One of the hardest parts about being away from my home and family is missing holidays and special occasions. Last year, Thanksgiving went ignored, Christmas was barely celebrated, and holidays like Memorial Day were completely forgotten. However, a wonderful part of living in Peru is that every other week there seems to be something to celebrate. Recently, we had Labor Day and Mother’s Day which I got to celebrate in big ways.
I woke up at 5 AM on Labor Day because my host mom had told me we were going to make Pachamanca and I did not want to miss one step of the process. I had eaten Pachamanca before, but I had never gotten to experience making it from start to finish and it was something I did not want to miss.
Pachamanca is a Quechua word meaning “Earth Pot” and is an Incan traditional dish that is representative of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and her fertility that brings life. The dish is the connection between mother (earth) and her son (produce). It is a combination of meats, vegetables, and legumes that are all cooked under rocks and earth to a mouthwatering perfection.
So, not wanting to miss out on this Incan tradition, I ran upstairs where I found my host mom already starting Pachamanca preparations. She handed me an apron and my work of peeling corn kernels off of cobs immediately began. Once I had de-corned all of our garden’s cobs, I was told to work with my host brother to put them into a grinder, mix them with sugar, and wrap them up in husks to be added to the ground to cook. I then continued wrapping all kinds of foods including guinea pig, chicken, pork, and potatoes into corn husks. The corn husks serve to keep the foods clean when they are buried under rocks and dirt to be cooked. As I was helping my host mom in the kitchen, the smells and the warmth of the day felt exactly like Thanksgiving morning, and nostalgia kicked in.
I started carrying the wrapped foods outside, where I found my host dad heating up large rocks in a fire. Once the rocks were hot enough, we began loading food into a hole with the sizzling rocks. First we added potatoes, then meats, followed by a layer of earth. We then added legumes and the corn mixture and a another layer of earth. Eventually stalks of different herbs and eucalyptus were added to the pile before my host dad started coving the pile with packed mud until no heat was escaping. My important job was to keep time. After 45 minutes, we dug the foods out and they were cooked perfectly.
It was quite the experience and an incredible meal! Next week is my host brother’s birthday and he wants to make Pachamanca again! I will be an expert by the time I come home!