By Susana Madera
Guano, Ecuador, Jul 18 (EFE).- Guano, a magical town in the Ecuadorian Andes, wakes each morning to the smell of hot bread, the “cholas” that have just come out of the oven, an aroma full of history and tradition surrounding the preparation of the pastries that were recently declared to be part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage.
The pastries made of wheat flour and filled with brown sugar, traditionally baked over a wood fire, were first prepared in 1901 when an intense drought in the Guano River basin forced many peasant families to migrate to the southern part of Chimborazo province.
Taking advantage of the abundance of wheat in the Tixan zone, Mariana Jaramillo Vallejo began baking and selling bread using a recipe to which starting in 1902 she added brown sugar, the unique element for the “cholas.”
By mixing white and wholemeal flour, she broke the prevailing molds of the time and of the colonial legacy, which were to sell white flour bread to the white or mestizo families and to use wholemeal flour for bread for the lower classes.
According to the Culture and Heritage Ministry, Jaramillo, who returned to Guano in 1905, was trying symbolically to end the social differences of the era by mixing the two flours, along with salt dough and a sweet filling.
This technique of “mixing” or “cholaje” has been passed down from generation to generation, with bakers starting their work early in the morning, as they have for ages, while also incorporating the most modern technology to knead and bake the dough.
The ingredients include flour, eggs, lard, water, yeast, sugar, salt, natural coloring, brown sugar filling and a “secret ingredient” that enriches the main product turned out in Guano, “Ecuador’s handicraft capital.”
The name of the pastry comes from the “Chola o bolsicona,” a half-indigenous peasant woman who had “bolsas” (bags or pockets) in her skirts containing sweets for the local children.
Catalina Tello, the executive director of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage, said that certifying the time-honored preparation of the cholas is the first step in getting them onto the list of the country’s cultural heritage and then later nominating them as part of the cultural heritage of mankind.
“It’s a living expression, completely integrated into society,” Tello told EFE in Guano, located three hours by road from Quito.
More than a simple mixture of ingredients, Guano’s cholas are an accumulation of knowledge. It’s a living memory and one of the mainstays for those who are interested in culinary tastes and learning, Culture Minister Maria Elana Machuca told EFE.
The minister – who was born in Riobamba, capital of Chimborazo province, where Guano is located – said that the cholas represent “childhood and sweetness” to her, a taste that transcends one’s territorial connections, while to Tello they evoke “house and home,” although she was born in Cuenca, five hours to the south of Guano.
Belgica Gonzalez Cadena, an in-law of the Jaramillos, said that for her the cholas mean “family,” and with the knowledge that she inherited from her mother-in-law she’s been making the pastry for 25 years, sometimes selling 1,000 cholas in a single day.
Preparing the pastries takes at least three hours, Gonzalez told EFE, and the oven must be heated to 180 C (about 360 F).
Eighty-year-old Jose Ortiz told EFE that the proper heat for the oven can be determined merely by sticking one’s hand into it, although he does use a sophisticated Swiss clock to time the baking process and determine exactly when to remove the pastries.
“It’s (a) delicate (process),” said Ortiz, laughing.
Guano, due to its history, culture and natural and handicraft wealth, in 2020 was designated one of Ecuador’s “magical towns.”