With the coming of Thanksgiving, repeated questions about the ever-moving date (not a lot of holidays that move around in Chile), and the particularities of the feast come up again and again. Chileans know pavo (turkey), at least sliced and on a sandwich if not as the whole bird. They can also understand the whole put-it-in-the-oven-and-bake-it quality of some of your more favorite casseroles. Squash is no stranger, and sweet potatoes are seen periodically, and are understood to be part of Peruvian cuisine. Anything Peruvian food-wise is to be oohed and aahed at, so they figure those must be tasty, with or without the addition of mashmelo (should be malvavisco, but this word is not used much in Chile). The odd eyebrow may raise re: wetted and recooked bread with butter and sage and celery, but who doesn’t like bread, so in the end, they will nod approvingly.
And then comes the cranberry question. First, which cranberry, they will ask. Which? Cranberry? The problem here is that the word “berry” (baya, botanically speaking, in Spanish) is not really seen to describe any particular fruit, more a series of fruits that in Italian would be called “forest fruits.” Blueberries, which are arándanos in Spanish are only slowly making it to the market here in Santiago, and then sort of as a specialty item. Cranberries are grown in some quantity in the south, and quickly exported, generally before making a landing in the local market, though those in the know may be able to intervene, and they are available dried at some local/gringo bazaars, and I bought them once in Pucón (tourist/adventure sports capital in the close south).
Until a couple of years ago, the word arándano was used by many people to mean both the blueberry and the cranberry, though this question is asked less and less, as the cranVERRi is becoming more known, in name, if not in taste.
But even fully informed of which arándano we’re talking about, Chileans want to know what the big deal is about the cranberry. Is it amazingly sweet? Is it tremendously flavorful? Is it your favorite? Can you make ice cream out of it? No, yes, no and probably, I answer. Does anyone really love cranberry sauce? I feel like a bad American saying so, but simply put the cranberry no me raya (doesn’t move me).
But I will concede that it is a taste of the season, without which even my no-turkey (and no tofurkey) Thanksgiving would not be complete. I even made it last year, watching as the poor bobbing oblong (who knew, I thought they were round) berries turned juicy, then gelatinous in a white enamel pot on my sister’s giant stainless steel stove. Secret ingredients were added, and the dark fuschia menjunje (mix) inverted into a glass bowl and left to cool.
I was trying to explain my feelings about cranberry in terms of the Chilean love of camote, which I had always assumed was out of nostalgia, rather than actual sensory experience, which I find sadly lacking, and heavily thirst-provoking.
Camote (at least here) is this thing, which two friends recently told me they thought looked like a chrysalis.
Ready for sharing.
It’s cooked sweet potato (I believe, help me out here?), tooth-achingly sweet, a little mealy, and covered in a thick glaze made of confectioner’s sugar (it would seem). This sweet is sold on the street in little bags for 100 pesos, or this one that I bought at the thoroughly amazing Galletería Laura R (cheesecake, people. Real cheesecake, no yogurt or gelatin involved!) for 300 pesos because it’s so big, and lovely. Or maybe it was the gold twist-tie that jacked up the price. Anyway, at 60 cents, it wasn’t going to break the bank, and I thought that before I swore off camote for time immemorial, I should try the best possible camote. Anything the geniuses at this bakery (Manuel Montt near Eliodoro Yañez or up on Vitacura a little above the Rotunda Perez Zucovich) lay their hands to is delicious. So I took the plunge. Plus, who could resist a sweet that looks like a (future) bug?
Where was I? Oh yes, the cranberry and its fans, and the camote and its fans. I was trying to explain to people that cranberries aren’t actually that delicious, they just remind you of a time and place, much like the camote, which appears and disappears throughout the year (though it seems like it could be preserved to serve all year round).
And then there were blank stares.
CiQ (Chilean in question)You don’t think camote is delicious?
EGI (Embarassed gringa interloper) Um, no?
CiQ But how, it’s so delicious?
EGI kinda pasty
CiQ but it’s so sweet!
EGI also grainy sometimes
CiQ it reminds me of my grandmother
EGI oh, well I’m sure your grandmother’s tasted better.
CiQ No, it pretty much tasted like this. Don’t you think it always tastes the same?
EGI really? I’ve only eaten it twice.
CiQ In your WHOLE life?
And on and on it goes, with us never getting back to the arándano, or its oval-ish cousin, the cranVERRi. My point is, there are things you may like because you’ve always eaten them, and that you will love them and defend them even if they taste like paste, or metal, or (in my case) sometimes give you a rash.
Because hay gustos y gustos (to each his own, taste-wise). But at least cranberries don’t look like they’re going to sprout legs and walk away.