In Ecuador, November 2 is the Day of the Dead and this means one thing: Colada Morada and Guagua de Pan (that's a thick, hot and fruity soup and sweet, jam-filled bread in the shape of a baby). It's an important family celebration and everybody gathers in the kitchen to pitch in with the peeling, chopping, blending and stirring. Those who can't fit around the steaming pans can just sit on the sidelines and make unhelpful comments about not adding too much pineapple because last year it was too sour, etc.
|A steaming mug of Colada Morada|
|Guagua de pan... creepy|
Guagua de pan (pronounced wah-wah, from the Quechua word for a baby's cry) is a bit like a doughnut stuffed with blackberry or guayaba jam or even chocolate. When you slice the blackberry dolls open it looks like an autopsy or C-section. Traditionally you'd bake these yourself, but we had our work cut out with the colada morada so picked ours up from a bakery. After a bumpy ride back home we opened the box and there had been a few casualties.
|Real horror show|
The Day of the Dead is big news across Latin America. It's an important pre-Colombian celebration, in November the Incas used to parade the mummies of their Royal ancestors to demonstrate the length and continuity of the royal line. Spanish chroniclers writing in the 16th Century say the entire month of November was dedicated to Incan ceremonies of the Dead, called Ayamarcai (meaning to transport the dead in Quechua). The Spanish brought Catholicism and, as always, the church hijacked this fun mummy-flaunting festival for its own.
Today, Latins visit the local cemetery and pay their respects to dead friends and family. The queues to get into the graveyards are impressive, it looks like a rock concert (but instead of cider people are carrying classy polystyrene crosses, tastefully wrapped in silver foil, adorned with the finest tinsel and artfully finished with an obligatory image of the Virgin in the centre.
The symbolism behind the colada morada and the guagua de pan has been lost in the mists of time. So to better understand this this traditional Indian custom we scoured Lucy's anthropology textbooks. An Ecuadorian anthropologist writing in the 1960s, called Dario Guevara, suggests the baby bread and blood, red soup represents human sacrifice from pre-Colombian tribes. Another clue can be found over the border in Bolivia where they still bake large bread dolls to represent a dead family member. They dress the bread doll in clothes and sit it prominently within the house (presumably somewhere the dog can't eat it... imagine the symbolism of that!) The doll is offered food and shots of sugar cane spirit and later they take it into town to parade and dance.
It's interesting that within 500 years the symbolism of the celebration has been entirely lost but the ritual continues today unabated. Nobody knows for certain what the soup and bread means, and nobody much cares. As an outsider I was bound to ask, but for the Ecuadorians I was missing the point. The Day of the Dead, and the ritual of the Colada Morada, is really about gathering all the family together. For migrants working in the big cities, it's a weekend to return to their rural homes and reconnect. It's an important part of social cohesion, not just within the family but also for the community. You acknowledge who your family is, who it was, and by sharing the day with others at the cemetery, who the local community is also.
|You wouldn't serve Colada Morada in a glass, but I wanted to photograph its colour and opacity|
|Some of the many ingredients necessary for the perfect Colada Morada|
I wanted to write an authoritative English language recipe for Colada Morada, luckily Lucy's 97-year-old grandma was on hand and ready to divulge nine decades of culinary secrets. She used to make Colada Morada for 40 people, but this particular recipe is good for 15-20.
|97-year-old Abuelita Luisa shares the esoteric art of making Colada Morada|
1lb of blackberries
1lb of mortinos (tiny blueberries, but normal blueberries could be used as a substitute)
1lb of strawberries
Half a pineapple
Two cups of maiz morado (purple corn flour)
Arrayan leaves (myrtille, a type of Andean tree),
Orange tree leaf,
Hierba Luisa (lemongrass),
Isphingo (an Ecuadorian laurel tree, with a taste not dissimilar to cinnamon),
Ataco (a pseudo cereal of the Andes, similar to quinua)
- Soak two cups of maiz morado (purple corn) and soak it in water for three days, when it starts to ferment and turn sour.
- They sieve the sour flour and save the water. NOTE: If you can't get hold of purple corn flour then standard white cornflour can be used instead.
- Use two large saucepans. In the first, boil the blueberries with the blackberries in water until they become soft and burst. In the second pan, boil water with the herbs, spices and the pineapple's rind
- Blend the blueberries and blackberries in a liquidiser and sieve away the pips and pulp.
- Remove the herbs from the second pan, leaving you with aromatic water
- Add the sieved blackberries and blueberries into the aromatic water
- Add some of the pre-prepared corn flour to the mixture to thicken the water. We're aiming for the consistency of a Heinz Chicken soup.
- Peel the naranjillas and blend with a splash of water. Sieve this and add the juice to the mixture.
- Chop the pineapple and strawberries into tiny squares and add to the hot mixture and boil for five minutes. Also add the peel of one of the naranjilla fruits.
- Serve hot in mugs with guagua de pan
The end result is a spicy, slightly sour stew that doesn't really tip the scales past equilibrium - it isn't delicious, it isn't disgusting, and it most certainly isn't insipid. It's a lot of effort, but that's the point. It's not really about liking colada morada or not... it's about getting together and making something, like a family coming together in England to decorate the Christmas Tree, or just to get blind-drunk.
|Making Colada Morada, it's a jungle in there|