12 February 2012

Ask Your Mom for Her Recipes While You Still Can


Mother’s home cooking is always best. That is a fact; and there is no rocket science to it. It is her cooking that we first taste. It is her cooking that we get accustomed to as we grow up. It is that her cooking that subsequently sets the standards inside our heads for what is and what is not good food. It is her cooking that we miss when we leave our homes. And it is the thought of her cooking that brings mist to our eyes when she is no longer here to cook for us…

I went to see an ageing aunt last weekend. It was the village fiesta the day before; so I went for the leftovers as well as her fabled – at least, in our clan – leche flan. In my mind, it is her leche flan that I judge others by. To put things plain and simply, I think it is the best leche flan on God’s Earth.

It always has the right sort of sweetness and creaminess. It is firm but melts in the mouth. It is always the right texture and consistency; and bubble holes are a no-no along the top. This she would achieve through her meticulous technique of sieving the batter through clean cloth over and over; and steaming at the right amount of heat and time.

When I was a small boy, and my aunt used to live inside the Base as we did, whenever she made leche flan – and no occasion was ever needed – she would always make it a point to call our house because she knew that it was my favourite. I would hastily get on my bike and ride all the way to her place just to be able to have some.

My own Mom on a few occasions did try to make her own leche flan as taught by my aunt; but she could never get it right. Mom would admit that she did not have the patience; and the leche flan always requires the right amount of patience and meticulousness to get right. So, whenever there were occasions and the leche flan was needed for dessert, it was always best to ask my aunt to come over and make it herself.

So thus, last weekend, I became a boy all over again as I took my first spoonful of the very same delicate leche flan that I would die for in years gone by. There was sheer ecstasy as the flan melted in my mouth to caress my taste buds and send joy and pleasure exploding in my brain. It was the same leche flan that I have judged countless others by; and few ever came close.

The curiosity of the day was that, I learned, it was not my aunt who made it in the first place. Instead, it was one of her daughters who, I was told, had learned my aunt’s recipe and perfected her technique. My aunt has been getting along in years and is not as active as she once was. Even cooking is left to others.


That she passed on her recipe and technique for the leche flan is something that I will appreciate no end, for it will continue to live long after she goes to reunite with the Almighty. Here, I segue to another story altogether which will, however, wrap up the whole point of this article.

To my mind, my Mom used to make the most fabulous adobo. She had so many versions of it; but the one that I loved most was her most basic adobo. This was done dry and the chunks of pork were fried in the lard that remained in the wok after all the water had evaporated.

Mom taught me how to cook when I was young; but what she always allowed me to do were the more basic recipes. The more intricate ones she always did herself. I know now that the adobo is simple enough to do; but it is always getting the right amount and blend of condiments and spices that is hardest to achieve.

When my Mom died in 1992, regrettably she took her formula with her to her own grave. In the ensuing years, every adobo that I tried in everything from restaurants to turĂ´-turos paled in comparison to my Mom’s and seemed to only drive home the sad fact that I would never taste my Mom’s adobo again.

Then, in the late nineties, when I was with a group of fellow administrators attending a workshop in Tagaytay, we were billeted at this retreat center operated by an order of nuns. To my utter and pleasant surprise, the adobo that we were served for lunch one day was almost exactly the same as that which my Mom used to make.

The sense of nostalgia that struck me as soon as the adobo’s juices touched my taste glands was so powerful that I was immediately overwhelmed by a severe feeling of sadness that even sent mist to my eyes. I learned that the adobo was done by one of the nuns operating the center; and I resolved to try and work from memory and do my own.

Suffice it to say that it was easier said than done. It took countless trials and errors – and I emphasize the errors – before finally, one day, I sat down at the table and knew that this was it! I had resurrected Mom’s tustadong adobo!

I served the same to my sister and her friend one weekend when they came over and the friend not only affirmed that it was my Mom’s adobo alright; she also gave it a name: the adobo ni Sir. This is also how some colleagues call it to this day, as I used to bring some whenever we had office pot luck luncheons in the office.

It was never really mine, of course. It was always Mom’s adobo; and I could have saved myself the heartache and the bother of countless trials and errors if only I had the good sense to ask her to teach me how to do it when she was alive. That was why when I was told that it was one of my cousins instead of my aunt who did the leche flan that I was served last weekend, I immediately appreciated that the recipe and technique had been passed on to somebody in the family.

Much as we would all love them to, Mothers will not live forever. There are still a few recipes that I wish I had asked Mom to teach me; but at least I finally managed to do her version of the adobo, which was always among my favourites.

The moral of the story, I guess, is just to ask Mom while she’s still there. It is her cooking that you will continue to remember her by. So why not keep something of her to live on in your kitchen and dinner table long after she has gone?

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