What’s the big deal with the large “Ensaimada”?

Ate Talia, the housekeeper, was not a popular figure in Lola Charing’s household.  Pare Bits [ who performed the functions of a majordomo ] nicknamed her “Petracoma” [ derived from “Metrocom,” the police in the Marcos Era 😛 ] because she was consistently disagreeable to everyone. She even had the gall to disagree with the boss, Lola Charing.

Natalia Ochengco Padilla was a daughter of the legendary patissier of Old Sulipan, Juan Padilla, who invented the delicious Pampango dessert called “Pasta Juan” [ basically grated “macapuno,” heavily buttered and sugared, on puff pastry ].

She was always baking something.  Her desserts were as sweet and heavenly as she was sour and angst-ridden.  Almost everyday by her angsty lonesome, she churned out all sorts of pastry delights that were stored at the ready for the many visitors of Lola Charing, usually in the afternoons…

Ate Talia made especially good large “ensaimadas”… The real Arnedo ones formulated by Old Juan Padilla:  they were like French brioches, crusty on the outside and soft in the inside, with croissant-like layers.  They were drizzled with pork lard.  Sometimes, the fat of the Chinese “Hoc Shiu” ham was even used.  Then they were slathered with brushfuls of salted “Anchor” butter [ nobody knew what unsalted butter was in those days ].  Add cups of sugar and handfuls of “Pina” “queso de bola” for “pupug” and you absolutely had it made!!!   Yummy!!!   🙂   🙂   🙂

But those blasted large “ensaimadas” were difficult to make!!!  We kids used to snicker and mimic as we watched Ate Talia huff and puff breathlessly as she tirelessly kneaded, threw, and beat the “ensaimada” dough repeatedly on the kitchen table.  We likened her to the wolf in the “Three Little Pigs” fairy tale:  “And ‘she’ huffed, and ‘she’ puffed, and ‘she’ blew the house down!!!”  Afterwards, the “ensaimada” doughs would be left to rise for eight hours.  We kids would sometimes stick our fingers through the rising “ensaimadas” just to irritate Ate Talia.  After the “ensaimadas” had been baked, slathered with [ salted 😛 ] “Anchor” butter, and “pupug” sprinkled with “queso de bola” and sugar, we kids would sit down on the round dining table as she distributed the oven-fresh “ensaimada” slices.  “No, I want a whole one.” I demanded.  So I got one.  But the bad thing about us kids was that we only ate the top part with the cheese and the sugar!!!  The older kids were more conscientious and asked for more cheese and sugar so that they could consume the rest of their slices, but the rest of us simply left ours on the table and ran off to play…   😛   😛   😛

Happily enough in later years, we cousins developed such big appetites that we could all consume one large “ensaimada” in one sitting.  So we were able to compensate for those past sins.

In those days, no one knew what triglycerides were, and even if they did, nobody gave a damn!!!

But if it was a special treat for most people, it was, truthfully, the everyday for me.  We had all sorts of special goodies to eat at Lola Charing’s everyday:  the refrigerators and freezers were crammed chockfull with all sorts of goodies:  “Sans Rival,” Princess Cake, Brunn butter cake, “ensaimadas,” “borrachos,” “canonigo,” “brazo de mercedes,” carabao milk “leche flan,” carabao milk “tibuc-tibuc” [ “maja blanca” ], the clearly superior Sulipan “tocino del cielo,” “food for the gods,” fruit cakes, “biscocho principe” [ toasted butter cake ], “biscocho de cana,” panaritas, caramel tarts, date bars, butterscotch bars, “barquillos,” Lucban “brojas” from Lola Nena Gala, “duman” [ young rice ] from the Nueva Ecija farms, “turrones de casoy” from Santa Rita, Pampanga, “boboto” and “tamales” from Cabalantian, Bacolor, small but exquisite “puto at cuchinta” from Sulipan, “pastillas de leche” from San Miguel, Bulacan, “mazapan de pili” from Bicol, Pampango biscuits like San Nicolas, Roscas, Binli, Iloilo “hojaldres” from Lola Gely Lopez, the traditional Arnedo iced delights which only Pare Bits could make:  their light and airy “buco lychee” sherbet [ for which Brother Andrew tasked Pare Bits to look for the whitest of white lychees all over Chinatown; the buco also had to be fresh and very young 😛 ], the rich, rich “dayap” – tinged, butter and milk-flavored “mantecado” ice cream, their traditional “atis” ice cream of carabao’s milk [ which took a whole day to prepare as the staff separated the atis flesh from the seeds one by one with forks, spoons, and knives ], and a peach ice cream from a PreWar Lichauco recipe.  Specifically for Brother Andrew, there was always “Selecta” “Macapuno” ice cream, which we kids disliked simply because it was always there:  “That again???”  We kids preferred the pedestrian “Chocolate,” “Strawberry,” and “Tutti Frutti” flavors from “Magnolia” because they were… colorful!  There was never any “Mango” ice cream though, because Lola Charing was allergic to that fruit and she always broke out in spots whenever she ingested it in any form.  There were also lots of fresh fruits…

June of every year produced a harvest of Thai rambutans from the three mature trees in the garden, way before rambutans or rambutan trees were available in Manila; Lolo Augusto’s Baliuag cousin, Professor Leon Gonzalez of UP Los Banos, had secretly brought the seeds from Thailand in the 1950s and had given them to Lola Charing, whom he knew to be an avid plantswoman.  In one stunning horticultural feat, Lola Charing managed to raise an American pear tree right in her garden and make it bear fruit!  Ironically, it finally bore fruit just before she died in May 1977; the precious uneaten pear remained in her bedroom at the house as she lay dying at the UST Hospital.

Of course, there were the standard Chinese goodies like “hopia,” “kundol,” “dikiam,” “ampao,” “pilipit,” etc..

Despite the strict import controls during Martial Law, Lola Charing still stocked her English “Jacob” biscuits, Danish butter cookies, Fig Newtons, “See’s” chocolates and “Almond Roca” from Lola Jeannette in San Francisco, “turron alicante” from Spain, “marrons glaces” [ sweetened chestnuts ] from France, and expensive chocolates from Belgium.  She still had all sorts of French, Italian, and American candies…

They were forever cooking and baking in those kitchens!  And those weren’t even the special comestibles laid out during family occasions!!!  It was where the money was really spent [ as Brother Andrew admitted later on 😛 ], not on property acquisitions, blue chip stocks, mutual funds, significant jewelry, luxury travel, fine clothes.  Just on Food.  Great Food.  We were Capampangans after all.  And we had the Rubensesque figures to prove it!!!   🙂

As Tito Ado Escudero repeatedly declares to all and sundry:  “These Gonzalezes have the best kitchens in the Philippines!!!”  Perhaps true, more than a hundred years ago, when the three interrelated families of Old Sulipan — the Arnedo, the Escaler, and the Gonzalez — were the first to shine collectively with their gustatory excesses in the Philippine culinary scene.  Since then, there have been so many other families, Pampango and otherwise, who have created similar reputations.  Nowadays, I would rather simply say:  “These Gonzalezes liked to eat very well!!!”   🙂   🙂   🙂



  1. nettie801 said,

    February 22, 2008 at 2:42 am

    sooo yummy… i could relate to this story… i kinda know the “bida” here… used to see Imang Talia and sisters at a very young age, Imang Talia’s nephew ( Bert Padilla ) is married to my aunt… cannot forget the “binli,” “san nicolas,” their yummy “pandesal” at their “panaderia.” also, my father always talked about their “Pasta Juan”… as I was a regular visitor of their house because of their pastries… yummm… they still make “san nicolas” but they are not the same size and shape anymore but still taste the same…

  2. November 16, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Cousin Paz:

    Careful… as some wag said: “A moment on the lips… a lifetime on the hips!!! *lolsz!*

    Toto Gonzalez

  3. Paz Atienza said,

    November 16, 2006 at 6:05 am

    Just reading this ensaimada story makes me hungry! As I would always say… “Indulge! Forget the bulge!”

  4. August 25, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Then you and I will have to go back in time!!!
    Bwahahahahah!!! 😛 😛 😛

  5. Ivan Henares said,

    August 25, 2006 at 3:30 am

    Yummy! So when will you invite us to an Arnedo feast? 🙂

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