Holiday Traditions – Food

by Heiddi Zalamar , Network Blogger

Other traditions that come during the holidays are special foods and treats. My mother made several, but there are three that are my favorites during this time of year. One is Coquito – a coconut-based drink that is almost like egg nog (without the egg). Each year, my mother would mix a can of Coco Lopez (thick coconut), a fresh coconut (meat/milk), cinnamon, water and at the end, a splash of Puerto Rican rum. Mami usually made two batches – alcoholic for the adults & non-alcoholic for kids.

Another food tradition is called pasteles. A pastele is a mix of ground up vegetables (Green Banana, Yautia and Yuca) with stewed pork in the center. Mami assembled it on wax paper (in Puerto Rico, banana leaves are used) putting the ground up veggies or masa (dough) in the center. She flattened it out creating a pocket in the middle for the stewed pork. Two versions were made – spicy for the adults and regular for the kids. She would then fold up the edges of the wax paper to make a rectangle-shaped container. My job was to tie two pasteles together tightly. It was a holiday tradition just for us to make it because it is made from Thanksgiving through Little Christmas (January 6). We’d sit and talk while we ground up the vegetables and I’d go steal some of the stew to eat it with crackers. So yummy! After the work was done, the pasteles were boiled for an hour and voila! A delicious holiday treat for me to enjoy.

The final one was a dessert called Tembleque (pronounced “tem-bleh-keh”). It is a coconut custard that mom prepared every year along with the coquito and pasteles. My mom used a can of Coco Lopez and heated it with corn starch. She dedicated a lot of time to this because it had to be stirred constantly so that it didn’t burn. Mami then spread the mixture onto a flat plate. She topped it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cooled it in the fridge. After a couple of hours, the tembleque was ready to eat. Hers came out hard enough to eat with my hands like cake. My pal made it for me last year and it was very soft after she placed it in dessert cups.

I’ve only tried to make this once myself and it came out burnt. It was brown like caramel and hard as a rock! This was several years ago already, but maybe next year I’ll try making it again. What are your special holiday food traditions?

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