My grandmother cooked divinely. Her Kare-kare (oxtail stew) was truly rich; the milkfish in her tamarind soup so very velvety; her Lengua Estofada (braised beef tongue) ever so tender. More than her heirloom recipes, however, I remember how she was in the kitchen. How she hummed, spatula in hand. How she welcomed people. How they tasted her food. How they lingered, as Noche Buena ushered in the break of Christmas day.
There was lechon de leche. There was leche flan. There was a large cluster of bananas, and hanging beside it, a whole leg of Chinese ham. And there, laughing, Chinese eyes sparkling, was my grandmother, drawing everyone around the dining table, around the holiday season. Here was where a whole day’s haste and flurry rested, here was where contentment shaped itself into something everyone can hold. Savory and sweet. I joyfully sat nearest the Rellenong Bangus (stuffed milkfish) which I “helped” prepare that morning.
The fish was scaled, cleaned and deboned; the flesh taken out, poached and flaked; and the skin, left to marinate in soy sauce and calamansi. Minced garlic and onions were sautéed, flaked fish added, followed by chopped carrots, green peas and raisins, seasoned with salt and pepper. The skin was then stuffed with the filling, sewed, sprinkled with flour, and deep fried.
These days, it is my husband who “rules” the kitchen. Paul learned to cook at an early age, from his Italian grandmother, whose family made wine, cheese and fresh pasta, and who shared their food with Dust Bowl immigrants who came to California between 1935 and 1939, during one of the worst crises in American history. Nonn (short for Nonna, or grandmother), taught him that the secret to making polenta creamy and smooth, is time.
First, boil water with a little salt. Add the polenta, and start stirring. Stir for a good 45 minutes. Then add butter and cream, and whisk for a half hour more. Watch for lumps. Fold in the grated Parmesan, about a quarter cup, or to taste.
Dear friends, welcome to our HEIRLOOM RECIPES issue. Amy Besa, co-author of Memories of Philippine Kitchens, is at the helm for this issue as our guest editor. Come celebrate with us the poetry of Carlos Bulosan, Albert Casuga, Eileen R. Tabios and Angela Narciso Torres. Essays on various themes are by Diane Auclair, Liz Festejo, Tina Lapres, Dawn Mabalon, Ed Maranan, and Gayle Romasanta. We feature family recipes from Chef Tatung Sarthou (Patotim), Kathleen Burkhalter (recipes from Bilibid Prison), Margaux Salcedo (Nana Meng’s Dinuguan), and Tricia Tensuan (Lola Anday’s Chicken Kinulob).
Amy Besa interviewed food historian Alex Orquiza; we introduce Cecilia Langlois’ first column, Eating Krow; and short stories by Remé Grefalda (on gulay na langka) and Rick Samonte (excerpted from At the Table with the Family).
Our Bibliography lists books and articles relating to Filipino heirloom recipes wrapped around dining table memories. Also, don’t forget to browse our Bookshelf featuring works published this year by Filipino authors.
Welcome our editorial intern, Kathleen Burkhalter, who will assist us in 2012 issues.
Last but not least, we invite you to view our Gallery where we present harvest images by scenic photographer Bobby Wong.
Kaya’t tayo na, giliw, magsalo na tayo!
Come, then, my dear, let us share a meal!
Merrily share our table.
Merrily say peace.
The way our grandmothers taught us.
San Francisco, December 2011
ART DIRECTOR AND WEB DESIGNER
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR FOR THE ARTS
OOV 2011 RESIDENT POET