The Nicaraguan Piggy Bank

Have you ever wondered why the pig is associated with saving money? Some say the origin of the piggy bank was derived from the type of clay 15th century European potters used, called Pygg Clay. In the early 20th century, potters began to shape the clay in the form of pigs and people would save their loose coins in the pygg jars.

However, in Nicaragua, the piggy bank is literally a piglet. They call their pigs, the Bancos de Chanchitos, which means piggy banks. The Nicaraguans buy the piglets when they are 8 weeks old for about 800 cordobas ($30). Then, when they are 9 months old, they are ready to butcher for Christmas nacatamales and chicharrón, a dish generally made of fried pork rinds.

Earlier this year, we bought Marina one of Theresa’s piglets. The piglet is now 9 months old and ready to be butchered for nacatamales and chicharrón for the Christmas feast.
Raising piglets for Christmas dinner is a long tradition in Nicaragua.

The process starts with an hembra (female) in heat. Chela, Theresa’s huge hembra, is ready for Barracho the Boar.

IMG_0787 Continue reading

The Cultural Cooking Class

Last year, Cory and Sam spent 5 months in Los Ramos developing cultural tourism programs for OutMore Adventures.  They made brochures and a website for Los Ramos Tourism.
This year, the indigenous community of Los Ramos is embracing rural tourism and opening their homes to tourists so that they may experience a slice of daily life on Ometepe Island.
Since it was time for me to exchange my lending library books in Los Ramos, I decided to take their cultural cooking class. Oh, what a wonderful experience it was!!

Francisco’s mother displays all the ingredients for nacatamales.

IMG_2349Then, it was time to head into the banana plantation to pick the best banana leaves for wrapping the nacatamales. Along the way, Ever shows us the Guanacaste seeds…beautiful for making jewelry. The fruit surrounding the Guanacaste seed is also used as soap…just add water..and voila..clean clothes.
IMG_2352Rebecca carries ten perfect banana leaves back to the kitchen.
one1Ever shows us the outside bark of the banana plant that will be used to wrap the nacatamales. It’s called burreo…I think! We need to soak it in water, then rip it into small strips, like ribbon.
IMG_2362On the way to the kitchen, we stop to gather some achote…the prickly little brown balls. Inside are tiny red seeds we grind for flavoring the masa ( flour) for the nacatamales.
IMG_2373We also discovered that the achote seeds make a fine, natural lipstick.
IMG_2376Next, we peel, dice, and slice all the fresh vegetables for the nacatamales.
one2It looks like we are really into slicing carrots.
IMG_2381Francisco’s mother adds the onions to the grease. She gave us a choice of vegetable oil or homemade rendered pig lard. Of course, we chose the homemade pig lard.
IMG_2386Tina adds the achote flavored chicken. Most nacatamales are made with pork, but they hadn’t slaughtered a pig, so we made chicken nacatamales. I’m just glad we didn’t have to slaughter the chickens. They slaughtered them early in the morning.
IMG_2390She prepares rice for a topping of the nacatamales. And, the most amazing thing..she’s wearing the apron my mother made for her 2 years ago.
one3The chicken is ready. Rebecca stirs the masa harina, while a one-eyed dog, and 2 baby chicks peck around the dirt floor. Little Lupita, Fatima’s daughter, enjoys helping her mother and grandmother cook.
IMG_2396Rebecca gets to load her nacatamale first.
one4Then, we wrap it in a banana leaf..kind of tricky..and add the strips of banana bark to hold it all together.
IMG_2421Cory’s nacatamale wins the grand prize! Plus, it must weigh a ton!
IMG_2431Into the pot of boiling water they go.
IMG_2433Meanwhile, grandpa serenades Cory and Tina with a love song. 
IMG_2440Watch out! Steaming, hot nacatamales are on the way!
IMG_2447Boy, are we hungry! They smell rico!
IMG_2448My perfect nacatamale.
one5After a trip to visit the school, deliver my books and new school supplies, and a side trip to see our friends the brick makers, we head up the long hill to catch the bus back to La Paloma. The end of a perfect nacatamale day!

Two links from my blog:
1. Want to make Nacatamales? Check out the recipe here.
2. Want to learn more about rural tourism? Check out my post here.