Friday, November 13, 2009

On cranberries, camote and other seasonal specialties that "everyone" loves.

With the coming of Thanksgiving, repeated questions about the ever-moving date (not a lot of holidays that move around in Chile), and the particularities of the feast come up again and again. Chileans know pavo (turkey), at least sliced and on a sandwich if not as the whole bird. They can also understand the whole put-it-in-the-oven-and-bake-it quality of some of your more favorite casseroles. Squash is no stranger, and sweet potatoes are seen periodically, and are understood to be part of Peruvian cuisine. Anything Peruvian food-wise is to be oohed and aahed at, so they figure those must be tasty, with or without the addition of mashmelo (should be malvavisco, but this word is not used much in Chile). The odd eyebrow may raise re: wetted and recooked bread with butter and sage and celery, but who doesn't like bread, so in the end, they will nod approvingly.

And then comes the cranberry question. First, which cranberry, they will ask. Which? Cranberry? The problem here is that the word "berry" (baya, botanically speaking, in Spanish) is not really seen to describe any particular fruit, more a series of fruits that in Italian would be called "forest fruits." Blueberries, which are arándanos in Spanish are only slowly making it to the market here in Santiago, and then sort of as a specialty item. Cranberries are grown in some quantity in the south, and quickly exported, generally before making a landing in the local market, though those in the know may be able to intervene, and they are available dried at some local/gringo bazaars, and I bought them once in Pucón (tourist/adventure sports capital in the close south).

Until a couple of years ago, the word arándano was used by many people to mean both the blueberry and the cranberry, though this question is asked less and less, as the cranVERRi is becoming more known, in name, if not in taste.

But even fully informed of which arándano we're talking about, Chileans want to know what the big deal is about the cranberry. Is it amazingly sweet? Is it tremendously flavorful? Is it your favorite? Can you make ice cream out of it? No, yes, no and probably, I answer. Does anyone really love cranberry sauce? I feel like a bad American saying so, but simply put the cranberry no me raya (doesn't move me).

But I will concede that it is a taste of the season, without which even my no-turkey (and no tofurkey) Thanksgiving would not be complete. I even made it last year, watching as the poor bobbing oblong (who knew, I thought they were round) berries turned juicy, then gelatinous in a white enamel pot on my sister's giant stainless steel stove. Secret ingredients were added, and the dark fuschia menjunje (mix) inverted into a glass bowl and left to cool.

I was trying to explain my feelings about cranberry in terms of the Chilean love of camote, which I had always assumed was out of nostalgia, rather than actual sensory experience, which I find sadly lacking, and heavily thirst-provoking.

Camote (at least here) is this thing, which two friends recently told me they thought looked like a chrysalis.

In plastic.

camote in plastic

Set free.

camote out of plastic

Ready for sharing.

broken camote

It's cooked sweet potato (I believe, help me out here?), tooth-achingly sweet, a little mealy, and covered in a thick glaze made of confectioner's sugar (it would seem). This sweet is sold on the street in little bags for 100 pesos, or this one that I bought at the thoroughly amazing Galletería Laura R (cheesecake, people. Real cheesecake, no yogurt or gelatin involved!) for 300 pesos because it's so big, and lovely. Or maybe it was the gold twist-tie that jacked up the price. Anyway, at 60 cents, it wasn't going to break the bank, and I thought that before I swore off camote for time immemorial, I should try the best possible camote. Anything the geniuses at this bakery (Manuel Montt near Eliodoro Yañez or up on Vitacura a little above the Rotunda Perez Zucovich) lay their hands to is delicious. So I took the plunge. Plus, who could resist a sweet that looks like a (future) bug?

Where was I? Oh yes, the cranberry and its fans, and the camote and its fans. I was trying to explain to people that cranberries aren't actually that delicious, they just remind you of a time and place, much like the camote, which appears and disappears throughout the year (though it seems like it could be preserved to serve all year round).

And then there were blank stares.

CiQ (Chilean in question)You don't think camote is delicious?

EGI (Embarassed gringa interloper) Um, no?

CiQ But how, it's so delicious?

EGI kinda pasty

CiQ but it's so sweet!

EGI also grainy sometimes

CiQ it reminds me of my grandmother

EGI oh, well I'm sure your grandmother's tasted better.

CiQ No, it pretty much tasted like this. Don't you think it always tastes the same?

EGI really? I've only eaten it twice.

CiQ In your WHOLE life?


And on and on it goes, with us never getting back to the arándano, or its oval-ish cousin, the cranVERRi. My point is, there are things you may like because you've always eaten them, and that you will love them and defend them even if they taste like paste, or metal, or (in my case) sometimes give you a rash.

Because hay gustos y gustos (to each his own, taste-wise). But at least cranberries don't look like they're going to sprout legs and walk away.


Margaret said...

Ha-ha... good one! I'm on your side with the Camote deal... just not much there to win over a gringa palate, I'm afraid!
But cranberries (or arándanos rojos, which DO appear in muffins, which stores advertise but their sales clerks don't understand until you tell them that what you really want is a quequito)... yes, cranberries... yum! But not that icky gel stuff in a can- it has to be my grandmother's recipe of ground fresh cranberries with oranges (peel and all) and just enough sugar to bring the berries' tart-factor into palatable range-- yum (yes, merits the double--now triple--yum!)
So sad I'm going to miss Thanksgiving yet AGAIN!

Annje said...

Ok, after: "it reminds me of my grandmother":I totally read--"I am sure your grandmother tasted better" and laughed out loud, only to re-read and discover that sneaky little possessive 's. I kind of like the idea of a tasty grandmother...

I am usually the hostess for Thanksgiving with some chilean friends. I volunteer to make, pertty much all the traditional thanksgiving food (which means a lot of work) but I am a control freak and want all of my traditional TG foods the way I like them. Stuffing is my favorite, though I can pass on the turkey--BORING!

I like cranberries in bread and muffins and juice... sauce only on TG, but one year I made a cranberry-cherry "relish" I believe they called it, (from scratch) with a splash of Cointreau (and what isn't better with a little liquor?) and it turned out nicely and a different little twist on the original.

you don't like sweet potato? I love them, but would not trust that larvae-looking thing.

lydia said...

i wasn't going to reply but annje's comment made me crack up because I also missed the 's and read it as the taste of grandmother.

i dont think ive ever seen a camote. or maybe i did and, with good reason, blocked it ouf of my mind. i certainly havent tasted one and after you all comparing them to larvae, i don't see that it my future either

Abby said...

Well, I love Cranberry Sauce. Love love love. I could eat it all year round. It's by far my favorite part of Thanksgiving.

Also, I love sweet potato. In fact, I think cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes could be two of my favorite foods. But I have a question. Is "camote" only the sweetened thing pictured? Or is it also the word for sweet potato in general?

Bystander said...

I do like cranberry sauce or relish, but that may come from the years I lived in the USA. I got a kilo bag of dried cranberries the other day and made both cranberry sauce/relish and a cranberry and apple chutney. There hasn't been Ocean Spray in the supermarkets for a couple of years, but Jumbo has some small jars of a German cranberry relish (very small!) at 1600 pesos a pop.
Hey, I am glad you are going to spend Thanksgiving in the US!

HereBeDragons said...

Cranberries with ORANGES? Ok. I'm salavating. I may have to find a new recipe for the cranberries this year.

Betsy Longstocking said...

Great topic (and timely)! Just like Annje, I am Grandmother Thanksgiving here in Chile and I always end up spending a load of cash to cook a huge meal for the uninitiated.

Whenever I'm in the US, I bring back a couple bags of dried cranverries for magical rehydration purposes. Last year's sauce was dee-lightful! Camotes? I love 'em. We always ate sweet potato so it fits into my menu. Turkey's a toughie. I usually just roast a big chicken. Disappointing, I know, but concessions must be made somewhere!

translates said...

Try chirimoya too. Sweet, refreshing, and a lot better than 'camote'. Check out this link about chirimoyas

Eileen said...

Wow, got a lot of cranberry-infused enthusiasm here. What can I say? They're delicious! Or not. Take your pick. I wouldn't try bringing them back into Chile nowadays with the new tight SAG regulations, though maybe if they're sulfited everything's kosher, not sure.

I remember when cranberry juice showed up in tetrapaks for a while, but like Bystander said, that must have been years ago.

They put canned mandarin oranges and pineapple in our family's cranberry sauce, which could explain the rash (pineapple and I sometimes don't get along). The oranges with peels sounds amazing, especially if they are boiled separately to get the bitterness out.

Camote is just sweet potato, and I think that that thing I pictured is usually referred to as dulce de camote. Can anyone who is married to/dating etc. a Chilean check to see if they like these? Most of my Chilean friends seem to ooh and ahh over them. I guess they're good cycling food, as they're pure carbs and simple sugars. Better than gu (a sports gel)?

Translates, I'll give you beginner's luck on this one, but I'm not a big fan of promoting other people's pages in my pages when the comment is nearly wholly unrelated. Pepe, is that you?

And sure. I like Cherimoya.

In fact, I wrote about it here:

and here:

and here:

And happy Thanksgiving to all, though I'm sure this won't be the last I speak of it. It is a tremendous luxury to be able to spend this holiday with my family, and I'm very excited to play with matchbox cars with my nephew (if he will let me touch them), and hang out in my niece's bubblegum pink room (I painted it myself, well, with my sister's help).

Now, does anyone know where my friend can get fresh dill to make dill pickles? Figured it was worth asking. She wants sprigs!

Anonymous said...

You're bashing on the "dulce de camote", but there's far more to this kind of sweet potato than any cheap maggot-shaped desserts.

I suppose they call it dulce for a reason. Were one to extract the sugar contained in one of these things, there would probably be enough for ten cakes and a cup of coffee.

What's your take on the venerable "mote con huesillos"?

Eileen said...

Hey Anon (what, no name? howcome?). I'm not bashing on dulce de camote, just saying that if you didn't grow up eating, it, you might not love it. As for mote con huesillos, it has a time and place, and while most of that time is when I'm not around, I have been known to throw one back on occasion. I'd give myself maybe three a year. I have to say it's not the sugar in the dulce de camote I object to so much, it's the texture. And as for mote con huesillo (a hypersweetened peach punch with reconstituted dried whole peaches and wheat kernels in it, for the unitiated), I like the stuff in it more than the "juice", and missed it completely one time when I went to a wedding and was actually disappointed! Not so with the camote!

Deidre said...

I've actually been wondering if I can get cranberry sauce in Australia. I am thinking I can't!

I often have discussions with Aussie's about peanut butter versus vegemite - as if they can even be compared.

Elisa said...

Great post - made me laugh a lot! At least in Argentina, "camote" is sweet potato, although I found out the hard way that their sweet potatoes are not exactly the same as ours. But they're good anyway - you should try some. I've had mashed camote (tastes pretty similar to mashed sweet potatoes in the US), camote cooked & served in chunks, etc.

The dulce type of camote that you've eaten looks exactly like "dulce de membrillo" (membrillo is quince) that they make in Argentina. I agree, the texture is pretty weird at first - soft but chewy, and kind of grainy at the same time. But my host mom made a lot of it, in big wheels where you cut off a wedge to eat, & I came to really like it.

And I don't like cranberries either, even for Thanksgiving!

Katie said...

I'm glad to know that you have the same arándano issue there in Chile that we have in Argentina. The word here pretty much exclusively refers to blueberries, but I, being in the camp that actually does like cranberries, would love to find them here! Alas, I think it will be a cranberry-less Turkey Day for me here in Argentina. I especially like homemade cranberry relish...yum.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family!

Sharon said...

I'm not too fond of the camote either, but mainly because I rarely ate it as a kid. In my neck of the woods it was all about sustancia, which is some sort of strange marshmallow-like thing.
And I didn't know Laura R had cheesecake! I'm gonna buy some for my dad.

Mamma M said...

I already told you that I love the jelly stuff that slurps out of the can with ridges all down the sides, and maintains it's shape until you slice it into perfect rounds, right? I found some jarred cranberry sauce in South Africa last week though, so I get to have cranberries with my stuffing, squash, sweet potato and mashed potatoes that I'll be having tomorrow night!

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