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Passport & Plate - Lola Illang's Sukulati De Cacao

Philippines | Tuesday, 25 February 2014 | 5 photos

1-cup water
2 100%-pure cacao balls
1/2-cup sugar
1 cup full cream milk
1/3 to ½ cup condensed milk (to taste)


How to prepare this recipe
So much depends on the quality of the cacao balls so we always make our own.

Pick ripe cacao pods and slice them open to get the seeds. Soak the seeds in a basin full of water and rub them until most of the pulp is removed. Don’t worry about getting the pulp off completely. Spread the seeds onto a tray and leave them under the sun to dry.

When the seeds are completely dry, peel off the thick shell and transfer the seeds to a container. In a clay pot under low to medium fire, roast the seeds for 20 to 30 minutes until the shell starts to become brittle. Allow seeds to cool before storing.

To make cacao balls, crush the seeds into a fine powder using a mortar and pestle. To make it finer and draw out the oil, we further press the powder by hand in our generations-old stone mill. When done, grab a fistful of powder and press tightly with your hand. When the powder is sufficiently compact, roll it between your palms until the ball is smooth and starts to glisten with oil. Store in a cool dry place until ready to use.

To prepare a pot of sikulati: Heat 1 cup of water in a clay pot over low to medium fire. Add 2 chocolate balls and stir until completely melted. Add sugar and whisk until the mixture thickens. Pour in milk and whisk until silky. Add condensed milk to taste. Makes 8 servings in an escudilla.


The story behind this recipe
One of my fondest memories of Lola Illang is of her pretending to trip over some blooms at the Botanical Gardens in Baguio where we were spending the summer of my 10th year. A whistle went off because visitors were not allowed to touch the flowers. We helped her to her feet as she discreetly slipped a clenched fist into her pocket, hiding what I can only guess to be sprigs or seeds. She had plenty of room for her spoils. Our family compound included an expansive orchard, where she’d often be found tucking something under the soil. The yield, in time, found their way onto our plate.

She was a retired Home Economics teacher. It was my belief that she could make anything by hand—from straw doormats to fruit preserves.

Back when I had yet to discover the pleasures of coffee, my drink of choice was lola’s sikulati. Not only was it made my hand, the main ingredient was grown in our backyard. Lola would gather the pods from our cacao trees and prepared the seeds following the process detailed above. Sometimes, she would let me suck the pulp off a seed. It was sweet.

She left the seeds to dry under the sun in a bilao (winnowing tray), after which they were roasted, peeled and ground, and formed into balls. I would stand by to watch and she would put her chocolate-stained hand to my face so that I could inhale the warm, earthy smell.

She cooked her sikulati in a clay pot, over a clay stove fed with firewood. Using a lomonilla, she would stir the mixture until it thickened and the flavors melded. Away from fire, she whisked some more by briskly rubbing the handle of the lomonilla between her palms. She was a spare woman but she could work every single froth out of chocolate. She served this brown liquid in tiny cups called escudilla reserved solely for this purpose and I would enjoy every drop.

Until now, when this luscious beverage coats my tongue, I see her face. It transports me to better days.

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