Cooking has always been one of my favorite activities. The scents, colors and flavors of a well run kitchen have a way of creating lasting memories or flooding our senses with the joys of days gone by.
One of my first memories of Yemayá comes from a dark night by the beach; I can recall the ocean breeze, the drums, and the flickering images of people dancing around a bonfire. Out of nowhere she came, a cloud of billowing blue skirts seemed to surround me for I was still a little girl and she seemed so tall to me. Yemayá looked down at me, our eyes locked and I felt as though nothing mattered but the darkness of her eyes and her smile. She then placed a piece of coconut candy in my wide opened mouth, for I was entranced by her and stood feet rooted on the sand. She said, “Eat, it is good for you omokekere emí.” She was gone as fast as she came surrounded by an entourage of people carrying a calabash of water and plates molasses and coconut candy, and I was left chewing on a very tasty piece of her favorite adimú adún (sweet offering).
She stole my heart right on the spot, so much I had not forgotten this memory in nearly 40 years.
When my mother was getting ready to celebrate her first year anniversary as an initiate to Yemayá, I volunteered to help her prepare the adimú adún for her Orisha, all but one: The Coconut Candy. Knowing I make some pretty mean coconut candy she tried to persuade me to make it for her and dragged her arsenal of reasons, she was tired, her back ached, and whatever else came to her mind. However, with a big smile plastered on my face from ear to eat I insisted on the virtues of preparing the candy with her own hands, no matter what ailed her. I was not being mean, I was simply about to share with her a learning from my years of experience as an oní Yemayá, something that could help her in her many years to come as a priestess.
Cooking is not a mechanical act when one prepares adimú; it is an act of devotion and passion. Every movement must be premeditated. She got a little help opening the coconuts, but that is as much as she got. The first step is to peel off the black rind of the coconut, a painstaking process if you do not have an OXO vegetable peeler, those can take the skin of a Rhino’s back. However, since I love my mom very much, I had given her one of those not long ago. I went about to help to set the shrine with one of her orisha sisters who also had recently celebrated her first year as an oní Yemayá. While we fuzzed with fabrics and decorations, mom was left in the kitchen to peel the coconut and then grate the pieces finely.
Normally the coconut candy is made by boiling the shredded coconut in water and adding brown sugar and some blackstrap molasses. Once the mixture starts to bubble one cannot abandon the task of stirring and keeping a close watch on the pot. Sugar must continue to be added as the water evaporates and the oil in the coconut is rendered and mixes with the sugar. It was then when I poked my head back in the kitchen and while she was not looking I added my secret ingredients. Of course, I thought she was not looking but I forgot mothers have eyes everywhere. So I shared with her the proportion of the spices I use to brighten the flavor of the coconut and she continued to mix the candy over low heat. She looked tired and a bit bored of the tedious task.
“Iyawó, are you just stirring or are you opening your heart to Yemayá?” My question took her by surprise. I reminded her that it was important to focus on each step, just like she had done while peeling and grating, and that every step should be an opportunity to converse with the orisha, and in the case of a first anniversary, to praise and thank the orisha for the many lessons learned during the year in white.
I am glad I asked her that question for she looked suddenly not so tired and much more animated, see, she loves to chat with Yemayá and I just gave her another reason to rant and rave with her Yeye (mother).
Once the coconut candy was sufficiently sticky, I showed her how to shape it with two spoons, a bit of a tricky process since the mixture adheres to the spoons with tenacity. We made two plates, one to be presented to Yemayá, and a second plate to share with whomever wanted a piece of coconut candy.
This was not the only adún prepared; there was a sweet treat for each orisha. For Obatalá we had Tembleque de Coco (coconut pudding), a lovely cheese flan for Oshun. For Shangó I made two treats, amalá ilá and amalá’dún (cornmeal porridge with okra and sweet cornmeal porridge), Chocolate pudding for Oyá and two beautiful cakes one for Yemayá and one for Eleguá. There are many other sweet treats that can be prepared for the Orishas, but these are some of the most popular.
It is traditional that godparents and godchildren share during the first year the chores of preparing for an orisha anniversary, but not every godparent is gifted cooking and some are plain lazy and do not bother to teach. However, I have been blessed to come from godparents who know their way about the kitchen, or at least, know enough to supervise and direct the youngest cooks in the ilé like my dear godfather Iworí Chigdí who does not make amalá’dún but knows the recipe by heart from years of watching and sneaking in the kitchen to get the first bite or get the pot and spoon to lick them clean, but that is a story for another day.
May your hands always be blessed to bring sweetness to your orisha.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
2 large coconuts, peel the black rind once you extract the coconut from the shell.
Grate the meat on find grind
A touch of vanilla beans or pure vanilla extract
My secret spices…first you try a bit of the one I make and then you guess what I put in there, it makes it more fun.