A Home-Reared Chef! Cook by Instinct, Recipe #8!
My mother will fondly talk about her childhood days and her adventures with food (an obvious love affair, in my opinion!). My mouth waters, my heart races, and I can almost smell and taste all that she is telling me about. Yes, I can see the foods, see her eating with a fixed purpose, and nothing else at that moment mattered. I visualize every scenario she recounts. And I feel like a child again, only I feel as if I’ve actually become my mother in that precise moment as I easily drift back in time, back to her childhood days.
What a fantastic ride! I want to have more. I want to hear them all. I want to be there.
During her school breaks, she and her cousins would go traipsing from the city of San Salvador to the small town of Ahuachapán. She tells me of their long trek over mountains and through small villages (stopping for food and drink) to reach a river where they could spend a few hours frolicking in the water under a brilliant sun, eating fruit and goodies (brought from home) to their hearts content. I watch and listen as she vividly describes the hours spent in the fresh, open mountain air with her many cousins, in these quaint out-of-the-way little places and eating out-of-this-world, though simple, foods.
On one such day—on an adventure walk back home, after spending a day at the river—Olguita and her cousins stopped at a little village for some food and refreshments, with a chance to rest their tired feet, too. The villagers were friendly and eager to feed (for a few centavos) these full-of-life young teenagers on a day’s mission to have fun. They ate delicious atol de elote (creamy corn soup), and roast chicken with tortillas. Their meal was followed by a sweet cheese poundcake known as Quesadilla, and washed this down with agua dulce (sweet water).
They had no way of knowing, however, that what they were drinking no longer qualified as “sweet water” (more commonly made with pineapple peels, pilonsillo, brown-sugar, and jenjibre, ginger, and peppercorn) because it had already converted to chicha, alcohol. For the first two days it is just sweet and delicious water, but after that it is un-distilled alcohol for a couple of days, finally transforming into superb and outstanding vinegar. I am told that my grandmother, Marta, often made this at home—and it was used in many of her food recipes.
Needless to say that by the time they got home they were inebriated and threatened with a severe pounding headache! My grandmother was rather put-out at the sight of these young teenagers; barely standing, wanting to laugh and cry at the same time, and so desperately wishing to be excused. All they could think about was getting home and to bed. My grandmother, though, first had to give them a piece of her mind – a good scolding – and finally grounded Olguita for many months, saying she could no longer go out with her cousins un-chaperoned. “Foolish children,” she called them, “how could you not have known it wasn’t alcohol?!” But the fact is that they didn’t know better. They were young and naïve.
Salvadoreño Quesadilla is either pacho, thin or alto, high/tall. It is made with flour, sugar, vanilla, grated dry-cheese (like parmesan), eggs and butter, and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking. Truly delightful!
Cornmeal is, of course, used throughout most of the world, and each country has a favorite recipe they are known for. My family loves my cornbread—sweet and with lots of vanilla (more cake-like)—and I came up with the idea to combine our home’s beloved cornbread recipe with the Salvadoreño Quesadilla ingredients.
Salvadoreño Quesadilla Cornbread
3 extra-large eggs
1/3 to 1/2 cup white sugar (sweet to taste)
1/3 to 1/2 cup golden-brown sugar (sweet to taste)
1/2 cup salted butter, softened at room temperature
11/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream (or 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup sour cream)
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 generous cup grated queso fresco or parmesan cheese
11/2 tablespoons vanilla
2 to 3 tablespoon sesame seeds (depending on size of pan used)
(Note: Temporarily take out middle rack and preheat oven to 400˚F and heavily butter a 9 × 9 baking pan.)
1. In a bowl, with an electric hand blender, on low, cream together eggs and sugars for about 3 minutes.
2. Add softened butter and beat, on low, for about 2 minutes.
3. With a sturdy spatula or spoon fold flour until it is well incorporated.
4. Add sour cream and blend well.
5. Add cornmeal and baking powder and fold till it is all well incorporated.
6. Add the cheese and vanilla and incorporate well.
7. Pour batter into the prepared pan, and spread batter evenly.
8. Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly on top.
9. Quickly replace the rack back into the middle of the oven, place the cornbread pan in the center of cool rack, and close oven door. Immediately lower oven temperature to 375˚F and bake for 20 minutes.
10. Lower temperature to 350˚ F and bake another 20 minutes until cake is golden or when a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
NOTE: I prefer to use a glass pan (Pyrex) because it is easier to see (all around) when a cake is done.