As part of the study of South America my children and I are currently sharing, we're including an introduction to its Saints. And, of course, what better way to get to know a people than through its food? :)
In honor of St. Peter Claver, then, whose life's work led him to Colombia along the northwest coast of South America, my children and I made a Torta de Cacao, or Colombian Cocoa Cake. We were inspired by this delightfully simple cupcake recipe at epicurean.com, but decided to make a bundt-style cake instead, enhanced with a cup of chocolate chips and drizzled with a simple glaze of powdered sugar and cream.
Torta de Cacao
1 stick softened butter
1 c sugar
¾ c cocoa powder
1 T baking powder
1-1/2 c flour
2/3 c milk
1 t vanilla
1 c semi-sweet baking chips
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Prepare a standard bundt pan by greasing it well with butter-flavor shortening; dust well with flour. To avoid having a whitish coating on the finished cake, follow the flour dusting with about a tablespoon of cocoa; dust over the flour until completely covered, and tap out the excess.
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl, and beat on medium speed until creamy; add sugar and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition. Combine cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt in a sieve; sift into a separate bowl, then spoon into the egg mixture while beating at low speed. Continue beating until combined. Add the milk and vanilla, and beat until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand, then spoon & spread evenly into the prepared bundt pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted halfway between the center and the outside of the pan comes out clean. Loosen gently and remove from the pan after about 10 minutes; continue cooling on a wire rack. Glaze, if desired (I used about 1 c of sifted confectioners' sugar, with maybe 1 T of half & half -- added a few drops at a time until I got the consistency I wanted).
And, since no discussion of Colombia can be complete without mention of one of its main exports, we enjoyed our cake with our own version of Colombian Coffee Smoothies! This recipe can be adapted easily to your own preferences, being made entirely to taste; but these are the proportions we used:
Iced Coffee Smoothies
3/4 c Freshly-made Colombian coffee (regular or decaf)
1/4 c Sugar (could substitute chocolate drink mix for a mocha smoothie)
3/4 c Half & Half (you could use milk – but, hey, it’s a feast day!)
3 c Ice cubes (ours were 1" cubes, prepared from about 2 c of water)
Put all of the ingredients in a blender and whirr at high speed until thick and creamy. Pour into serving glasses or cups and enjoy! Makes 3 one-cup servings.
And now for a word about our honoree of the day.
St. Peter Claver (d. 1654; feast day Sept. 9) was a Spanish missionary priest assigned to work with the victims of slavery as the ships came in to the port at Cartegena, Colombia. This port was a major gateway through which the enslavement of Africans gained its hold in the New World. While the efforts of the Catholic Church were unsuccessful at stemming the tide of the lucrative slave trade, Catholic missionaries devoted themselves to alleviating the suffering of its victims. St. Peter Claver became a major source of comfort and kindness to the thousands of horribly mistreated, sick and often dying captive people who were brought into that port. Calling himself a "slave of the slaves," he dedicated himself to improving their lot, enjoining slaveholders to treat them kindly, and advocating for laws that would allow them to marry and to keep their families together. He offered them the faith of the Church as well, and is credited with baptizing more than 300,000 African captives over the course of his nearly 45 year ministry.
This particular Saint's feast day comes at an especially apt time in our family's history studies: We are currently reading about Harriet Tubman's life and the role of the Underground Railroad (a leg of which ran through the very area in which we live!) We have been discussing the horrible indignity and injustice of slavery and the God-given yearning of all hearts to be free; and observing how people like Ms. Tubman in the US, William Wilberforce in the UK, and others ultimately led the way to end the acceptance of slavery in our own country. It's a very hard subject to discuss with young children, actually; it doesn't occur to them to discount others on account of something as trivial as skin color, and it breaks my heart to have to introduce the notion to them at all. At the same time, however, those who have opposed such injustice and changed the world for the better are a great source of inspiration, challenging us to size up the age we live in today -- and maybe even calling us to action.
Will we dare to be like St. Peter Claver, spending our lives exposing injustice through our insistence on the humane treatment of those who are oppressed? Will we shine the light of truth on the accepted practices of our day, as did William Wilberforce, boldly challenging unjust and inhumane laws even as others dare call them a "right"? Do we have the courage to even risk our own freedom for the sake of others, as so fearlessly did Harriet Tubman?
Who ever said education was easy?
You never know who will ultimately inspire your children to live up to whatever it is that God is asking of their lives, of course. By celebrating these heroic people, especially those whom the Church acknowledges as Saints, we can open the door to their hearts in untold ways.
And -- who knows? -- igniting the tiny spark that ultimately sets their hearts on fire may be as simple as sharing a recipe for chocolate cake!