An Elf in an Imaginary Kitchen

Cucuyé lives in the Fairy Kingdom. He is a kind and adventurous elf. He is the creation of Carmen Aboy Valldejuli the author of Cocina Criolla, the go-to reference guide in Puerto Rican cooking and subject of a recent posting.

I stumbled upon Cucuyé through my current research on Valldejuli and her work. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that aside from her cookbooks, she ventured into children’s literature. These books were published in the late 70s, early 80s. They are beautifully illustrated by Poli Marichal. The first one, Cucuyé en el Reino de las Hadas (Cucuyé in the Fairy Kingdom) won the 1979 children literature prize from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena. The series is about the many adventures of Cucuyé. And this elf has quite the adventurous life! He has been a champion cowboy (Cucuyé, Vaquero Campeón), has enjoyed the wonders of the sea (Cucuyé y las Maravillas del Mar), and spent time with a naïve giant (Cucuyé y el Gigante Inocentón). However, and most interesting to me, are his adventures in the kitchen described in the book Cucuyé en la Cocina.

 “Sencillamente he decidido dejar de experimentar mas. Trataremos la receta tan deliciosa de mantecaditos del libro de cocina que usa Mamá Duende y que tanto nos gusta.”
[Simply, I have decided to stop experimenting. Let’s try the delicious recipe of mantecaditos that we like so much from the cookbook Mother Elf  uses.]

Such were the words of Cucuyé after trying three other recipes with his friends in preparation for a culinary contest. You see, Cucuyé likes to help his fellow elfs. Apparently some of his friends were walking around with old, broken boots and their families were too poor to buy new ones (Yes, poverty and social class divisions are present even in the Fairy Kingdom). When Cucuyé brought the idea of experimenting in the kitchen to his loyal friends, they mocked him:

“¡Estas chiflado!” (You are crazy!) – said Chemi.

Eso se lo dejamos a Mamá Duende” (We leave that to Mother Elf) – said Chopo (Yes, cooking is for women in the Fairy Kingdom).

But  Cucuyé pressed on and convinced them, for the benefit of their friends in need, as with the money from the culinary contest price, they would be able to buy the needed boots. Like Valldejuli, Cucuyé and friends collected and tried different recipes. But, in the end, they went for the tried and true recipes from Mother Elf’s favorite cookbook, which greatly resembles Cocina Criolla. And they made mantecaditos – the Puerto Rican almond shortbread cookie, named after the use of Manteca (lard) in the recipe, ½ a cup according to the Cocina Criolla’s recipe (yield not specified).
Mother Elf was proud, seeing the little elves work in the kitchen, measuring every ingredient and following the instructions in from the cookbook.  Funny moments were not á miss. A coquí, the emblematic Puerto Rican frog, decided to jump in the flour, creating havoc and laughter in Cucuyé’s kitchen (Yes! There are coquís  in Fairy World).

In the end – spoiler alert – they won the contest. Everybody was happy. Cucuyé bought new shoes for his grateful friends. On went Cucuyé to plan his next adventure… (Was there another adventure?)

cucuye winning

Cucuyé en la Cocina was a treat for me (and I hope for you as well). It is another, different piece, to my society a la Valldejuli puzzle. It echoes the importance of using cookbooks with tested and tried recipes, and of precision and measurements to produce winning results in the kitchen, also found in Cocina Criolla. Hope you enjoyed this little known treasure in the Puerto Rican children’s literature.

(The illustrations come from the book, Cucuye en la Cocina, by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli.)

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