Sunday, March 21, 2010

Zapallos: Pumpkins and Squash

The gourds of the Indies are another monstrosity, both in their size and the luxuriance with which they grow, especially those that are native to the land which they call capallos, whose flesh can be eaten, especially during lent, either boiled or stewed.  José de Acosta, 1590[1]
Zapallos (Cucurbita spp.) continue to surprise foreigners as they did Spanish Jesuit and naturalist José de Acosta when he saw them in Peru in the 16th century.  Some are huge, up to 70 lbs, with vivid yellow-orange flesh inside a hard grey-green rind, and they are among the most popular Chilean vegetables, cultivated on over 5,200 hectares (20+ square miles), an area surpassed only by corn, lettuce, tomatoes and onions.[2]

The most popular is the zapallo camote [3]  (above), a variety of  the native South American Cucurbita maxima, the same species that gives us Hubbard squash, banana squash, and those giant pumpkins that appear in state fairs through out the US Midwest. 
C. maxima was domesticated in Peru and was being grown up and down the pacific coast of South America by 1500-2000 BC. In Chile evidence for agriculture dates to 4000-6000 BC, though the earliest evidence for zapallos comes from 2500-500 BC.[4]   Abbe J. Ignatius Molina (1740-1829) tells us of two types that the Mapuche of South Central Chile were cultivating at the time of conquest [5]:

Writing in the 1860s, Claudio Gay provides more detail:
zapallos are very abundant in Chile as they are very widely consumed and, like the garbanzo, are always a part of the puchero [stew, cazuela]. For this reason they cultivate a variety, the zapallo hollito, which although very green is of excellent flavor and replaces the common zapallo until it ripens.  There are also other kinds that serve for distinct uses; the alcajota which is used to make sweets; a very large gourd, with a hard shell that is used for trays [and boats (!) bateas]; others that are made into containers of various sizes for keeping seeds, powdered chili, etc., but the most notable variety is the common zapallo whose sweetness is not inferior to the sweetest sweet potatoes and like them is commonly eaten roasted in ovens or over coals. Without doubt it is the sweetest variety…  Its size, usually medium, sometimes reaches a weight of 70 pounds.[6] 

Of the varieties mentioned, only the common zapallo (pencaMapudungun), gourds, (Lagenaria sicerariaI) and the alcayote are common today.  Gourds are made into vessels for drinking maté, and the Mapuche wada (rattle musical instrument); and spaghetti-squash like alcayote (Cucurbita ficifolia, from the Náhuatl chilacayohtli) is made into a jam or marmelada


But if the zapallo hollito seems to have disappeared, it has been replaced by the ubiquitous zucchini; Chile’s zapallo Italiano (C. pepo) which was evidently taken from its native Mexico to Europe were it was developed to its present state in the 19th century and returned to the Americas in the 1920s.[7] 

 Chilean zapallo italiano and other produce


And there is also a round variety, great for stuffing.

Eating zapallos

Zapallo camote is available year round in Chile and is an essential ingredient in many of the most Chilean of Chilean dishes:  cazuela (boiled dinner), charquican (hash of beef, potatoes, zapallo, corn, etc.), porotos granados (shell beans with corn and squash), locro de zapallo (pumpkin stew), carbonada (beef soup, from meat left over from an asado, BBQ), and    ….sopaipillas.

Sopaipillas  (Recipe wWw.ElChef.T)

1 cup cooked mashed or sieved zapallo camote (or butternut squash)
3 tablespoon melted shortening
1 teaspoon salt
(1 teaspoon baking powder, optional)
2 cups flour
½ cup hot milk or water

Oil for frying (2 cups or so)

Mix ingredients and form a smooth elastic dough, adding additional flour if necessary.  Roll out to a thickness of ¼ inch and cut into 4 inch rounds.  Perforate rounds in several places with a knife or fork and fry for a minute on each side in 375° oil.  They should be golden but not very dark.

Serve with pebre  or simmered in chancaca (raw sugar) syrup

Chancaca syrup

1 lb. (500 gm) chancaca (or dark brown sugar)
2 cups water (1/2 lt.)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon (or more to taste) orange peel, removed with vegetable peeler and cut into fine strips

Bring all ingredients to a simmer until completely dissolved.  Add sopapillas and simmer briefly.  Serve hot.

Zapallitos italianos

 Chilean recipes for zucchini cover much the same territory as in other parts of the Americas:  steamed, sautéed, stewed with tomatoes and onions, fried, stuffed, and so on. But my wife’s favorite is a little unusual:

Budín de zapallo italiano (zucchini pudding)

2-3 medium zucchini
1 medium onion, minced
1 marqueta (Chilean French roll or 2 slices home-style bread)
grated cheese, reserving some for topping.
2 eggs
1 tomato
salt, pepper, oregano

Cut zucchini in thick rounds and cook in boiling water until done, but al dente.  Remove and chop into pea-sized pieces.  Drain, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.  Soak bread in milk and squeeze out liquid.  Sauté onion in oil until translucent.  Mix zucchini, bread, onion and grated cheese (as much or little as you wish, reserving some for topping) add salt, pepper and oregano to taste.  Beat eggs and add to mixture.  Butter a greda de pomaire casserole (or other earthenware dish) and add mixture.  Top with grated cheese and sliced tomatoes.  Bake in 400° until bubbly and brown on top.

[1] Acosta, José de 2002 (1590) Natural and Moral History of the Indies. Jane E. Mangan, Ed. Duke University Press.  On line at
[2] Chilean Agriculture Overview, 2009. Agarian Policies and Studies Bureau, Ministerio de Agricultura.  On line at
[3] From the Quechua, zapallu and the Náhuatl (Aztec) camohtli, “sweet potato.” The indigenous Mapuche name is penca.
[4] Pearsall, Deborah M. 2008. Plant domestication and the shift to agriculture in the Andes, Chapter 7.  The Handbook of South American Archaeology. P. 112. Eds., Helaine Silverman and William H. Isbell.  On line at
[5] Molina, Juan Ignacio. 1809. The Geographical, Natural and Civil History of ChileMiddletown, Conn: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme. Vol I, p. 110. On line at
[6] Gay, Claudio. 1862-1865.  Agricultura, Tomo 2. París: En casa del autor; Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago, p. 112. On line at
[7] Decker, Deena S. 1989.  Origin(s), evolution, and systematics of Cucurbita pepo (Cucurbitaceae)  Economic Botany 43(4):423-443 On line at

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Mapuche Food: Ethno Tourism/Ethno Gastronomy

In 1540, when the Spanish arrived in central Chile, they encountered the Mapuche, “people of the land,” south central Chile’s indigenous people. Today, when you travel south form Santiago into Chile’s Araucarian Region you also encounter the Mapuche; if only in the faces of the Chileans and in the Mapudungun names of lakes and communities: Curico, "Black Water;" Melipilla, "Four Devils;" Melipulli: "Four Hills;" Panguipulli: "Hill Of The Puma;" Pichilemu: "Little Forest;” Pucón, “Entrance of the Cordillera:” Temuco, “Temu Water” [1]

But if you want to learn more about the Mapuche, you can--and without being intrusive—through “ethno-tourism.” It is tourism based on participation and planning in conjunction with indigenous communities.
… an increasing number of countries are beginning to work to ensure that tourism not only protects the environment, but also benefits indigenous people, in a trend referred to as "ethno-tourism" or "community-based eco-tourism". The main formula for ethno-tourism involves governments working with aid agencies, such as the Inter-American Development Bank, and private partners to help indigenous communities develop sustainable tourism industries. These initiatives are aimed to help local communities escape from poverty and preserve their natural surroundings while avoiding environmentally destructive activities, like hunting and de-forestation. By partnering with the local communities themselves and giving them ownership, governments help protect the human rights of their people and ensure that local communities benefit from the tourists they host. [2]
I’ve been interested in the Mapuche, and especially Mapuche food and farming, since arriving in Chile. I recently had the opportunity to travel to the Araucarian Region and spend an afternoon with Zunilda Carileufu Colipe, a Mapuche woman who opens her ruca (traditional Mapuche house) to visitors for a meal and an introduction to Mapuche culture. After calling for reservations a couple of days before, we arrived around 1:00 PM.

Zunilda invited us in (speaking Mapudungun at first) and showed us traditional tools and pots from her grandmother; how she spins wool; the preserves she had put up; drying herbs, garlic, chilies and corn; and mementos from her family.

And began cooking.

While she cooked she told us a bit about her life and how she became interesting in sharing her culture; with winka (non-Mapuche, from “Inca”) like us, but more importantly, with children and young people from her community. She feels that discrimination and oppression have beaten down Mapuche of her generation and older to the point that few value and feel pride in their cultural heritage, but children are eager to learn. And Zunilda is both eager to teach and a very good teacher.

Almuerzo was a rich cordero arvejada (lamb stewed with peas), potatoes, sopapillas (fried bread), and pebre (herb salsa).

She made the sopapillas as we watched. She kneaded a tablespoon or so of lard into a soft dough of white flour, yeast and salt that had been resting under a towel, formed small balls of the dough, and rolled them out using a wine bottle for a rolling pin. Then she fried them in hot oil.

The pebre was a mixture of cilantro, parsley and basil, mashed with garlic and a little chili pepper in her grandmother’s mortar, and diluted with water and lemon juice.

We began with the sopapillas and pebre ….and a glass of wine.

The lamb stew, made from a lamb she had raised, had been cooking all morning. She simmered meaty chunks of backbone with garlic and thyme and when it was tender she added peas and a hand full of kernels of corn.

While we were eating she formed the rest of the sopapilla dough into a flat round loaf, and placed it in the hot ashes from the fire to show us how she makes a tortilla de rescoldo (ash baked bread).

We finished with a cup of mint tea, sweetened with freshly made caramel and “coffee” of charred wheat.

Our almuerzo was good, healthy and honest… made from local ingredients cooked in a traditional way. Zunilda is especially concerned about the loss of traditional food habits. Mapuches were practically free of diabetes in 1985; but by 2000, incidence had risen to 3.2% of men and 4.5% of women; increases blamed on dietary changes and reduced exercise as well as changing gender roles.[3]

For various reasons, today’s women cannot devote themselves to learning and cooking the ‘good food.’ The need to be involved in new activities and interests prevents women from spending time caring for their gardens that once provided foods and medicinal plants for the kitchen. A pessimistic diagnosis of this reality [by a Mapuche woman] describes the decline and transformation of this role: “now they cook badly, using poor quality condiments and foods,. They do not spend the time necessary to prepare food and the result is that they are eating poorly… for a variety of reasons now people eat most anything.[4]
 Traditional Mapuche foods

“Tradition” is constantly changing. European foods and cooking techniques that did not exist in the pre-conquest diet had become common by the 17th century (see Feasting with the Enemy: 17th Century Mapuche food), and military defeat in the 1890s and subsequent removal to reducciones (reservations) let to poverty and some malnutrition, but the Mapuche remained largely rural and self sufficient until the last third of the 20th century. [5] Their diet was based on locally produced grains, tubers, vegetables, and meats; augmented by increasing (but limited) amounts of purchased flour, pasta, rice, sugar and oils: foods tabooed in many Mapuche areas in the early 20th century. [6]

That diet is the basis for what is now considered traditional Mapuche food. Anthropologist Noelia H Carrasco recorded the following basic glossary of traditional Mapuche foods currently being eaten in her research area [7]:

Recipes? A lot are available although not many are in English. Here’s a simple one:

Mapuche Food Links:
Mapuche Cooking: From the web site “Being Indigenous” includes a small collection of recipes in English. 
Arte Culinario Mapuche (Mapuche Culinary Art) Includes 27 recipes, in Spanish.  
Cultura Y Alimentación Indígena En Chile (Culture and Indigenous Food in Chile) Includes introductions to each of the indigenous peoples of Chile (including Easter Island) with recipes for traditional foods and new “fusion” recipes. In Spanish.
Manual De Gastronomía Con Identidad Local, Región Araucanía (Manual of Gastronomy with local identity, Araucarian Region). 80 page book about a cooking school for Mapuche women includes many of their family recipes, in Spanish.
Mapunyague:  From the earth to your table. Mapuche food  A blog by Carmen Caripe Catricura, a Mapuche woman who caters Mapuche food.  No recipies, but lots of photos of Mapuche foods. In Spanish.
Lunch at La Nana, Mapuche Cuisine:  A set of excellent photos of Mapuche food by Robyn Lee on flickr.

Mapuche ethnotourism links:

Ruca Mapuche: Zunilda Carileufu Colipe, pictured and discussed above, offers visits to her ruca (traditional Mapuche house) near Caburga including a meal and introductions to Mapuche weaving, cooking, etc. Web site and photo gallery, in Spanish. Reservations: 9-7948180 or 9-5752682
Travel Aid: Located in Pucón, Chile, this organization offers tours of and workshops on Mapuche weaving, language, pottery and cooking. Website in Spanish, English and German.
Trafcura Expediciones: Tours with Spanish/English/French speaking guides centered in the Saltos de Trafcura refuge, near Melipeuco Chile. Web site in Spanish.
Kola Leufu Casa de Campo: Located near Pucón, offers tours, farm day visits, accommodations and Mapuche food.
Mapuche Ethnotourism in Argentina - Ethnotourism near Bariloche.

(Oops, sorry some of  the links above are down.)

More posts on Mapuche food in Eating Chilean:

[1]Toponimia de Chile: Hoy, Puerto Octay, Hullliches… La gente del sur. On line at ; Pucón, Wikipedia. On line atón; Temuco, Wikipedia. On line at
[2]Eco-tourism expands into ethno-tourism. Sustainable Travel International. On line at
[3]Barcelo, Alberto and Rajpathak, Swapnil. Incidence and prevalence of diabetes mellitus in the Americas. Rev Panam Salud Publica [online]. 2001, vol.10, n.5 pp. 300-308 . On line at
[4]Carrasco, Noelia H. 2004. “Antropología de los Problemas Alimentarios Contemporáneos. Etnografía de la Intervención Alimentaria en la Región de la Araucanía, Chile”. Doctoral dissertation, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. p. On line at
[5]Arauco Chihuailaf. 2006. Migraciones mapuche en el siglo XX , Amérique Latine Histoire et Mémoire. Les Cahiers ALHIM, 12. On line at
[6]Clark, Timothy David. 2007. Culture, Institutional Change, and Food Security: The Case of Three Mapuche Communities in Region IX, Chile. Paper prepared for presentation at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Political Science Association, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, June 1, 2007. On line at
[7]Carrasco, Noelia H. Op sit Appendix III, p. xlv