In a way, having these memories of Peruvian dishes when preparing the old versions I am used to, are a challenge, when new proposals posted by known Peruvian chefs nowdays prepare as Peruvian classic preparations and get into my curiosity. It is difficult to think of ways to try the recipes I once thought as being "the ones"... The new versions, I gather, are for public layouts and restaurant offers. So, I have decided to stick to my own recipes, which reflect the cooking at my parents' home and at my own home, at other plentiful and lustful times and as I want my children and grandchildren to remember. I can't change.
So much time has transpired since we left Peru! So much living... So many joys and so many tears... It is difficult to explain the nostalgic feelings, the sense and awful feeling of having abandoned the place and land where you were born! The need to see and hear our laughs again, the comments and gossips we were accustomed to, be that regarding politics (in my family an important issue), or cooking or eating and who did this and who did what or how to do this or that!
And, in the meantime, never letting my hands go idle, as Madre Luisa had taught us often, to keep them engaged and alive doing whatever we were doing, during those most beautiful and peaceful afternoons when we had "Costura" in the large room where there had been a small chapel once and where I, my sister Ines and two other girls, had made our first Communion.
I miss the shallow conversations and laughter of growing up in school together. Kept, later on, long after high school graduation, after vowing to keep together by weekly reunions "forever and ever," self-deprecating when naming ourselves as the "locas de la clase" and meeting every Wednesday of the week, of the month, of the year, amid laughter for long afternoon teas lasting from almost noon to late, late in the afternoon, just before husbands would come and pick us up.
Knitting, crocheting, embroidering as we had been taught to by Madre Luisa. Letting the soft sun light warm up the efforts of each one, leading to a wonderful sense of confy, well being. Of being taken care of. Of being us. That was the class of 1954 from Santa Ursula. Blessed school which did so much for us Peruvian girls.
By writing down my parents' and my own Peruvian recipes for my daughters and granchildren, I add to the certainty that coming to live in this wonderful country, in a way the country of some of our ancestors, was the good choice. Had we stayed in Peru, with all the changes made in the education field by the Government at that time, 1973, most of them not accepted by my husband and myself, perhaps, today, I would shudder to even think of what would have happened to my kids' education. But then, you never know.
When we came to this country we found that education here had also become a quagmire, that it was lacking and that, definitely, not as it had been when my sisters and I were semi-educated here through the years when we had straddled between Peru and the U.S. at one time or another.
I say semi-educated for if it was not for three months or six months or one year, when the four of us really tried to make sense of programs here in the States and over there in Peru, trying to follow them and absorb the most for decent grades for our parents' satisfaction. And then, each time, after each trip, when we came back to Peru, usually in January after the six month's or so sojourn, continue in Peruvian public schools, in the so-called "summer school" to give the final exams that would allow us to pass and go on to a new grade. For years my sisters and I had year-round-continuing-education-whatever-remedial-in-Peru-education... We never rested. Never had a real vacation from school.
The starting point in my food obsession was the cooking in my parents' home. Utterly delicious, utterly plentiful, with fresh, exciting and challenging combinations of ultra fresh ingredients and spices, always bought making sure that prime harvest conditions where met on everything, not only because the destination was my father's patients at his Clinica and the workers there, but also destined for our own home consumption, meaning family, friends and the help, which were eight at that time.
Always being bought at the Parada, Lima's wholesale market, personally by them, twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, and from the top suppliers of general staples, such as legumes, beef or chicken. And the Mercado Central.
In what regards to fish and seafood, my father was the top notch buyer at the Mercado Central in Lima proper, going there twice a week, early in the morning, after his surgeries and patients' rounds and then returning home for breakfast.
When I was about 8 years old, or nine perhaps, my parents used to take Ines and me to the Parada, Lima's wholesale market at about 4:00 a.m. in the morning, to check out the innumerable stands storing huge burlap bags ready-for-sale, "costales" in our parlance, that had just come in early that dawn from the Sierras, bulging and brimming with potatoes, carrots, ollucos, grains, legumes, seeds, whatever, exhibiting samples on top of each sack, still smelling of having been dug only hours before, with dark moisten earth still clinging to the roots and leaves...
They came in each day, unloaded from the trains that came from Huancayo, or from the numerous platform trucks hailing from distant places where harvests were good, plentiful and carefully taken care of, namely Arequipa, which was a name I then could remember for obvious reasons, and other places.
In the Mercado Central, the dawn bustle, the haggling, the heavyy "costales", also filled with clams, prawns, scallops, dried scallops, machas, made a welcome addition to the already burdened larders at the Clinica where the beef sides, briskets, ribs and chicken and ducks and whatever else were already stored.
I could see the vendors, most of them women in their forties or fifties, all cholas as I am, the sweet mix of Inca and Spanish, with their aprons covering them hugely, white or colored, with heavy blue or black sweaters showing underneath, in a constant call to my father: "Doctorcito, I have saved the best corvinas for you!" -- "Please buy these scallops from me 'pues'... These shrimp..."
They controlled their stands, their offerings and their husbands... They knew what they wanted for their merchandise, how to enthuse their clients and, most of all, they were experts at maneuvering their partners...
Some of them showed their tenderness and maternal ways towards their men, standing there at their call with dumb looks, as if they had no idea why they were there right now and then at that very moment.
Others, not being able to hide their contempt with them, darts fleeing out of their slanted eyes showing the typical mongoloid fold of the inner eye such as I have my own lids configured to.
The rest with a matter-of-fact way compelling their better halves to do or die, by reminding them that they were in this thing together and that he should never forget it, and just pull that "costal" to that side or lift that one over, no matter if it weighted over fifty pounds or more, or... get the hell out of their way if they would even think to question their "instructions" or dare to think otherwise.
They always received the money in payment which was rapidly shoven into their ample apron pockets.
I tried to keep abreast, being myself... Being eight years old. But I remember all this to this day. As if it was a series of photos or had just happened this morning. I can see the colors, the dawn light turning into a gray day; I can hear the rustle of the costales and the shouts among the vendors accross the enormous space of the market and I can still smell the vegetables, of all and each one's endearing aroma!
Unfortunately I never learned, really, how to understand and use most of these silent messages, looks, and hidden threats or pleads or ways to convey their determination to their better halves.
I had no idea that there were differences in attitudes, differences in what related to who was stronger or more powerful between them, be that men or women. That there were relationships where feud or authoritarianism or domination existed. That pushing down one or the other in life existed as an attitude and was a way of life to the majority of the people; that demeaning and humilliating were used as weapons to subdue or to conquer to get what they wanted.
Feminism and Betty Friedam, Gloria Steinem and Seneca Falls were 40 or 50 years in my future and my knowing. I did not learn from these women and their ways to survive but then never felt bothered by not knowing these ways then, being so young when watching them and would only yearn for the escaped opportunity I had missed not learning how to handle other human beings, when I finally became a 21 year old daughter and married later. When I eventually had the so-called brothers-in-law. Three to boot...
I did not enjoy getting up at 4:00 in the morning. Sometimes it felt very cold, too cold as a matter of fact when you consider Lima's usual weather. Overcast, humid. I don't remember Ines at all in these trips. But this was no time to object and say no. It was as it was. Period.
My sister and mine unknowing forays into these markets lasted while we had a sort of a governess at home, Senorita Leonor, teaching us at home instead of us being at school regularly like everybody else, as we later found. When we started going to Santa Ursula, the school chosen at the end by my father and not the Sacred Heart which was the school my mother had gone to, these visits stopped.
When on these trips, my father was the the top buyer since he was the top provider. His wants or demands were never challenged. As a doctor and single manager of his Clinica, he was the top decider. His hours at work were our family's hours. His schedule overun anybody's schedule or choice of times. His own life became our life overiding any life at all. Granted there were "considerations" to some of our needs, later on during teen age years, most specially social life and having a life at all, for all and each one of us, be that wife or daughters (we were four daughters).
But his orders, silent as they were and never "imposed," nor shouted, were our marching orders. Not ordering out loud but even, without spoken words, just stating that it was what it was and should be. No words. It was the world according to him, and you know what? It became our world. I never thought it could be different. I never thought it could be challenged. It was really like it was and there was no question about it. It was the world. His world. Our world. And us as kids and later on as teen agers, did not know any better. It was the times we lived or had to live.
The tragic part of this is that us, whether women or men, boys or girls in the late 1940's, or early 1950's, in Lima, or so I think, maybe wrongly, did not know anything else or anything better at that time, we just followed tradition and the church and the orders and felt great I guess! It was as our fathers stated it. As the government stated it. As our chuch stated it. Like the school stated it, be that Santa Ursula or the government public schools stated it or the other private schools.
There was no way around it. Those were the only principles or ethics or logic we had. We did not know anything else, whether right or wrong, whether beautiful or ugly. And we were happy! I now feel that we were brain washed in a way, at least I think I was, not feeling daring enough, to this day, to ask a simple: Why? But it is 70 years after the fact.
While growing up and cooking up a storm in my mind because, frankly I did not or could not do anything else, while living that tour-de-force as unbelievable as it now seems to me, I just kept my eyes open and, in a way, according to my nature, I guess I considered the cold and the early morning efforts at the "paradas" and the "mercados" as many more other ways to learn and survive and then learn again, after meditation.
Or perhaps I did not go through that exhausting mental exercise. Most surely I did not. We loved our father and our mother to death. We worshipped them and we still do. But, most probably, I just took it in, like a hostage, like a trooper, because, at least for that long-ago time I lived and that I now remember, it felt natural. A given.
I wonder now, when I am 76 years old and going through the efforts to go through the "transition" that I and everyone else must go through, how Malala was more enlightened to see, so early in her young life, the world around her and come to more intelligent conclusions and spell them out publicly, than I was able to see during my early and perhaps my entire life...
This is what I remember and what I want to share. No regrets!.