It was a regular day in our neighborhood and house today. After morning coffee I charged full speed ahead on a two hour cleaning whirlwind. After sweeping every floor in the house, ‘our’ side and the in-laws side, I mopped our front ceramic patio, then dug out some items for the laundry, when I was firmly interrupted by my mother in law. She reminded me to “eat now,” the work will be there later, and directed me to the table for a welcoming bowl of fresh chicken soup.
After cohabitating for 6 months, I’ve settled into my role of mega-cleaner, as Irene is most definitely the house cook, and not a big fan of house cleaning. She won’t let me get away with skipping meals, and I take her generosity with a pang of guilt, eating from a poor woman’s table, but I make it up to her as often as I can.
Irene feeds everyone and everything in her midst. Starting with the chickens first thing in the morning to the mid-morning second breakfast of ‘beans with tortillas” (and cheese if there is some). Breakfast number one is coffee and a sweet bread sold by one of the major snack vendors in El Salvador. Midday a warm almuerzo (lunch) is usually made – or at least every other day, often a soup or “Guisado”,which is a saucy chicken or meat dish.
As afternoon progresses, it’s time for cooking maize and pupusa preparation. The maize is cooked daily, whether or not pupusas are made, as it’s also used to make tortillas, which accompany every meal. The maize is boiled in a big pot over firewood, then washed thoroughly and ground up in a molina – a large electric grinder. There is always at least one person in a neighborhood with a “molina” and they charge 25cents or more to grind a small batch of maize into corn meal.
The pupusa preparation consists of heating the tomatoes for the sauce, and cutting cabbage and carrots for the curtido (marinated cabbage eaten with the pupusas), which is done every 2 days. My mother in law prepares the pupusa filling once a week, sometimes twice, by grinding up cooked red beans and fatty pork meat (chicharron) with tomatoes, onions and spices.
Finally, sometime around 5:30pm, this 69 year old veteran makes her daily trip across the street to cook the pupusas on a hot griddle for two to three hours, feeding a clientele ranging from teenage neighborhood boys, many of her regulars, to various women from the caserio (hamlet) who aren’t cooking that day or, blessed with American remittances, have the luxury of eating take-out often. Just before closing, Irene makes the biggest pupusa of all, a small pizza sized one made especially for our family dog, Oso (which means bear in English).
Throughout the day the parakeet is treated with various fruity delights and crackers, Irene often cutting mangos for herself and handing pieces to him. Children of all ages eat fruits and sweets at various hours, and last but not least are the cockroaches and flies whose very existence at our house might not happen if it werent for the constant cooking, wafting of food aromas, and scraps forgotten on tabletops or dropped on the floor. Our uninvited insect friends take advantage of Irene’s ‘hide it for later’ technique of squirreling food for future use and often find it before she does – a pot on a shelf with melted panela to sweeten something later, or the coveted piece of cheese meant for an afternoon treat wrapped in newspaper (Irene has spent most of her life without a refrigerator so hasn’t gotten the hang of when to use it yet).
There is not a creature within a ten minute walk of our house who hasn’t received a meal by my mother-in-law. She is the lean, mean, Salvadoran cooking machine.
Taken from Diary entry, April 6, 2010