Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taste Memory - Bolivian Saltenas

Bolivian Saltenas* - my elusive taste memory

* Sorry, I have tried to make the enye, the letter 'n' with a tilde over it, but it keeps disappearing.

First, a little introductory explanation about this post:

Last Friday, Mary, in her 'Frugal Floozie Friday post' about Bella Italia, mentioned 'taste memory.' Be sure to read the entire article, if you haven't already. In the meantime, here's an excerpt which Mary kindly gave me permission to quote:

'The owners [of Bella Italia] are a young couple who have perfected and replicated the Dandy Pizza experience precisely.  Dandy's was a pizzeria on Whitney Avenue run by a Sicilian family who spoke no English, but knew what you were ordering.  My sister said she has been searching for 40 years to find the taste and here it was in Ann Arbor.  This was confirmed by another neighborhood resident who now lives here and confirmed our assessment.

Ah, taste memory - that oh, so elusive and indefinable entity that is rarely satisfied!'

Quoting Mary again in a follow-up email, (isn't she a fantastic writer!!)

'Taste memory is so elusive, so tenuous, and yet so very real. We all remember favorite foods, first foods, special foods; and try as we may to recreate them, sometimes we simply can't. Ingredients change, equipment changes, we change ... but we have that absolute certainty of what we remember. The Ebinger's Blackout Cake is a famous example - a deep, dense chocolate cake from Brooklyn that was mourned (like the Dodgers!) when the bakery went out of business. For decades, people have been trying to recreate it, tinkering, testing, tasting. One will think it's right, another argues vehemently that it's missing something. There's really no way to touch that memory, and all that's wrapped up in it - there's so much more to it than just taste. But it's fun to try, and it's definitely a way for people to bond and pass along their history ....'

As I was reading her Frugal Floozie Friday post, the words 'taste memory' penetrated my brain. I momentarily drifted off to the Andes Mountains, to the delicious saltenas I had loved many years ago when I spent a year in Bolivia as a short term assistant with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Saltenas, which I believe originated in Bolivia, could be purchased on street corners in Cochabama, where I was living at the time. They were simply delicious, unlike any other meat pie I'd ever eaten.

But when I tried to recreate saltenas at home some years later, something was missing. I don't know if it was that unique Bolivian recipe or the setting - that dry air of the Andes Mountains, or being in a foreign country, surrounded by all the other sights, smells, and sounds of a city in South America - that made them unique. Whatever it was that had made the taste of that wonderful Bolivian saltena - was not replicated in my kitchen in Wisconsin.

 Guanajuato, Mexico

And then I thought of another type of 'taste memory,' i.e. being instantly transported back to a place and time you weren't even thinking about before you took that bite. I don't remember now where it was, but I remember eating salsa somewhere several years ago, and all of the sudden, for a fleeting moment, I was in Mexico with friends in a particular restaurante in Guanajuato. And it happened only that once. Maybe it was the salsa, but maybe it was ambient sounds - voices, music, or the air temperature, the relative humidity, etc. etc. Who knows! But there, for a second, I felt Guanajuato.

So, my question to you, Cranberry Morning reader, is: Have you had either experience? 

a) Trying to recreate a taste you remember      


 b) Tasting something that suddenly transports you to a memory of another place and time

Please tell us about it. We'd love to hear!

And just in case anyone is curious about what's in a Bolivian Saltena, here is a recipe I found at  I may actually give it another try, just in case it works this time...


Salteñas, Bolivian, Recipe:


"(50 salteñas)


1 cup lard or margarine
1 cup ground spicy red pepper (cayenne) mixed with water
½ tablespoon ground cumin
½ tablespoon black ground pepper
½ tablespoon crumbled oregano
1½ tablespoon salt
2 cups white onion, cut into small cubes
1½ cups green onion, finely chopped
3 pounds lean meat, cut into small cubes
1 cup potato, peeled, cooked, and cut into small cubes
½ cup cooked green peas
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tablespoon vinegar
½ cup parsley, finely chopped
2 spoonfuls unflavored gelatin dissolved in 3 cups water
½ black olive per salteña
3 raisins per salteña
1 slice of boiled egg per salteña


  1. In a casserole add the margarine and the spicy red pepper. Set to boil over high heat until the margarine separates from the pepper. Next add cumin, ground black pepper, oregano, and salt. Let cook for ten minutes over low heat so that the mixture does not stick. Stir constantly. Next add the white onion and let it cook for five more minutes. Finally add the green onion.
  2. Remove the casserole from the heat, add the sugar, vinegar, parsley, potato and cooked peas.
  3. In another casserole add the three gelatin cups. Let it cook over high heat and as soon as it starts to boil, add the meat. Mix quickly and remove from the heat.
  4. Mix the first preparation with the gelatin and meat. Let it cool in the refrigerator one night or until it thickens. If wanted, add the olives, raisins and egg before it thickens or add them directly on the dough when preparing the salteñas.


12 cups flour
1½ cups lard or margarine (boiling)
6 whole eggs
½ cup sugar
3 teaspoons salt
2¼ cups lukewarm water (more or less)


  1. Sift the flour in a bowl and add the boiling lard or margarine. Mix quickly with a wood spoon. Let it cool for a few minutes and add the eggs, the sugar and lukewarm water with salt. Knead until getting a dry dough. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel  and let it rest for ten minutes.
  2. Divide all the dough into fifty small balls and thin them out one by one with a roller, until getting round-shaped pieces (about ¼ of and inch thick by 5 inches of diameter).
  3. On each round-shaped piece put a spoonful of the filling with the olive, raisins and egg, if these ingredients were not mixed before.
  4. Dampen the edges of each piece with water, fold each one and join the edges very well so that each salteña is closed perfectly. Leave the closing on top.
  5. Put salteñas, on a backing sheet sprinkled with flour. Place each salteña separate from the next one.  Bake them at a high temperature (European oven: 300 C.; American oven  572 F.) between seven to ten minutes. Serve them warm.
NOTE 1: If desired, paint salteñas before baking them. In a frying pan add 6 spoonfuls of lard or margarine, 2 spicy red peppers (ground), 4 spoonfuls of water and a teaspoon of salt. Mix the ingredients and cook them over low heat until the water evaporates. Remove the mixture from the heat and paint each salteña with a kitchen brush.
NOTE 2: If desired, you can substitute meat with chicken, or you can combine both."


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Joyce said...

I don't think I've ever tasted these but can definitely relate to the concept of taste memory. I'm going to think about that one...I have several.

Sandra said...

bob and I discuss "taste memories" a lot. we both remember together what our mothers cooked, and how it tasted and the fact when we eat it now it does not compare to what we remember.
i believe it is because the pie crust had crisco in it the cakes had crisco in them, the fruit pies had fruit that was fresh picked not grown and shipped. one taste memory is the first time i ate pizza was at age 16 at my friend Madelines home. i thought it was devine. and it was the ones that come in a box and are made at home.
i also have Smell memories, i will smell something and say that is my grandmother Mommies smell. it is that powder that is still on some shelves, in a black and gold and white paisley round box

Unknown said...

Love this post, Judy! And yes, isn't Mary great? Love the conversations I have with her.
Ahhhh.. taste memory - what a great memory to have. One of my biggest taste memories is of my grandmother's mac and cheese. Sounds silly because mac and cheese is so easy, but I've tried to recreate hers and it just never is exact.. it's like she had one little tiny secret ingredient she forgot to tell me about!!

Judy S. said...

Taste memories: Mom's gravy and Gammy's chocolate pie! Mine never taste the same. Wow, a cup of red pepper in that recipe!

Just caught up on your blog...loved the little clutch purses. Your Slovenly Peter reminded me of Mrs Piggle Wiggle. Did you get all the rain that hit Duluth? We experienced it traveling to my sister's cabin where they got over 4 inches. No damage though. The trip back to Cambridge was interesting too. Lots of road closures.

Ruth Kelly said...

I clearly know how you feel about mourning the closing of a bakery that had a specialty of chocolate croisants. I have never found any place since that can make the same wonderful croisant.

kathy b said...

I am so very excited you mentioned Guanojuato. My son is leaving to study abroad there for 6 months, soon. It looks lovely. :)

Yenta Mary said...

It's like that moment in "Ratatouille" when Anton Ego is instantly transported to his childhood (I won't say more, for those who should have seen the movie by now but haven't!) ... we all have that dish that could overcome decades and miles and loss. And yet, how often do we experience it??? It's so, so rare. But it's fun to try, to keep tinkering (like Jenn with her grandma's mac 'n' cheese), because we remember even when we don't quite get it right. This is one way to keep our loved ones and our histories alive. I'm loving reading all the comments and memories!

As for the saltenas - they're like a mix of pasty and picadillo, and sound fabulous! A labor of love, like making pierogi or tamales ....

Heide at ApronHistory said...

Can't say I have any tase memories.... But I do remember having a smell memory once, I don't remember what I smelled, but it flashed me back in time!

Amy Burzese said...

I have them, but mostly I have smell memories. My greatest smell memory is the smell of freshly shelled field peas when they go in the water to cook. Reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen in the summer when she was canning and freezing from the garden. Another smell memory is the smell of summer in the evening. Honeysuckle, mowed grass and that "smell" of humidity in the south. And, of course, the buzz of that pesky mosquito. I guess I completely changed the subject.

Denise said...

Thanks for sharing.

Lois Christensen said...

I definitely have a taste memory. It's my grandmother's homemade pizza and try as I may I have never even come close to the deliciousness that was her pizza. The smell alone was to die for. We only visited with my Italian grandmother one week every other year and we lived for her pizza. She would make them and freeze them for us and all she had to do was pull from the freezer and cook. I really miss that pizza. Great post.

Chatty Crone said...

Wow - this has a lot to think about here. I don't think I have ever tasted or made these. They looked good.

Now do I have tastes from the past or memories from the past. I am sure I do. I just can't remember right now.

What about smells - do you pass somewhere and it reminds your of another time?


Carla from The River said...

My Grandma Martha made poppyseed and prune rolls. They were amazing! I miss her. The memories of making rolls with her will always be with me.

Eileen said...

I have a wonderful taste memory that you might like. As a child living in the north of England, I loved bilberry pie. Having lived in Wales most of my life, I have never seen bilberry pies here. I looked on the good old internet to find out about bilberries and found this

"Bilberry Pie is a classic British pie loved throughout the North of England particularly in Yorkshire.
Bilberries are a delicious fruit found growing wild in the north and west of the British Isles on high ground. The season for them is very short between August and September. The raw fruits are a little acidic but when cooked with sugar become a delicious, deep-flavored fruit perfect for pies and for jams."


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