May 14, 2007

Big shoes to fill

Mamaita's recipes 1

Mamaita's handwritten recipes

I mentioned before that my grandmother, or Mamaita as she was fondly called, was an amazing cook who was famous for many dishes. Gaining at least 5 lbs. every summer was a given. We couldn't help it, the house was always filled with food, everything revolved around food, even the family business. Some of her delicious creations were available in the restaurant and the hotel she used to own and manage.

Dumaguete chorizo

Just like the old days: home-made chorizo, bulad and maize

Every morning, we would wake up to the aroma of home-made bulad (salted dried fish) and chorizo frying in the kitchen, staples on our breakfast table. Squeezed around the table, my cousins and I would stuff ourselves silly. Eating the bulad and chorizo with either garlic fried rice or maize and our choice of sunny-side up or scrambled eggs. There was always hot pan de sal (bread rolls) accompanied by assorted jams and butter and of course, budbud kabog.

Diets and restraint were unheard of then; healthy meals and light eating were things of the future. The kitchen staff, well trained by Mamaita, cooked with careless abandon and we ate in the same fashion. If breakfast was a feast, lunch, merienda and dinner were no different, perhaps even more so. Desserts were aplenty, there was never just one but a variety. Hot chocolate was available any time of day, the super thick kind, none of that watered down stuff.

Mamaita's Recipes 2

My trip to Dumaguete included a mission: to copy Mamaita's precious recipes while I still could. I reminisced a lot when I was there, as you can probably tell from my previous posts, especially as I lay in bed in the dark. I was sleeping in Mamaita's room, something I hadn't done since way before she moved on seven years ago. Her room remained untouched, except for the presence of the high-back chair that used to be in the living room and the paint that was peeling from the walls.

Mamaita's recipes 3

Must handle with care!

But it was while I copied her recipes that I felt her close. I couldn't believe my eyes when my aunt handed me her recipes. It came bunched together and wrapped in plastic. The day before my uncle had joked that I would need to open the package in an airconditioned room and using tweezers and gloves to protect the paper from my bodily oils. I pulled out the notebooks and loose papers slowly, realizing he may have been only half-joking. The pages were brittle and stained with age and tiny fragments that had crumled over the years came spilling out.

My hands shook slightly as I lay them down carefully on the table in the corner of her room. Two notebooks, some newspaper and magazine clippings, scraps of paper with tasting notes, and a book on Cured Meats - a book that taught you pretty much everything you needed to know from butchering to cleaning to cutting and curing, dressing, canning and cooking pork, beef and lamb.

I slowly opened the notebook and felt a wave of nostalgia. I touched her familiar neat cursive on the yellowed page. They were rounded and leaned slightly to the left. At the head of the table, I watched her write so slowly and deliberately, as if time stood still for her. I found most of what I was hoping to find here. Some were written in Spanish and the rest in English.

There was the recipe for my favorite salchichon de pili, and the chocolate ice-box cake my mom made me promise to get, the tocino del cielo which I love so much, her flan, sans rival, food for the gods, maja blanca, lengua de gato, canonigo, tarta de fruta, banana brunch cake, cheesy cassava cake, bread pudding, - wait - these are all desserts. Where are the recipes for her different chorizos? And bacalao? Apparently, I am to learn the next day at the breakfast table, my grandmother never needed to write any of the savory recipes down because she had them memorized and she made sure Basil, our cook, had them down pat. My uncle was kind enough to give me his recipes instead.

So I went to work, burning the candle at both ends, copying the recipes. And as I tapped away on the keyboard, I imagined her speaking to me through the written words. In my mind I saw her patiently teaching me in her pale yellow kitchen while I stood on the chair next to her. She had her grey hair in a neat bun as she always did, and she carefully weighed each ingredient, describing each one to me as she did so. I heard her speak to me, explaining each step of the process while she worked with her skillful hands. And I did my best to write it all down, without missing a beat.

I'm a little nervous but very excited about trying the recipes. But while I would like to chronicle the attempts here, they've asked me kindly to keep the recipes in the family for the meantime. Although I am not the type to hide cooking or baking secrets and love to share great recipes, I totally understand and respect this request because most of the recipes were used in the family business and may possibly be used for that purpose again in the future.

This is a picture of Mamaita in her 20's. I hope I make her proud. :)


PS: I just found out my dad has become a regular reader of my blog and is especially enjoying all these posts about his hometown and his mom, so HI DAD!! :)


Anonymous said...

It looks like your little trip down memory lane is turning into an extended vacation! And I'm really enjoying it.

What a treasure you have there! I love to hear stories about older relatives, and see their memorabilia. Everything about them speaks of a bygone age, from the language they used to the beautiful penmanship. You're really lucky to have your Mamaita's recipes. My own grandmother was not as accomplished as yours, but she did have some special dishes that we loved. Unfortunately, even though she lived to 98, no one was able to learn them. She didn't write down any of her savory recipes, either.

You ought to have some of those framed, Nena. They'd make charming and sentimental decorations for the kitchen or dining room.

Unknown said...

I get excited reading your dumaguete posts as it brings such fond memories! Katrina is so right, what a great idea to frame these family heirlooms.

Socky said...

Her handwriting is lovely. Take pictures of those recipes and write your own annotations per recipe, etc. Include some posts you've blogged. Then, Digiprint!!!! Now you have a book the rest of the family can enjoy.

Socky said...

Photoshop some pics so they're more interesting to lay out, like some pics need not be square, etc. Or do some multi-layering. Hay, the mac in my mind is already working....

christine said...

Katrina, I'm so glad you're enjoying it. :) I also love to listen to stories of the old days, I can do that for hours. In fact, last, Saturday over halo-halo in the Pen we did just that with friends. And before we knew it, it was 3 am! Wow your lola lived to 98, that is an accomplishment in itself! I bet you have a wealth of stories from her and about her. And thank you for the idea of framing the pictures! Ideally framing the originals would be best, but this would be just as beautiful. Love the idea!

Gins, that's Katrina for you, ever the creative genius! :) It would be so nice to bring all your kids there one day and show them where you spent a large part of your childhood, the boys would appreciate it much more now, especially the lake, river, the new resorts...

Hi Socky, haha, another wonderful idea. Photobook the entire series, no? You're so funny, gosh, I wish I had a macbook (ahem ginny hehe) to play around with. :)

Unknown said...

I love my mac but i feel like a really bad owner. all i do is check my mail, surf/read blogs, store my photos and use the itunes. that's it....and i know there is so much creative stuff that can be done with it...but boohoo, no time in my hands to experiment.
Nena, hello, digiprint or use my Mac please. You need to preserve this stuff coz am sure no one else will and they shall turn to dust.

Anonymous said...

What a great post Nens! So enjoyed reading it :) Recipes that are passed down makes them all the more precious (and delicious)! How exciting it must have been to get them...and how exciting it'll be to try them!

I won't ask for the recipe...but I'll definitely be in line for a sample :)

Oggi said...

I truly enjoyed reading your lovely post. It also convinced me to heed my daughter's request to write down my own recipes for her future use. Like your mamaita I have a lot of recipes that I know by heart, some of them from my mother and mother-in-law, which I never bothered to put on paper. The hard part is remembering and listing all the names of the recipes.

christine said...

Gins, well you really only got your mac last year so you haven't had time to tinker with it. Let's try to figure it out together. :)

Jo, welcome back! There's always extra for you to sample, you know that! :) Again, I wish you lived down the road from me, so we could raid each others kitchens!

Oggi, yes, please do! You make such wonderful dishes, they should be preserved and passed on. If I were your daughter, I would nag you about that as well hehe. Well, at least the blog is a start, no?

Didi said...

Christine, Wow! What a post! It was a great read! I had to read it twice! (for fear that I may have missed something) Your mamaita looks so pretty! :)

If she could only read your blog - I think you've already made you proud! It's so cool that you dad read your blog! :) Galing!

Watergirl said...

Nena, you should consider talking to the historians at Silliman about how to maintain/preserve the recipes. They may be able to fix the pages so they don't crumble anymore (acidity in the paper); plus if you talk to the women's studies/anthro folks, they'd probably want to learn more about your family's history in Dumaguete. Would be a great project to commemorate your grandma, and the generations that have lived in the city, especially as the restaurant is still there. There are food historians based in Manila that are interested in that sort of stuff.

christine said...

Aw Candishhh, thank you! You're just too sweet! :) She is pretty in that picture, no? I really love old photos, and how dainty and pretty everyone always looked. My dad reads my blog, thanks to my sister who pointed him to it a few months ago. He mentioned to me last week though how he's been really spending a lot of time on it. :)

Mila, wow, ok wait. That sounds like a lot of work heehee. But thank you, those are great ideas! I can forward the suggestion to my cousin in Dumaguete who's very close to the Sillimanians and who knows everyone there is to know in the city that would help. Gosh, this has become more exciting than I originally thought it was! :)

Sidney said...

Wow "Mamaita" was a beautiful girl!

Unknown said...

Remember the Escano cookbook in The Memories of Philippine KItchens book? My great grandmother's hand written recipe book looks exactly like your Mamaita's collection of recipes.

My uncle had the recipes duplicated and bound for all his sisters (my mom's one of them). The originals go to the first daughter-in-law to carry the Escano married name. That goes to my Uncle's wife (he was the only boy in their family). You should do the same with your Mamaita's recipes, although give it to all your sisters to be passed on to their daughters.

christine said...

Thanks Sidney, she was! :) And incredibly wise to boot!

Hi knittymommy, yes of course I remember the Escano pages! Such a nice tribute to the family heritage. I've actually already emailed the recipes to my cousins and sisters but just in digital format. When I have time I'll definitely try to do something more meaningful with it. I still have another grandmother whose recipes I need to work on! :)

Jen Tan said...

Wow Christine, your mamaita must be a real great woman!You are very lucky to have such great family memories of good food and being cared for...I think providing good food is a true sign of love. I believe good food only comes out out making it with much love and passion! You have scuh a great heritage and it is a wonderful thing what you're doing---to preserve your grandma's legacy =)

I was really drawin while reading this post of yours...I am soo intruiged by your grandma's persona! The true epitomy of a woman who mastered her kitchen craft! I am impressed and I have much respect for that.

Thank you for sharing Christine...something so close to the heart =)

christine said...

Jen, thank you so much for that! It's so nice to know you enjoyed reading the post and yes you are so right on every point. I do feel truly lucky and blessed, that's for sure! :) And providing not only nourishment, but good (great!) food is a true sign of love. So so true. :)

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading this particular entry, Nena. :-) It's amazing how much history is embedded in family recipes. I'm glad you were able to start work on archiving these for the next generation. ;-)

christine said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it, pixie girl, thanks! :) I think I had waited any longer, the recipes would have disintegrated into oblivion considering the state they were in.

Pille said...

I loved to read about your Mamaita's recipes! I haven't inherited any recipes from my grandma's (they're both alive, just the diet during their childhood was rather poor), but my boyfriend's mum gave us her mother's and grandmother's handwritten recipe books (from 1934 and 1890, respectively) that we have been keenly reading..

ScroochChronicles said...

That was beautiful. We share the same passion of finding recipes from our ancestors. I found my stash years ago under a drawer in my lola's room. It was like my own little treasure trove. I still have those books today. I also have kept some of her really old, and crumbling, pics of her as a teener.

christine said...

Hi Scrooch! How lucky you are for finding those recipes and pictures. They are indeed treasures that should be preserved. Have you tried any of the recipes yet?

ScroochChronicles said...

Hi Christine!

Yes, I've tried several of her recipes. The one that stands out is a recipe she also inherited from her own mother. It's called Ropa Vieja. I believe it means "old rags".

christine said...

Oohhh ropa vieja is a favorite in our home! I can only imagine how wonderful your grandma's recipe is! :)

Anonymous said...


I'm Allane Orendez, program researcher from DoQmentaries a show in QTV channel 11! QTV 11 is GMA Channel 7's new platform.

i love your post about the heirloom recipes you got from your lola. i would just like to ask if i can call you or we can feature you in our show.

We are currently doing documentary about the heirloom recipes mothers passed to their daughters and to their gran daughters.

i hope i coud discuss this matter further through a phone call or email.

I hope for your positive response.
thank you very much.


Segment Producer
Day Off, QTV 11
Tel # 9827777 local 3031
Fax# 9271879
Mobile# 09286685269

christine said...

Allane, thank you! I am very flattered you'd like to feature me in your show. :) But while I love the theme and would like to help promote such tradition, I'm afraid I'll have to decline. Unless you'd like to consider an email interview? :)