Christmas in the Andes

High in the Andes, Cuzco, Peru becomes a magical fiesta on Christmas Eve for the annual Santuranticuy Fair. "Santuranticuy", a mestizo word meaning "saints for sale", dates back to colonial times. The fair has become one of the largest arts and crafts markets in Peru. It is held in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco, where the regional artisans lay out blankets on the sidewalks to sell the best of their wares. It has become a contest among the master artisans, who make their finest works and compete for prizes. Although it is increasingly commercial, there are many examples of beautiful craftsmanship in the pieces offered at the fair. Some of the artisans carve a figure of the "niño Manuelito", representing the baby Jesus, usually with a thorn in one of his feet. Also offered are wooden picture boxes called retablos, and a wide variety of figurines for Nativity scenes that are set up in homes and churches. Because it is summer in Peru, area farmers gather a variety of plants for decorating nativity scenes, such as small cactus, highland grasses, moss, and lichens. Nativity scenes are crafted in all scales, from miniature retablos to the life-size mangers seen in Catholic churches and city squares. These scenes are real works of art, combining traditional figures from Bethlehem with images from the Andes. The three kings are dressed in Indian costumes, while shepherds lead herds of llamas, alpacas, and vicuñas together with camels.
At night, street vendors sell a traditional hot and sweet rum punch to warm up chilly visitors and many of the Cuzco businesses give away toys, hot chocolate and "panetones" (fruitcake) to the kids that come from all over the city and the nearby villages.

In most Andean communities, the festivities continue until la Bajada de los Reyes (the arrival of the three wise men) on January 6, when people traditionally exchange gifts.

Arroz con Leche
From The Art of Peruvian Cuisine by Tony Custer.

The Spanish brought rice to Peru and also established the convent where this sweet milk pudding has its roots, the Santa Clara convent in Arequipa.

  • 1 cup white rice
  • 5 cups. water
  • 1 large stick cinnamon
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 can (12 oz.) evaporated milk
  • 2 cans (14 oz. ea.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 10-12 raisins, soaked overnight in water or liqueur (such as Triple Sec)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup port
  • 1 egg white
  • 4 T. sugar
  • ground cinnamon for decoration
  • peel of 1/2 large orange
  • pinch salt
Blanch the orange peel in 3 changes of boiling water. Wash the raw rice very thoroughly in a strainer under running water until it runs clear.

Put the water in a saucepan with the orange peel, cinnamon stick and cloves. Bring to a boil. When it reaches a full boil, add the rice, cover and simmer on low heat until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes.

Add the evaporated milk and stir to avoid sticking, while bringing the mixture back to a boil. When it is boiling again, add the condensed milk and the raisins. Cook for another ten minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk, 1/4 cup of the port, and a pinch of salt.

Heat the remaining port and the sugar together in a small heavy-based pan to form a light syrup.

Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks, gently fold in the syrup and then fold the frothy meringue into the pudding.

Serve warm or cold. Decorate with ground cinnamon and, if you wish, a stick of cinnamon as well. Makes 10 cups.

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