Yesterday, Memorial Day 2013, I wrote in my journal:
On a day like today my son was buried, at the very front of neat, diagonal rows of tombstones. The empty, verdant field in front of his grave where his mother and father gasped in anguish at the sight of his casket on that day, is now a fully populated landscape, filled with the lost dreams of young lives ripped away from this earth so early, so incomprehensibly. The rows grew from Alex’s grave in all directions, of those young who still lived, breathed, and dreamed they would survive, when Alex was lowered into the ground. So much was lost and buried forever, never to be found again.
I could not bear to write about celebratory food. I longed to write about memories of times past, memories that didn’t tread anywhere near the symbols of this day. Would you humor me with my recipe for empanadas which I learned from my aunt in Mexico? Because…after that moment in our lives seven years ago, we ever so slowly learned to live again, and food once again became the expression of love that it had always been. These chilacayote empanadas are truly special, divine little folded pockets of love, flaky on the outside with a golden, angel-hair surprise spilling out of every bite. My elderly aunt, Leyla, prepared the filling in the little town of Marfil, Guanajuato, recently, and then packed the jars filled with the angel hair chilacayote in her suitcase for her bus ride to San Miguel de Allende where she visited us. It all reminded me of those days so long ago in Laredo when the aunts arrived with bags full of delicacies from Monterrey, Puebla, or Villaldama.
Chilacayote is a squash that favors a mountain micro climate, very common in the area around San Miguel de Allende; its mottled sage green color is a delight to the eyes, and, as it turns out, you can prepare a million different things from chilacayote, just take a look online.
One of my favorites is candied chilacayote and another is agua de chilacayote. Anyway, Tía Leyla arrived with the cooked, amber colored angel hair chilacayote filling and it was a perfect beginning for a tray of empanadas. We put our aprons on the next morning and got to work, cranking out dozens of empanadas ready to offer friends arriving at our house from out of town later that day. I lost myself that day in the good moments shared with a beloved aunt and the conviviality of those days that followed with friends that came and went, exclaiming over our seemingly endless supply of empanadas.
- a 5 lb chilacayote (more or less)
- brown sugar or piloncillo (you will measure half the weight of your baked squash)
- 2 cloves
- 1 stick cinnamon
- grated peel of one orange
- Cut the chilacayote in half and bake covered for one hour in a 350 degree oven.
- Remove from the oven and scoop out the flesh.
- You don’t have to remove the seeds, they’re good for you!
- Weigh it and place in a large pot covered with water, half the weight in sugar, the cloves, the stick of cinnamon and the grated peel of the orange.
- Cook at medium heat for about 45 minutes until it all caramelizes and the water evaporates.
- Take care to stir often so it doesn’t stick.