HAVANA TIMES — Last night, my neighbor treated me to a homemade dessert that left me speechless – a true delicacy. Her husband had brought a bit of cow’s milk from the countryside and, using half of it, she made a curdled milk sweet. I hadn’t seen or tasted this dessert for quite some time, because of how hard it is to get one’s hand on milk or any of its derivatives.
This is my favorite of all homemade desserts. The milk is curdled using a few tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar. Sugar and the condiments of one’s choice (cinnamon, vanilla and lemon peels) are then added. The mixture is placed over a slow fire and stirred occasionally. When the syrupy mix begins to stick to one’s fingers, one or two beat yokes are added (or so my mother’s recipe says).
The look, smell and taste of many traditional Cuban dishes have receded to the depths of my mind. I recall they would make these desserts at home, particularly the ones with milk, while my brother and I would hover about my mother or grandmother, waiting for those delicacies to be made. Their smell tempted even those women who were on a diet, so you can imagine their effect on children.
Pudding – one of the culinary marks left on Cuba by the British in 1762 – was a traditional Cuban dish until recently. It was one of the desserts one saw on the menu of a food stand or cafeteria at the end of the 1990s. You don’t see that anymore because of how expensive the ingredients are. What about custard? This, yet another delicacy of homemade Cuban cuisine, has left the home and retreated to hard currency stores, to say nothing of the flavors one comes across today.
Some of the foreigners who visit our country show an interest in traditional Cuban dishes. They even bring books with them and, seeing that there’s nothing in the markets, ask how it is we manage to make those dishes. Faced with this situation, one has no choice but to explain to them what the reality is.
Many of these culinary traditions have ceased to be traditions. It is impossible to make many of these dishes, and this particular dessert is one among the many we’ve lost. The worst part is that, when we tell young people about these things, they don’t know what we’re talking about. “Old folk stuff,” they call it.