Cachupa Memories

I decided to make some cachupa today. It’s a dish I grew up watching my mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother make. It’s basically a stew made with dried hominy, lima beans, collard greens and pork. Nothing fancy, but for me growing up, it was a delicacy that no gourmet dish from a five star restaurant could ever top.

I remember watching my great-grandmother, Bibi, sit at the table peeling a couple of garlic cloves and putting them into her small ‘pilon’ or mortar and pistle. She would add salt to the garlic and pound the mixture until it was a coarse, ground consistency. She would already have the pork cut into small pieces and used the garlic salt to “tempre” or season the meat. I remember her having the dried hominy in a large bowl of water overnight and then washing it several times then picking any pieces that didn’t look good. She did the same with the dried lima beans.

On the stove was a HUGE kettle that I probably could have fit into myself. In went the seasoned pork to “rafuga” (sauté) with olive oil, sliced onions and fodje de Loro (bay leaf). She would add water and let that come to a boil. The beans went in first then after a while, the hominy. While that was boiling she would cut some collard greens into small pieces, wash them and set them aside until it was time to add them to pot.

After what seem like an eternity, I had my bowl of cachupa in front of me, in complete bliss!

These days we’re accustomed to ready-made, drive thru foods. I am very guilty of the Uncle Ben’s microwave pouch of rice for dinner (often). But with that, you miss out on a huge process that’s more than cooking itself. I learned so much back then. As I watched my family cook, I learned my language and my culture. I learned about the “old country”. As I watched my grandmother, Vovo, make the “manse” or dough for gufunginho, cuscus, or rolinho, she and my great-grandmother might be talking about the latest news coming from Cham de Sousa, Tome Barraz and family from Pabason. I learned that there was some significance to times when they would talk about there being no rainfall, although I don’t think at the time I could have ever imagined the hunger and grief that was associated with their words.

Today you can find recipes for cachupa all over the internet, mostly for cachupa rica or rich cachupa. This is a variation from what I grew up with as it might contain a variety of beans, meats like linguica, and sweet potatoes, mandioca, and “batata ingles”. When I first heard of cachupa rica it hit me that cachupa may have represented how well a family was doing in Cabo Verde. Some years, harvests were good and you could afford the different meats and ingredients that went into the “rich” version of the dish. During years of famine and drought, you may have only had enough hominy and beans to make the “poor” version. Although I never heard anyone refer to a poor version, I can imagine that a whole family can be sustained for a while on the dried corn kernels and dried beans that can be made into a stew. During numerous droughts and famines, our families were able to sustain themselves and survive.

So as I prepare my cachupa today with hominy, lima beans and collard greens, I am thankful and feeling blessed for everything I have. It’s been 10 years since Bibi and Vovo passed but I still miss them as if it were yesterday. To them I say “Thank you and I will always love you”.

Do you have any cachupa stories? I would love to hear them!

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