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Things We Take for Granted – Meat

By Angel Nuñez
The other day as I was opening a can of corned beef for a quick lunch, I recollected the times when my brother and I used to fight for the rights to open the can of corned beef in the 1950’s. Why such a big deal you might ask!  Well I am talking about a time in San Pedro’s history when there was no kind of meat on the island, at least not as frequent as today, nor the variety and it was not readily available like driving over to the meat shop and obtaining your supply of meat.

Indeed I am talking about a time when fish formed the main menu seven days a week and that is morning, noon and evening. To tell the truth the mothers who were the housewives had to be innovative and creative in order to have it appear that there was variety in the menu.  There was fried fish, and there was fish fillet also fried.  A favorite on a daily basis was fish in soup with red recado also called “Chechac”.  Sometimes there was a clear fish soup with oregano, some lime and lots of olive oil.  A delicacy was baked fish.  Dry corned fish was smoked directly over Charcoal, and sometimes over the grill.  Boiled fish was also served with boiled ripe plantains all fixed up with lots of fresh coconut oil sort of like a guacamole.

Things We Take for Granted – Meat

No we have not finished the menu.  There was smoked fish and then hashed.  Any leftover fish was also hashed and fixed up with lots of onions and coconut oil and as I say this my mouth begins to water. Then there were fried snappers and served “escabeche” style.  You do know the escabeche, right? It’s the sour soup with tons of onions.  Very often we consumed thousands of potential fishes when we enjoyed the fish roe (hueba) which mom boiled, smashed it and fried it with onions and eggs. Whenever we knew there was “hueba” for the table, we were circling the table one hour before dinnertime. Of course the sharks or barracudas made excellent hashed fish for the famous empanadas also called panades in creole. Want to know how we ate the bonefish? Fish balls with rice and beans or fish balls in soup called “tortas de macabi”.  I’ll pause for now or I run the risk of going straight to the lagoon to catch some bonefish.

Things We Take for Granted – Meat

Now that you have seen the varied fish menu which our diligent mothers used to prepare, you will understand that at some point we did yearn for something different- a little meat or poultry. Therefore whenever the word went around: “Van a matar un cochino manaña”, the villagers became excited, except for the Adventists.  Oh, by the way my Spanish sentence means that a pig would be killed the following day. Immediately dad would go and place an order for some meat and chicharon of course. The following day, there was a line of villagers waiting for the meat to be processed and sold.  By the way, it sold at 40 cents a pound. Later in the day when the pork skin had been fried to make the delicious chicharon, the villagers got their quarter pound or half pound each because the owner of the pig rationed it so that everyone of his friends and villagers got a little taste. Hurrah! There was pork in the village and it was like a celebration.  The following day would be fried fish once again.

Things We Take for Granted – Meat

Now you really understand why we fought for the rights to open the can or corned beef. After a long time of eating fish and nobody would kill a pig, it was time for mom to send us to the store with 50 cents to purchase a can of corned beef. This would immediately set the alarm that we would have corned beef soup on Sunday. This was our “Sunday Special”!  You know the real reason why children fought over the privilege to open the can or corned beef was for the opportunity to dip their little fingers into the juicy meat and have a taste of it even before the midday meal.

I think you got the picture.  Twenty five years ago meat was scarce, very scarce, and its arrival to our tables was reason to celebrate.  For me it was bigger than my birthday which, by the way, was never celebrated.  But that is another good story for later. 

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