Over this past 2009 Christmas season, while making Pastelles - another traditional Spanish dish of ours, I thought of one of my dad's sisters, we shall call her 'Aunt E' who was an excellent cook (God rest her soul). Aunt E was the family chef and every lunch time for several years, she would prepare a myriad of meal choices to feed over 20 family members including her husband, children, grands, sisters, brothers, in-laws, etc. My dad was fortunate enough to have lunch there every day. It was also good that Aunty had so many 'picky' eaters in the group, as everyone else in my family was able to partake in some of these wonderful 'left-overs' that dad brought home almost every evening. One of Aunt E's best tasting meals was her pastelles, which she made not only for the family, but also to sell to various faithful customers over the years. She usually had over 70 dozen orders to make, and my brother and I went over to her home to assist in making them on many occasions. Aunt E never skimped on ingredients and always made everything fresh, natural and from 'scratch'. She would go to the market and get the banana leaves, the whole corn kernels, several pounds of beef and pork, garlic, pimentoes, scotch bonnet peppers, various other seasonings, and 'roucou' or achiote (this is a type of amerindian fruit which, when soaked in water, gave the meat a wonderful golden-red color and unique flavor).
When all the ingredients were brought home, the real action started. She enlisted special helpers, each with a specific job to do. Grandpa had to get the huge outdoor stove going, and set a tall square tin (originally filled with the Bermudez Crix biscuits) on the stove with water to boil. He would then clean the banana leaves and 'singe' them over a flame on another stove to make them soft and pliable. These leaves were cut into small squares and set aside for the pastelle wrapping. Grandpa would also cut up the large ball of twine (string) into 18 inch pieces and set them aside to secure the leaves around the pastelles. Aunt E would then mince up all the meat in a large stainless steel grinder, then season and stew the meat it a very large and heavy 'iron' pot. This stew would exude such wonderful smells that we could not wait to sample it. While the meat was cooking, Aunty would prepare the corn by also grinding it in the grinder. Then to this she added olive oil, salt and hot water and kneeded it into pliable balls (approximately 2 inches in circumference). The kitchen table would be laid out like an assembly line, with the container of pre-kneeded corn balls, a home-made 'pastelle press' ( which I believe was made by my dad for Aunty, and was used to flatten the balls into even, thin layers), the banana leaves, the stewed meat, a container of oil, capers, raisins, sliced pimento-stuffed olives, the string and the large biscuit tin used to steam the pastelles. My job was to scoop a tablespoon of meat onto the pressed out corn balls, and my brother would place several capers, raisins and olives on the top of each meat scoop. We continued this process until all of the pastelles were prepared. They were then steamed in several batches before they could be cooled and placed in the fridge, for collection by the family and/or customers. During this cooking event, there would be music, and chatting and lots of excitement. Every so often, my brother and I would sneak a teaspoon of the stew and eat it, quickly before Aunty could see us. This created even greater anticipation of having some of those delicious pastelles over the Christmas season. (Copyright (c) 2009).
Here is a photo of my own family's pastelle-making event for Christmas.