taste from home

Vanessa’s Birthday Punch (Lola’s Recipe)

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June 8, 2020

Vanessa Vergara, Board President, Chicago Cultural Alliance

Taste from Home is a collection of recipes and stories inspired by the food that defines who we are and where we come from. As we are all home exploring new recipes and cuisines, we encourage you to share a recipe and story with us that connects you to your family and cultural heritage.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today, if you are able. If you are unable to donate, you can still participate by sharing a recipe by using hashtags #tastefromhome, #tastefromhomerecipe, & #chicagocultural on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Why I serve as Board President of the Chicago Cultural Alliance:

I believe that cultural heritage matters and should be valued, shared, celebrated, and preserved.  If you do not know where you come from, you will never know where you are headed.  My cultural heritage is my personal compass.  My parents and grandparents emigrated from the Philippines so our family could pursue the American dream. 

I am proud to serve as the Board President of the Chicago Cultural Alliance because our work connecting, promoting, and supporting centers of heritage is so critical.  Being in the middle of a global pandemic reminds us all to get back to the basics.  What do we need to survive and thrive?  Working on this essay about my Lola’s punch transported me out of this pandemic and back into my childhood.  My childhood was greatly influenced by my heritage as a Filipino American raised in a family of recent immigrants.  I also learned something new about my own understanding of my personal history as you will soon learn! 

Who taught you this recipe & how did you learn it?         

I learned this recipe by watching my Lola (grandmother in Tagalog) and Mom make it ever since I was a kid.  I experienced this recipe by taste, enjoying many wonderful servings of Lola’s birthday punch. 

What culture/country is this dish from?

This recipe is a product of the Filipino-American culture.  My Lola invented it!

In the process of working on my Taste From Home essay, I learned that this punch is not actually a recipe from the Philippines as I had originally thought.  I found out from my Mom that my Lola had invented this recipe for me!  My Lola wanted to come up with something special for my first birthday and created this masterful birthday refreshment.  Her punch was such a hit that our punch bowl had to be refilled twice during my first birthday party.

When do you normally eat this dish? Is it for a holiday or a celebration?

You would typically serve this punch at a birthday party.  This recipe is also associated with any large family celebration, such as Christmas or New Year’s.  Anytime we have a large family gathering, you can guarantee, Lola’s punch will be served.

Why is it important to you?

This recipe is important to me because it symbolizes joy, family, and love.  It will forever be the iconic taste of my childhood.  It transports me back to simpler times when the world seemed less complicated and more innocent.

Growing up in a large, boisterous Filipino American family, some of my fondest childhood memories revolved around birthday celebrations.  Now I find myself at a time when my family and I cannot gather for large celebrations (or any celebrations for that matter).  Instead, we are setting up hazy, family Zoom calls and FaceTime sessions which are a poor substitute for being together, in person, with those you love. 

I now realize how easily I took for granted the memories of being able to gather for large family celebrations around a huge bowl of Lola’s heavenly punch.  Those memories are my plane ticket out of this pandemic.  That is why heritage and personal history matters. Memory is a transformative gift that can take you anywhere, anytime.

Even during a global health crisis, you can leave it all behind, even if for just a short time, and learn something new about yourself and carry those memories with pride and share them with others.  I encourage you to take a journey, without hesitation, and find your own plane ticket out of the pandemic to a destination in your personal heritage and share it with others with joy and pride!

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