Grandparents, the Kitchen and the “Crème Brûlée”

Modern life has cast aside many of the homemade desserts and at present the "main dish" is occupied by ice creams, the known tarts or cake in all its variety, and fine sweets.  

He spoke about his grandmother and her favorite dessert: the rice with milk she made. Remembering the topic in facebook brought back my childhood memories, when my mother's mother – so to speak – by mid day she cooked sweets at home.  

That throne was not hers alone, because the grandfather was expert in syrup sweets, made of fruits: sour orange, grapefruit, papaya or guava. A delight we began to savor since they were on the stove.  

In Cuban cuisine there are countless homemade sweet recipes. This is how Nitza Villapol * collected them in her books for the posterity. However, modern life has cast aside many of these "dishes" and at present ice creams, the known tarts or cake in all its variety, and fine sweets occupy the center of attention. Of course, also delicious.  

Of this "exclusion" the custard has survived, loved by many, and it could be said that also pudding which key ingredient is bread.  

A hectic life - here, there and everywhere - has influenced that. Today before peeling and seeding guavas; squeeze grapefruits or oranges, or peeling sweet potatoes, boil it and later pass it through a strainer or a blender before taking it to the stove is more comfortable to buy sweets made of wheat flour. Around these days affordable to any pocket.  

In the so-called "paneras" (where regulated bread is sold in the neighborhoods), in bakeries or other gastronomic establishments it’s easy to find tarts, muffins, guava bars, just for a Cuban peso. If we talk about more refined sweets they are more expensive, in the Cuban Convertible Currency (CUC for its acronym in Spanish), especially in many private delis that have appeared in the country soon after the opening of freelancing businesses.  

This article is not an attack against the latter, but I know of homes where homemade sweet are "rare."  

Besides nutritious and healthy, they are delicious dishes; recipes pass down from generation to generations that are endangered if they don’t multiply.  

Who doubts how tasty are the rice (or flour) with milk or delicious orange syrup? The truth is that many times fruits like this - or the grapefruit – are not found in the market, but when they are, most of the time we don't think of their possibilities.  

Homemade sweets are part of our idiosyncrasy, culture, and they allow us to transcend in time.  

State gastronomy (depressed for many years) doesn't offer this sort of menu, although around the corner, just to give an example, some fruits are for sale. In the "paladares" (private sector of the economy) they are not found either, but there are spaces that keep a minimum proposal on this regard.  

What are pretty abundant are the little desires to do and create. The inertia is an evil that should not grow, because it reaches the kitchen.  

Our grandparents, owners of countless works, did a superb job in front of stoves, with little resources they accomplished a lot. They knew about the benefits of rice with milk, the sweet-potato sweet.  

I won't intrigue you with the “crème brûlée”, a sweet my grandmother made. After having made and served, she spread a fine layer of sugar on top, put an iron of coal to the fire, and once warm she put it on top. The result was a sort of candy that didn't get hard. My grandmother died, and the recipe with her. My children never tasted it, and I kept that debt. Let’s be aware and let’s rescue such sweets, they are also part of our patrimony.  

* Nitza Villapol Andiarena. Author of Cocina al Minuto, her most important and published book. Presenter of a Cuban television show of equal name for 44 years in a row. She also faced the kitchen as an economic and dietetic problem.

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