Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Traditions

One of my most cherished Christmas traditions, is the making of Pastelles. What are Pastelles? It is a Puerto Rican dish made mostly of pork, green banana's, and a variety of root vegetables and herbs. While there are many variations, these stables have been used for generations.

My earliest Patelle memory is of my paternal grandmother, Pura. As petite as she was, Pura was a strong force in the kitchen. I was never part of her Pastelle brigade, but I enjoyed the aroma and the taste. Still young, I remember being able to help as my mother and father made Pastelles at our house. First being allowed to cut the string at just the right length to tie the bundles, and then as I grew older, being allowed to help tie. It was an entire days' project, but at the end of the day, the entire family sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. I loved the fact that everybody came over for Pastelles.

My parents stopped making Pastelles while I was still in high school, although I never knew why.
So it was a big surprise to not only my new husband, but my family as well, when only married for two weeks I announced that I was making Pastelles for the holidays. Pura was no longer with us, so I called my Mom and asked for the recipe. Of course, it wasn't written down, so she gave me as much as she remembered, and with the help of my sister, I made 75 Pastelles, the week before Christmas in 1982.

They weren't the best, obviously my Mom had the proportions off, but no one really cared. We were together for Pastelles at Christmas. My husband was so proud. Being Puerto Rican himself, he knew the labor that went into making them and only 'real' Puerto Ricans made Pastelles (I am only half Puerto Rican). Of all his siblings and cousins, only his sister kept the tradition going in his family. So we were both thrilled when my entire family came over and in our little apartment it was Christmas. Oh one correction, no one cared that they weren't the best, except my mother-in-law that is. Known in my husbands family as the Pastelle queen, she said she would teach me how to really make Pastelles. Over the next five or so years, we learned to blend my grandma's recipe with my MIL's. Every year, on the Saturday before Christmas we would get together at my house and make Pastelles.

The tradition is one I hold dearly. Nothing has changed in the last 26 years. We still make Pastelles on the Saturday before Christmas. Now, I have the help of my children, my husband, one of my sisters and one of her daughters. Even my neighbor comes over to help because she loves them so much. Sadly, my MIL is no longer with us, and my Dad who used to help, has passed away as well. We now make about 225.

My children know the story. They used to laugh at my MIL and I, as we debated the recipe. They grew up the same way as I, first cutting the string, then being allowed to tie, and now actually making the individual pastelles. Because we make so many, we now start Friday evening after dinner. First we make the 'masa'... the 'dough' made out of the root vegetables. This requires grating 40 lbs of green banana's, 3 lbs of yautea, 2 lbs of calabasa and a couple of green plantains. While they grate, I cut up 5 Pork Shoulders, into small 1" cubes. Both get seasoned and put in the fridge until the morning. Tomorrow, I will refine the masa, making sure that there are no lumbs, adding the rest of the ingredients, cook the meat and then the assembly line begins. We will finish our day around 6pm, with a clean kitchen, some Pastelles, Arroz con Gondules, Avocado and a house full of family.

My daughter has already said that no matter where she ends up living, she knows she will always come home the Saturday before Christmas to help me make Pastelles. We kid with my son, that we expect his wife to join us as well. And why not? That is how traditions are made... and kept, one generation after another.

So now it is time for me to get some sleep. The cooking starts tomorrow at 8am.

I hope you all have a Christmas Tradition that brings a smile to your face and warms your heart.



Anonymous said...

What an incredibly beautiful family tradition! Thanks for sharing.

Roberta said...

I just happened upon your blog and thought your family might be Puerto Rican. I scrolled down further and I see you are! When I read about the Pastelles, I knew it. I'm half Puerto Rican (also a quilter) that loves pastelles but I don't know how to make them. :( Growing up my aunts always made them. For some reason my mother didn't. She either wasn't good at it or didn't know how. I live on the west coast but don't know any Puerto Ricans around here. I'd love to learn how to make them but I don't even know what some of the items are that you listed as the ingredients for the masa! Definitely make sure your daughter knows how to make them so she can pass on your tradition.
I do know how to make some things like Arroz con gandules, surullos, empandas and such. We had Rice and beans for Christmas night dinner along with surullos. My gringo daughter in law LOVED it! She even asked if she could come over for leftovers tonight.