Fall is the time of year when I especially miss my family back in Texas. Just about every Thanksgiving when I was a kid, my parents would pack me and my sister and brother in the car and drive south from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley, where my parents grew up and both sets of grandparents lived. My grandmothers were wonderful cooks, though my Grandma Chenda (short for Rosenda) was the one who taught my mom (her daughter-in-law) how to cook.
When I'd burst through my Grandma Chenda's screen door to greet her, she would usually be standing in front of the white cast-iron stove in her kitchen cooking tortillas for everyone. She would make stacks and stacks of them, all lined up in rows on aluminum foil, ready to be wrapped up and handed out to her children and grandchildren. Of course I had to sneak one warm from the stack as soon as I got there.
Another one of my grandmother's specialties was sweet empanadas, pastries that she filled with pumpkin, sweet potato, or sweetened refried beans. I liked to sit at the kitchen table and watch her roll out the dough and then carefully crimp the edges with a fork after she had spooned in a bit of filling. I don't think I can describe how wonderful they were. The dough was lightly sweet and so soft, and the filling, hot from the oven, was almost caramelized and steamed so that I had to blow out a cooling stream of air around the bite. But of course I couldn't wait for them to cool down. For me, the aroma of pumpkin and cinnamon and allspice from the filling is the essence of fall--and my grandmother's love.
A few years ago I asked my Tia [Aunt] Minnie for grandma's recipe, and she sent me the following recipes. I'm happy to share them with you.
[My aunt writes: "The recipe was used by Mother."]
1 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees) [I ended up adding about 1 cup of water]
1/4 cup shortening [My grandmother used lard or Crisco. I use canola oil.]
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Dissolve yeast in water; set aside. [I added a little bit of sugar to feed the yeast beasts.]
2. Cut shortening into all dry ingredients.
3. Mix the dissolved yeast and water with the dry ingredients until you have a stiff dough. More water may be needed.
4. Do not let the dough rise. Roll it out thinly. Cut with round cutter, depending upon the size of empanadas preferred.
5. Place a small mound of filling in the center of the circle. Moisten half of the edge of the dough and fold over to make a half-moon shape. Tightly seal the pastry with a fork dipped in flour. [The recipe didn't mention baking temperature or time. I baked the empanadas for 20-22 minutes at 400 degrees on an ungreased baking sheet until outside was browned and filling bubbled.]
For the filling, I boiled about six small sweet potatoes and two apples from our CSA share with a cinnamon stick until soft. I removed the cinnamon stick and mashed the drained mixture with a hand mixer and added about 2 tablespoons Earth Balance natural buttery spread (you can use butter instead), about 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, and a dash of salt. It was just lightly sweet.
Here's the filling recipe my aunt gave me, along with her dough recipe, which I haven't tried yet.
Empanadas de Calabaza (Pumpkin Empanadas)
[My aunt writes: "I use beer instead of yeast. I like it. Aunt Minnie." My aunt's hand-written notes are the best part of the recipes for me!]
2 (16 oz) cans pumpkin
2 cups sugar
1 (2 inch) stick cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shortening
3/4 cup beer
Combine: first six ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan; bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. Simmer one hour or until thickened, stirring often. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Let pumpkin mixture cool.
Combine: flour and salt. Cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Make a well in the center of mixture.
Add: beer, stirring with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened. Shape into a ball. Flour hands and shape into 1/2 inch balls; roll or flatten to 1/2 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Let stand 30 minutes. Roll each dough round into a 4 inch circle. Place about 3 tablespoons pumpkin mixture in center of each circle and fold pastry in half. Moisten edge with water and press with fork to seal. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake at 400 degrees for 18 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen
Let me know if you try out the recipes. I'll be heading to Texas for Thanksgiving, and I'm hoping to have some "real" empanadas baked by the pros. Both of my grandmothers have passed away, but my mother and aunts have thankfully preserved their recipes and kept these traditions alive.
*Added later: Don't want the hassle or calories of making edible empanadas? CraftyChica posted an easy-to-folow tutorial for a felt empanada pincushion here.