A nutritious holiday find

During this year’s holiday visit to Puerto Rico, I came across this recipe manual written in 1980 by nutritionists in the town of Caguas:

The recipe manual was distributed at some point to the town’s residents, more than three decades ago, as a collection of various traditional recipes with the “highest nutritional value”, with a simple reminder that we should  always eat in moderation:

Now, the Christmas menu (and celebration) in Puerto Rico is best summarized in the chorus of El Gran Combo’s 1985 hit, La Fiesta de Pilito:

A comer pastel / a comer lechón / arroz con gandules / y a beber ron / que venga morcilla / venga de tooo

The last line, venga de tooo, roughly translated to “bring it all”, characterizes the indulgence of the holiday season. Our plates are filled with pasteles, pork, rice with pigeon peas, and blood sausages, downed with beer and rum. 

Hence, I was curious to see the nutritionist interpretation of this celebratory menu…

The suggested menus stay true to traditional favorites – with the omission of alcohol. Pork (lechón) remains at the center of the celebration, with favorites like morcilla (Blood sausage) and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), still present. The recipes do not reflect the fat-free craze of the 80s, featuring lard (manteca) as the cooking fat, as seen in this recipe for arroz con gandules,

Instead of changing traditional menus and recipes, it seems that the nutricionistas cagueñas that authored this recipe collection opted to add vegetables to the festivities, through simple salads to accompany the usual fare.  

While I am skeptical that green salad substituted the usual potato salad in Christmas celebrations in 1980s Caguas (or today), the intent of the menu is still commendable and relevant today. 
Happy 2017! 

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A special thanks to Norma for sharing this recipe manual with me. 

San Guivin

San Guivin is “Puerto Rico’s favorite saint”, or so the joke goes. We celebrate this “saint” by gathering around with family, eating pavochón with a side of arroz con gandules, morcilla, pasteles, potato salad and anything else that makes it to the table. Before eating, people give thanks for the good things that have happened throughout the year. The meal ends with a nice dessert, flan being the one of choice in a lot of Boricua households. In recent years, this celebration is followed by a day of extreme shopping, where people gather in lines and fight over, mostly, electronics and toys on sale.

San Guivin is our adapted version of Thanksgiving. For many schoolchildren in the island, celebration starts a day prior to Thanksgiving break with the ‘Maraton del Pavo’ (the turkey marathon). The winner of this race gets a frozen turkey, the next two a frozen whole chicken, and from fourth to tenth place, a live chick. How this part of the celebration came to be? It is unknown, but it seems to point to a charitable custom that stuck thereafter.

26 carrera del pavo

This North American holiday is also known to Puerto Ricans as El Dia del Pavo (Turkey Day), or, as El Dia de Accion de Gracias, a more proper translation. In Canada and the US, Thanksgiving is inspired by the Pilgrims’ arrival the northern continent and it was first celebrated in the 1600s. In Puerto Rico there were no Pilgrims. In fact, while Pilgrims were settling in North America, cities were already up and running on the island as well as in a lot of countries in Latin America. The celebration of Thanksgiving is part of the cultural influence of the US, just like Christmas replaced the more traditional Three Kings Day, especially in San Juan. We have adapted the holiday through the dishes, seasoning the turkey with our spices (sometimes stuffing it with mofongo), and adding our own dishes, such as the rice with pigeon peas (gandules) and the pasteles, the two dishes we continue to eat through December and the start of January. And, of course, we are not the only ones adding a cultural twist to this “American” holiday,

San Guivin is a delicious holiday. While ever more distanced from its Puritan roots, the celebration has changed to a wonderful excuse to get together, eat, and then eat some more…

Happy San Guivin’ and buen provecho!

26 old pavo

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Post written with Omar A. Dauhajre