Food Culture, Ingredients

Lima’s Winter and Mazamorra, Purple Corn Pudding.

Purple Corn (Photo: Wayra)

A Symphony of scents is let loose when mazamorra finds its way to the table of those awaiting it.  Its infinity of fruity flavors, mixed with spices, create a harmonious unity.  At the same time, the dried fruits get lost in the thick texture and dark color of this fabulous desert.  All of these virtues make it a true marvel of the culinary arts.

Its thick texture, purple color, and intense flavor result from boiling the whole cob with kernels of purple corn for an hour along with a variety of dried fruit and subtle spices such as cinnamon and cloves.  While the spices, corn and fruit, give it flavor, its texture comes from potato starch, what in Peru is called harina de chuño.  The dish is finished with a dash of ground cinnamon.

During the winter of Lima when the skies are gray and it often drizzles, cold seems omnipresent.  As a consequence, the city’s people have developed a large number of warm deserts to combat the cold.  But the most popular of all for this season is the famous mazamorra morada, or purple pudding.

It is found in almost any restaurant, dessert vendor, and on the roadways as well as in the city’s plazas.  In some cases it can even be found on neighborhood street corners.

Purple Corn and Flavorings Cooked in Water (PHoto Alberto Coraza Taco)
Purple Corn and Flavorings Cooked in Water (PHoto Alberto Coraza Taco)

It was on street corners that the commerce in this dessert began.  Since its ingredients are not very expensive and it is easy to make, housewives would make it and take it into the streets at night.  They would offer it at a low price and, as a result, its acceptance by the population did not take long at all.  It was strongly received to such an extent that the people of Lima began to be called “limeños mazamorreros”, “Mazamorra Limans”.

Just like every Peruvian dessert mazamorra has a story to tell.  In Spain there was a nasty preparation that was given as food to prisoners, those kept in a mazmorra (prison).  It was a mixture of wheat flower with water and very thick.  It was particularly disagreeable since it had not flavor nor scent.  Yet the prisoners had to down it in order to survive; it was called by the Spanish name of the prison.

When the Spanish came to Peru they found this dark colored dessert of thick texture and they associated it with the name of the spanish paste because of the apparent similarity they found between it and the nasty paste they gave to prisoners.  In spite of its negative associations,  the name became popular although like good creoles, the Peruvians modified it so that it would sound better.  They now called it mazamorra.

Purple corn is its principle ingredient.  Though now very recognized, this colored corn was not always so valued.  It used to be taken as an error of nature because it was not white or golden like the ears of normal corn.  For that reason it was not used in any preparation.  But the moras, a people of very low social status who had very little money, used it to cook with since it was cheap.  It was also given away in the markets along with the entrails of animals.

Normally no one would consume these.  However, people with creativity, such as those on the low end of colonial society, created many succulent dishes and, as a result came to be the authors of many of the most famous dishes of Peruvian cuisine.

Mazamorra Morada (Photo Alberto Coraza Taco)
Mazamorra Morada (Photo Alberto Coraza Taco)

On seeing that nobody used the purple corn, the moras with their great creativity began to use it in various concoctions.  Thus they created the mazamorra morada.  Given its great flavor it became well known.

In addition, the moras worked in the homes of the Spaniards and, as a result, began to add to the mazamorra morada dried fruits such as peaches, raisins, and prunes  as well as spices imported from Spain.  All of these were found in the cupboards of Spanish homes and improved the dessert.  However, the dessert was prepared with the Peruvian ingredients cornstarch and quick lime, called in quechua ishkupcha.

As of today, Peruvian cuisine has created different varieties of mazamorras, such as peach, orange, molasses, and pumpkin.  This latter has a particularly intense flavor.  Typically, mazamorra morada is served in combination with a rice pudding.  They are served side by side, and not mixed, resulting in an incredible combination of flavors.

The reputation of mazamorra morada has grown throughout our history.  Today it is found in almost all the menus of pastry shops and restaurants, although as in the past it is still sold from the beautiful wooden carts of viceregal design.  The carts offer it in all the plazas of Lima on weekends.  The dessert is also present in all the fairs and festivals of Lima.  Of course it has a starring role in the most important food festival of South America, Mistura, carried out once a year for a whole week.  There everyone who wishes can try varieties of this amazing Peruvian dessert.

The purple corn from which Mazamorra morada is made has traveled from Peru to many other countries, thanks to international exchanges.  Its image has been reinforced because of its great nutritional value and because it has many important properties for maintaining good health.  It now reaches all the countries of South America, Central American and North America as well as Europe and Asia.  It was even used by the astronauts because it is a nutritious food.  They drank it in the form of the famous chicha morada.

Nevertheless, it is an ancient food with roots in Peru and it is still found on the tables of all Peruvians.  They hope to share its greatness with anyone who desires to try it.

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