Memories of Mama's Cooking
By, Melody Delgado
Whenever holiday songs and the smell of cinnamon fill the air, I am swept away to a much simpler time. My childhood was an opportunity to help Mama prepare the flavorful food for our holiday meals.
Whether we were preparing a Thanksgiving feast or simple snacks for New Year’s Day, she would always include food from our Latin heritage. A plate of fragrant pasteles, or chicken with rice managed to take a place of honor right beside the traditional stuffed turkey.
Mama’s pasteles were my favorite holiday dish. Maybe it was because so much effort went into making them.
“Everything is ready,” she would say after she cooked the traditional food. “Now it’s time to make the pasteles.”
“We saved the best for last,” I’d add and sit on a stool by the kitchen counter watching her golden fingers fly.
Watching the yearly pastele-making ritual was like watching a difficult magic trick being performed before my very eyes. I was not watching a common cook, but a master chef.
The aromatic mixture of pork and chickpeas was not merely a filling, but the food of kings. And I, a little princess in my own eyes, could hardly wait to sit on my throne and devour it!
First, Mama peeled the plantains, which, to me, looked like overgrown bananas. Then she boiled them and let me help her mash them.
“Try not to leave any lumps,” she’d remind me.
Then she’d place a small amount of the mashed plantains onto a sheet of white parchment paper. She’d place the pork and garbanzo bean filling over the top then wrap the concoction like a burrito and tie the white paper packet up with string. The packet always ended up looking like a small package waiting to be mailed. Instead of mailing the packet, Mama would place it in a large pot of boiling water. An hour later the pasteles were done.
Mama always let me be the taste tester. She’d pull a packet out of the water untie the string, unfold the paper and put the steaming pastele on a plate. Although the plate was usually worn and well-used, it seemed to me that I was being handed a platter made of pure gold.
“Taste it, Melody!” she’d say.
I’d sit up tall, sniff it, take a bite, and roll it around on my tongue for a minute or so, as if tasting expensive wine in an exclusive restaurant.
“This is not good!” I’d haughtily pronounce. Mama would respond with a look of shock on her face. Then I’d add, “It’s delicious!”
Mama’s proud smile returned. It was our little secret that I got to eat a pastele before the start of the official holiday meal.
Next, we’d make my favorite dessert: rice pudding. Mama cooked a huge pot of rice and added lots of milk, sugar and vanilla. Then she’d ask her usual question: “Do you want extra raisins?”
I’d always answer, “Well…it could use a little bit more.” I was ten, so I was allowed to drop them in the pot and stir them.
Mama poured the mixture into a large glass pan and placed it in the refrigerator.
Before the guests arrived, we took time to freshen up and change our clothes. We had to enter the celebration looking our absolute best.
After we finished our meal, she cut the rice pudding into large squares. I was the first to pick out the piece I wanted and take a taste. As usual, the guests toasted Mama and me.
Now, I have a family of my own. I try to bring back the holiday memories in my own kitchen, with my own daughter. My recipes may not turn out as tasty as my mother’s versions, but they are made with the same love that has been passed down from generation to generation.
But…one difference is certain. Now THIS Mama gets the first taste!
(Previously Published in VISTA magazine)
Meet the Author
Melody Delgado has been a published writer since 2000. Her YA/Adult novel, ROYALLY ENTITLED, was released digitally by Clean Reads in May, 2017.
It recently won a Readers' Favorite award in the category of Historical Christian Romance. A humorous children’s novel, OOPS-A-DAISY, was just released by Clean Reads.
We hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow and enjoys their day with family and friends. What are you thankful for this year? Do you have any favorite holiday recipes?