African people were brought to Peru as slaves by the Spanish conquistadors, and little did anyone know how strongly they were going to influence our country through the years. One of the most important religious festivities was born thanks to an Angolan slave, who painted a dark skin Christ in a wall, in the XVII century. Today, the faith in El Señor de los Milagros, or Lord of Miracles, is stronger than ever, and people from every social class in Peru is devoted to the sacred image.
They say that necessity is the mother of creativity. And, this could not be more accurate when we speak about the Afro-Peruvian community. They were extremely poor, working at the big haciendas, but despite their situation they tried to rescue all the bits and ends discarded from the kitchen, and created the most scrumptious dishes, so good in fact, that they resisted the test of time and are not only popular nowadays, but actually part of the daily Peruvian diet.
Anticuchos, carapulcra, cau cau, tacu tacu, duck in many forms, pork, etc. This goes all the way to desserts and pastries too. Picarones (squash, sweet potato, and anise seed donuts), are a good example of this, as is the famous Turrón de Doña Pepa, created by a black lady who was very ill, and promised the Lord of Miracles that if she was healed miraculously of her disease, she would create a sweet in His honor (Recipe follows).
Not only has this community enhanced our gastronomy, making it richer, practical, and immensely more interesting; it has also given us a beautiful, multi-layered music heritage that every Peruvian is proud of. Peru Negro (Black Peru) is a dancing group that has presented Afro-Peruvian dances all over the world. These dances are sexy, festive, joyous, and so graceful that they put every audience on its feet. The cajon is another great addition by the African-Peruvians to our music. This is an exotic kind of drum created to give a booming and characteristic sound to Afro-Peruvian music, and legend says it was, again, the fruit of the African slaves’ creativity, who used wooden boxes to play as drums. Famous musicians around the world have adopted the cajon and are making music with it, Spanish Flamenco being the most clear example where the cajon is now a key instrument. It’s funny, many Spaniards now swear that this music box was created for Flamenco, by Flamenco musicians, when it was actually the famous guitar player, Paco de Lucia, who fell in love with this instrument in Peru, an introduced it to his national music.
This incredibly creative community is full of big names in sports, and two of the most beautiful Miss Peru are Afro-Peruvian. Businessmen, actors, writers, journalists, beauty queens… all are working together to build a better image and living conditions for their community that even though it’s small in comparison to other groups, has an very strong influence in our country and culture.
Turron de Doña Pepa
Ingredients for the Dough
1/2 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1/2 teaspoon achiote powder
Pinch of salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 cup vegetable shortening, very cold and cut in pieces
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted and ground
Ingredients for the Syrup
2 pieces of molasses
Rind of 1 orange
2 cups water
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Put anise seeds and achiote in a cup and pour boiling water over them. Put in the fridge until very cold.
3. In the working bowl of a food processor, pulse five or six times until everything looks like coarse oatmeal: flour, salt, shortening, and sesame seeds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add the water, tablespoon-by-tablespoon, mixing with a fork, until the dough holds together without being crumbly.
4. Divide in small portions (I used an ice cream scoop to have all the pieces the same size.)
5. Take a small portion of the dough and roll over a floured table, to form a long cylinder, like one finger thick and 10 inches long. Repeat with all the dough. Put the sticks in a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly golden.
6. Meanwhile, prepare the syrup: Chop the molasses and pour in a saucepan with the fruit, cinnamon, and cloves. Add water and bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and continue cooking, undisturbed, until it is thick and syrupy. Strain and let cool.
7. To Assemble: Cover a baking sheet with parchment. Take a quarter of the pastry sticks and put them in horizontal way, one next to the other. Cover with syrup. Make another layer of pastry sticks, now in vertical way, and again cover with syrup. Repeat with the rest of the sticks and syrup.
8. Pour syrup all over the turron, sprinkle with candies, and voilà! Your turron de doña Pepa is ready to go!