Thursday, May 3, 2012

Day of the Holy Cross in Panchimalco, plus Marañon Candy

Marañones, or cashew apples basking in sunlight
As you walk up the hills on a cobblestone road, you find colorful dancers on your way. Surrounded by people, they wear painted wooden masks depicting jaguars, colorful birds, and other creatures. The figures bob up and down, and twirl at times to match the hypnotic beats of the music.
Cashew apples hanging from the tree (Marañones)
You arrive closer to the church, which was built in the late 1600´s (finished in the 1730´s). The whitewashed colonial style of the facade welcomes you to the town. Next to it, ladies finish assembling large decorations of palm leaves filled with beautiful real pink, purple and yellow flowers that look like they are made out of crepe paper, and that have been inserted in the leaves as if they were beads pulled through a string to make a necklace. These large leaves will wave through the air as the processions advance to enter the church before mass is given. You are in Panchimalco,  forty minutes away from the capital city of El Salvador, in Central America.

Facts about Cashew Apples, Anacardiums (the "Inverted Hearts, or Upwards Hearts")

Most people have seen or tasted cashew nuts, but never seen or heard of the fruit it´s placed on... Cashew apples, which resemble upside down hearts, were taken from their native Central/South America to India by the Portuguese in the 1560´s. It is through India that they arrived to Asia, and thus were included in their cuisine. Some Asian or West Indies countries have turned them into an alcohol that the Dutch considered tastier than brandy! Cashew apples have also been used in curries, turned into candy like the one described above (in Panama), and its juice is enjoyed in Brazil or turned into a fruit drink in many other Latin American countries.

History of the Holy Cross Day

The Holy Cross Day was originally celebrated on May 3rd and September 14th. Nowadays, the Roman Catholic Church officially celebrates only the September 14th date; however, in Latin America and Spain, the May 3rd celebration continues to be celebrated. In May, the pagan celebrations celebrated spring and fertility. Therefore, when the catholic missionaries arrived in the New World, they transformed this pagan feast into a Catholic celebration of the finding of the Holy Cross, of its rescue from the Persians during Constantine´s reign.
Nowadays, in Latin American countries, a wooden cross is placed in the ground, surrounded by fresh fruit, and decorated with links or other crepe paper decorations. In a few towns such as Panchimalco (see above), larger festivities are held.
Cashew apple nestled on the grass

Recipe for Marañon Candy/Jam
2 pounds of marañones
1 cup of water
4 cups of brown sugar, or one atado de panela (a block of dark molasses sugar)
2 cinnamon sticks

Remove the cashew seed/nuts and set them aside to roast another day. Wash the fruit, peel and shred/cut into pieces. Place it in a large pot, and add water. Boil for 20 minutes. Let it cool, then place it in the blender. Remove it, then place it again the pot, add sugar, and boil for another hour or so until it reaches the thickness of jam.

With this jam, you can make many items! If you have a bucketload of fruit, jam is a classical preserving option that will enable you to make many recipes with that fruit. The first thing I tried was a maranon coffeecake, after adapting a recipe I found in a Goldy Schultz culinary mystery novel (Crunch Time, by Diane Mott Davidson)
Cashew Apple Coffee Cake, baked in Nordicware Mini Flower Cake Pan
(left to right: sunflower, rose, and daisy)
Cashew Apple Coffee Cake
1 cup of natural yogurt
1/2 cup of cashew apple (maranon) homemade preserves
1/2 cup of butter
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 tablespoon lime zest
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter with the sugar and add the eggs. Add the rest of the ingredients, and beat well with a mixer. Place the batter into two greased and floured 9 inch cake pans, or use your favorite good quality mold (I stress this because the cake is very moist, and thus it will probably be hard to get it out of a pan that has too many crevices for the batter to stick to.) I used a Nordicware mini flower cake pan, and prefer the rose shape, above all. The petal arrangement in the design is flabbergasting.

Squished cashew apple, a common sight under the tree

Marañon Shortcake (See:
Crunch Time, by Diane Mott Davidson

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