive Christmas-time project.. imagine 40 people (including kids) making several hundred of these.. mmmmmmm I love them.
Food in Puerto Rico is a form of social networking. People practically judge how good of a host you are by the amount of food you serve... and trust me we are not talking about chips and salsa and a glass of water.. we are talking about full course meals. Not hungry? THEY DON'T CARE! Anyway.. food holidays.. nothing and I mean absolutely nothing beats the Christmas Holidays. We don't even celebrate Thanksgiving.. that's a speed bump to Christmas. The first time I ate a "Thanksgiving turkey" was over a "white person's house" when I was a teenager. I didn't even know what Roasted turkey tasted like until I had that meal (and I thought I died and went to heaven.. though I admit.. I hate cranberry sauce..). What is common in Puerto Rico from about Thanksgiving all the way to Three Kings Day is something called Parrandas. Unlike what the wiki says.. it's an all out excuse for partying in the wee hours of the morning with neighbors. How it works is that a group of people carrying musical instruments go to a house (not designated.. they decide that night) and camp out in front of that house singing songs that kinda go "WAKE UP AND MAKE ME FOOD" and in return they will serenade you. If you did this in the USA.. you'd be promptly shot and the Police called for disruption of the peace.. most of this stuff starts around 10PM and can go on to 4-5 AM (depending on how many people fell asleep from the liquor and over eating)...Minus the beans I'd totally go for this.. (L-R), Pastelillos (IMO doughier than an empanada), Rice and Beans (red kidney beans), tossed salad and .. I think that's stuffed peppers of some kind. Definitely a meat mixture on something..
Cooking during the holidays was a lot of work. Between all the unexpected guests (the idea of R.S.V.P. is so foreign to them.. knocking on your door is R.S.V.P. to them.. seriously..) and the expected parranda drop in .. many people on the Island did most of their cooking in advance. Doing Pasteles was a big chore so when people came over the head women in the household would take advantage and put EVERYONE to work. Make the men go out and climb trees to get the banana leaves and have the kids grind the plantains for the base of the patty. Everyone else was dicing ingredients or cooking the mixture or finding someplace to assemble the whole friggin' thing.Couldn't find a wiki thing for this.. but it's meat stuffed ripened plaintains (platanos madúros).. mmmm...
Baking was always left to the professionals. I don't ever remember anyone outright using an oven for cooking (usually it was storage for all the pots you couldn't find a spot for earlier..).. There were the panaderías (bread bakeries) and the pastelerías (pastry bakeries). Each had their own clientele but man EVERYONE used a panadería. Funny story.. whenever anyone who now lives in the USA goes "home" we all go from the airport to some bakery.. for bread.. a whole friggin' loaf of bread. It reminds us of French Bread but a whoooooooooole lot better. My Aunt (Dad's sister - the one I lived with) finally had enough of the mystery and in exasperation asked "wtf is up with the bread you friggin' Yankees.. you don't HAVE bread in your country???".. (obviously paraphrased :p ) and we'd all go "nope not like this".. we finally figured out. it's a different yeast.. the outside is this really thin crunchy coat and the inside is so soft it melts in your mouth.. Dad would just haul out and get a loaf for him and me with just a little bit if melted butter in it. We'd eat it in the car from the airport :) My uncle always got a loaf of bread daily from the bakery.. when I lived there.. they had to get 2 loaves.. I was quite the hog.. what did I use it for? SANGUICHES....
THIS is a sanguich.. a wha??? Sandwich.. yep.. Friggin' ricans have to americanize words.. this I think is a simple ham and cheese sanguich (check out the bread.. THAT is the loaf I'm talking about..) I made sandwiches of everything if I could.. still do..
Religion also has a funny way of getting into food :p I grew up evangelical Christian but when I lived with my Aunt she was Roman Catholic. They had fundraisers for everything and I swear everything was always a food sale. No one did bake sales.. they did food. One of the things they sold were Pastelillos.. I've mentioned them before.. but they are to die for.. Empanadas are altogether different.. the picture below is an actual Pastelillo..
I haven't had a REAL pastelillo of these in about.. hmm.. 15 years? Oh I miss these so...
When I did fundraising events in this country I'd laugh because I'd inevitably run into another Rican and we'd smile.. both going "we'd make a killing if we can make this into a bacalaito (fritters made with codfish pieces) sale" LMAO THAT was a typical cheap dish to make and sell for fundraisers on the island. Fish in general is big in Puerto Rico.. after all it's an island only 100 miles by 30 miles.. that's a lot of coastline..
Parting dish.. I .. love. Tostones......
All in all despite my unhappy childhood I do cherish a LOT of wonderful memories when it comes to food. Food done right or with a group of family members all chatting is like comfort to me. These days living alone while hubby works I think of what I can do to relive those moments. Even here some of my happy moments are cooking with hubby. He's a fantastic cook and I learn a lot from him. Lately I've been finding more and more recipes that remind me of my upbringing. Being a good husband he eats everything :) I like that.