Strawberry Summers

Although the strawberry is a Western fruit and fairly recently introduced into the country, it has come to play a part in Philippine life.

Baguio and summers mean strawberries to most Filipinos. It is the favorite purchase in the public market, and one of the city’s most successful agricultural products.

"Between New Year and Easter ... the berries are plentiful and cheap. The Baguio strawberry season starts in November when the rains stop, peaks in February and declines around April when the afternoon showers begin." —Cafe by the Ruins: Memories and Recipes by Lia Llamado, Adelaida Lim, Feliz Perez (2008). Photo © Neal Oshima.

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Many-splendored gifts of fields and forests (and shores, plains, hills, mountains…)

This piece is for all those who hold Philippine vegetables in low esteem—out of ignorance. “The variety is so limited,” complained one American. “Puro ginisang gulay,” said a Filipina. “Why don’t Filipinos eat salads?”

Variety we certainly have—all year round. Vegetables vari-shaped, multi-textured, multi-tasted, are available in supermarkets, wet markets, talipapa, tabu, sidewalk stalls, and backyard gardens. The Filipino, being part of an agricultural community, usually knows what vegetables are available at what season, and how best to treat them. And so deep is the knowledge that classifications do not mean much. Continue reading

Your Very Own Christmas

We each have a unique Christmas, our very own.  It is similar to those of others — dates, elements, practices, food —but we each gathered through the years the stardust to shape our own stars.  What we remember — the lanterns, the rituals, the presents, the family, the food, the smells, the individual joys — no one else does, in just that combination.

Copyright © BJ Patino. All rights reserved.

Let me offer you excerpts detailing the Christmases of two favorite people.  The late E. Aguilar (Abe) Cruz of Magalang, Pampanga, journalist, editor, artist, raconteur, Francophile, gourmet, wrote “Christmas Signs” in 1957:

“SIGHTS — Ten-foot star lanterns for the local lantern-making competition … the only Christmas tree in town, in the bungalow of the American principal of the provincial high school … acacias seen dimly through the fog … the new Almanaque del Dr. Ross on display at the drugstores … next year’s calendars hung like works of art in the sala … Local claret, both dulce and seco, on the dining table beside an overflowing fruit bowl … a new chocolatera, of new-fangled enamelled tin, in place of the venerable and battered brass pot … bottles and bottles of achara … leche flan shaped like the Sacred Heart … brand-new copper coins turning up among the loose change …gleaming toy revolvers …” Continue reading

Shaking the tree of youth and memory

Santol
Family Meliaceae
Sandoricum koetjape
(Burm. f. Merr.)
Katul
(Sambali), Kantol (Mountain Province), Santol (most dialects)
Season: June to October

Santol

Santol. Photo © Neal Oshima.

Santol is a native of India and Malaysia—where it is called Sentul or Kecapi—and is now found in all tropical countries in Asia. It was probably introduced into the Philippines in prehistoric times, and is now found in practically all parts of the country—both cultivated and semi-wild in backyards and second-growth forests at low and medium altitudes.

To most Filipinos, however, it is one of the most familiar of backyard or orchard trees: medium-sized to large, reaching perhaps 15-25 meters in height, with leaves that change from light green to dark green to red when about to fall.  The flowers are pale green to greenish white and slightly scented. Continue reading

Contrary Thoughts for Valentine’s Day

“Why did you send in ‘Notes on Food and Love I and II’ so far ahead of Valentine’s Day?” asked my editor.

Because (I did not answer) I did not want to do the obvious, and write about aphrodisiacs for Valentine’s Day. Just as we iconoclasts wear our red dresses on other days, send vegetables to loved ones instead of flowers, and funny clippings instead of cards, and stay home with home-cooked meals instead of crowding the restaurant and adding to the traffic jams, I did not want to do the usual, the expected. I felt justified when, one year, friends who own restaurants reported that their business had dropped—because people who had made reservations could not get to their tables because traffic was gridlocked in Makati—because everyone felt they had to eat out on Valentine’s Day. No parking for the customers, therefore no customers for the restaurants, who could not accept walk-ins because their tables had been reserved for Valentine couples. As a result: frayed nerves all around, rather than the mood of love. Continue reading

Snapshot: Mangagoy, Bislig, Surigao del Sur

This barrio is where the PICOP (Paper Industries Corporation of the Philippines, the country’s largest paper manufacturing company) plant is located. With a population of 70,000, Mangagoy is probably the largest barangay in the Philippines. The PICOP presence has transformed the place into something like a small and very busy satellite city: there are several banks, both PT&T and RCPI telegraph companies are here; the market wakes up at 4 a.m. and goes to sleep at 9 p.m.; the entire place is a conglomeration of small shops and small houses.

The day starts with the aroma of newly baked bread wafting from the two bakeries in front of the market. With daybreak the small, daily early morning tabu of fruit, vegetables and root crops opens a block from across the market. By 9 a.m. this tabu vanishes, to reappear at dawn the following day. Mangagoy is migrant labor country, and the food centers are the market and the carinderias close by. Commerce is brisk; the food is always fresh. Continue reading

The Wisdom of the Native

The Filipino’s indigenous cuisine, his native food before colonization by Spain and the United States, reveals an intimate knowledge of his environment. It is a cuisine drawn directly from nature — from the biyaya ng lupa (the earth’s bounty) — from nature thoroughly explored and imaginatively used.

Quezon, Palawan, 1978.

Quezon, Palawan, 1978. Pen & ink drawing by Cesar Aljama. All rights reserved.

[…] Not only has he explored its nooks and crannies, cycles and seasons, sea, plant and animal life, but, in his work as farmer, fisherman, carabao tender and gatherer of forest products, he is from birth attuned to season and weather. He knows when the maliputo (yellowfin jack) enter the Pansipit river to spawn; when and where the wild edible fern is to be found; which bananas have which sweetness or flavor; which mushrooms are safe and what rains bring them. His knowledge is empirical, gained from exposure, experimentation, experience. The meagerness of his means made him an inventive improvisor unneedful of strict formulae (no native cook uses recipes, or is bound by “musts;” what is available is used), flexible, and able to make do. Continue reading