The "Plantitas Guarantee"
"Let's go see my garden" is one of the things that I can almost guarantee I will hear when I visit homes and interview Salvadoran women who are mothers, grandmothers and the culinary brains of their homes. There are of course a few exceptions, but for the most part if we meet in their home, we somehow always manage chatting about their garden and make our way outside to look at the collection of flowers, fruits and greens. Sometimes the gardens are small in containers, planters and window sills inside their homes.
It's absolutely endearing and it reminds me that preserving customs and traditions is a practice. It's something you have to make time for, something you value and cherish and so you make it a priority.
For most of the women I've interviewed, cooking is a must because you have to eat. Storytelling is a bridge to relationships, it's the thing we do to connect, to belong. Growing food, and having a garden, that, is something for the soul - 'es parte de mi ser.' Growing plantitas, taking care of them and eating them is special kind of relationship to the land. It's how we connect to our deepest roots.
The most precious thing about it is the moment they finally show me the native plants from El Salvador, that by some trick they pulled up their sleeve, manage to bring it back from the motherland and grow it here in Southern California.
One of the plantitas that I keep bumping into is Chipilin. In the kitchen, it's often found in soups, tamales, arroz aguado, frijoles, pupusas and all kinds of meat dishes. It's considered to be one of 16 most important species of edible leaves in the world due its high content in calcium, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid. It's a super good-for-you plant, with an earthy flavor but should never be eaten raw, only cooked. Fun fact - it's actually banned in Australia.
Cooking and gathering around the table is a part of the Salvadoran kitchen, but equally as important is the practice of growing food. Let's not forget to also cultivate (pun intended) a love for where food and our existence begins, in the soil, in the garden.