Did you know that both Cuba and Puerto Rico also have a dessert called majarete?
Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico have more in common than all three realize, which leads to the occasional foolish accusation born out of ignorance (my own included) that one is appropriating the culture of another. We are here to help dispel some misconceptions.
A quick refresher for those who slept through history class:
The islands of Cuba, Quisqueya and Borinquen had something in common well before the Spaniards arrived in the Americas: all three islands were populated by the Taínos (Cuba also had the Ciboney people, who like the Taínos were Arawaks. The Caribs from Borinquen were not Arawaks though). There was constant island hopping, mostly peaceful exchanges, and in the case of the Caribs, violent incursions.
Migration between the islands took place over the centuries. For example, Santo Domingo (before becoming the Dominican Republic) was the main Spanish base in the Caribbean. It was from here that the conquest and colonization of both Borinquen and Cuba were launched.
Political unrest in any of the islands sent waves of immigrants to the others. In 1868, when Cuban nationalists launched a 10-year campaign against Spanish colonialism, some 5,000 Cubans emigrated to the Dominican Republic, which was already an independent country. This was an enormous number of people when you consider the size of the population at the time. These immigrants were for the most part educated and moneyed people, and they had a huge impact on the economy of the fledgling republic. Soon the official policy was to provide “aid and acceptance to all Cuban and Puerto Rican exiles who arrived through Puerto Plata in search of either refuge or support for their independence movement.”* The Dominican Republic went on to play an important role in Cuban independence.
Likewise, many a Dominican found refuge in Cuba and Puerto Rico when our own country went through periods of political upheaval. Movement between the islands continues even today: tens of thousands of Dominicans and Dominican descendants live in Puerto Rico and thousands of Cubans have made our country their second home. Joaquin Balaguer, one of the main figures in 20th century Dominican Republic, was himself the son of a Puerto Rican immigrant.
With so much moving around, and with so much of their history in common, it’s hard to track when and where some things originated. I once heard heard somebody call our countries “three sisters holding hands”. What makes us alike runs deeper than what makes us different. After all, our existence as modern, independent nations is a fairly recent occurrence.
The only thing that Puerto Rican majarete has in common with Dominican majarete is its name. Ours is closer to Cuba’s. Like many other dishes that we have in common it is entirely plausible that their origin predates the existence of our independent nations.
- 6 cobs of husked, fresh sweet corn
- ¾ cup of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
- 4 cups of whole milk
- ½ cup of water
- A pinch of salt
- 4 Cinnamon sticks
- A pinch of grated nutmeg (optional)
- Shuck (remove husk and silk from) the corncobs.
- Using a sharp knife cut kernels from cob about ⅔ the depth of the kernels.
- Blend the corn kernels together with the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon powder, milk, salt and water.
- Pass the mixture through a strain and keep the liquid (discard the solid parts).
- Pour into a 3 quart [3 lt] pot.
- Add a pinch of salt and the cinnamon sticks.
- Cook over over medium heat stirring constantly to avoid sticking.
- When it thickens to the consistency of yogurt remove from the heat (15 mins approx).
- Pour immediately into small bowls or ice cream glasses.
- Grate a small amount of nutmeg on the bowls.
- Cool to room temperature. Chill before serving.
*Source: The Dominican Republic: A National History by Frank Moya Pons, page 259.