Temblique, the Puerto Rican Christmas Pudding
A recent call with a friend from Puerto Rico has me waxing nostalgic for the wonderful island I’ve visited many times. I was asking my friend Manolo for his mother, Mama Chaly’s recipe for temblique, Puerto Rico’s coconut Christmas pudding. He says it’s easy to make, but I guess I’ll find out. It’s cooked with coconut milk and corn starch, and then cooled, gelled, and served with a sprinkling of cinnamon and lemon zest. In Spanish it literally means ‘jiggly’ because it wiggles just like Jell-O when served.
Manolo and I met as plant engineers at two plants in Cincinnati’s Chemical Alley – the factories lining the railroad tracks between Winton Place and St. Bernard. We were lunch buddies, and then grad school classmates, until we both graduated and moved on to marketing. Over the last 20 years of our friendship we’ve had many crazy adventures around the world, and I’ve been infused with the wonders of Puerto Rican food and culture.
Puerto Rican men are huge momma’s boys. As a result, most are well trained in the art of cooking the foods of their upbringing, especially if they move off the island. From this particular momma’s boy, I’ve learned how to make island delicacies such as tostones (smashed and fried green plantains), plantanos, sorullos, sofrito, and rice and beans.
In Puerto Rico the food is wonderful, and so are the people. They celebrate the Christmas season with gusto – hell – they celebrate life with gusto! Where else can you be lulled to sleep by the gentle chirp of the coquis (native frogs) at 3 AM after pounding the clubs, and then rudely awakened 2 hours later by the cock-a-doodle-do of one of a roosters you’ll see at the local arena later that night?
Thank God the coffee is strong, so you can refuel for another action-packed day! I could live on Yauco Selecto, and the tangy, crunchy guava pastries from Toa Alta, and Mama Chaly’s rice and beans…
For Puerto Ricans, the Christmas season doesn’t end on December 25. It extends into January, for the very popular Feast of the Three Kings. And the wonderful food extends through the whole season. Manuel was telling me about a batch of coquito, the boozy coconut infused Puerto Rican version of eggnog that he had just made. It’s made with rum, coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves.
But you don’t need rum to amp up a Puerto Rican family celebration, especially if you’re from a big Catholic family like Manolo. Stepping into his family circle is like entering the cast of a Telanovella. Every event is drama rich and fun-filled. A quinceanara (a girl’s 15th birthday party the size of a wedding reception) I attended there turned into a Latin Lalapalooza where I was passed between his aunts to dance the merenque. I’ve had my ear talked off on topics like the Dominican slave trade by his Aunt Rachel, who’s a history professor in San Juan, and been chided on style and fitness by younger brother Daniel.
I’ve never really gotten a whole lot of sleep on my trips to Puerto Rico, but I’ve certainly eaten well, enjoyed everyone I met, and partied like a rock star.