Sunday, October 3, 2010

Teaching volunteer mothers how to cook Filipino’s 'puto'

puto steamer in the process of cooking “puto”, a Filipino steamed cake while a volunteer mother tends to it.

Close up of the “puto” steamer.

A volunteer mom slices a newly steamed puto for taste-testing.

A pile of whole meal flour donated by Lae Biscuits, part of the two tons delivered to The Center recently.

A Friend of Tembari Children

IMMEDIATELY after the Tembari children finished their special lunch on Saturday, I started laying out on the table the ingredients for the Filipino pastry called “puto” (steamed flour cake).

By the way, I usually refer to our Saturday lunch as being special because it is indeed one.

From Monday to Friday, the Tembari children eat boiled rice, tinned fish, veggies, cordial and fresh milk. A tiresome meal (we can’t help it but this is better than eating kaukau (sweet potato) at lunch), the meal is prepared by our volunteer mothers.

But on Saturday, I take over to cook for the children. This makes the Saturday lunch really special.

To give their diet a variety, I would cook for them something great – lunch which would consist of meat, chicken or fish fillet (or prawn) dish, rice, veggies, special soup, cordial and fresh milk. The Saturday lunch is paid for by what I call two “sponsors” who would chip in K150 each to cover the ingredients.

Now, this flour recipe for “puto” was something our volunteer mothers saw for the first time. Whenever they cooked using flour, they would make a soft mass of it, and had it deep fried. Or they cooked it with coconut milk and some other stuff.

But since we have just received a donation of two tons of whole meal flour from Lae Biscuits, we decided to use it everyday before weevils or bugs finally attack it.

In fact, I already saw bugs in one of the bags that I opened yesterday, when I took some flour for the new recipe.

I wanted the volunteer mothers to learn new ones to give the children a variety of meals everyday.

Last Saturday, I taught them how to cook hot cake. It is a simple recipe so the mothers were very interested in doing it at least three times a week.

The puto recipe is quite complicated by the mothers’ standard, so I went slowly through it, explaining why I did what I did on certain ingredients.

The Filipino “puto” which is usually called “steamed dumpling” by the Malaysians and Chinese, needed a steamer. So I went around town looking for one to suit my purpose and found one a J-Mart supermarket at Erima. It cost us K205 (US$87) for the two-layer steamer set.

For my cooking demo, I prepared flour, margarine, vanilla extract, baking powder, sugar and water. The puto batter that we heaped on small tin bowls was cooked in about 30-35 minutes.

As expected, the taste-test elicited just one reaction: the puto was good, very delicious and the children would love this even if served to them everyday.

I am very familiar with this recipe. In my youth during the 50s, my mother used to steam puto made of rice flour, and not wheat flour like we used at The Center, which I sold around our neighborhood every afternoon.

This was my mother’s way of boosting the measly wage that my father received from his employers at the iron mines near our barrio (village) in Bicol, in the Philippines.

And at my flat here in Port Moresby, I, on occasions, cooked puto which I brought to work for snacks.

So it was a piece of cake showing our volunteer mothers how to do it.

Next time, I would show them how to cook “chakoy” a Filipino favorite which is sort of a counterpart to doughnut. But I find chakoy more delicious than doughnut, to tell you the truth.

This recipe is complicated, as it uses yeast and takes about two hours to prepare before finally cooking it. I did this recipe during my early days here in Port Moresby, back in 1993, to fight weekend boredom in my apartment.

I also told the mother volunteers that “puto” goes great with grated coconut. So, brought out some freshly grated coconut I prepared at home and served them the freshly-steamed puto topped with it.

Indeed, a new experience for their taste buds!

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