My third attempt at making puto (Filipino rice cakes) was a success. Finally, I achieved the softness I was looking for. I danced an awkward Taylor Swift dance, not minding the fine flour mess under my feet, and the sticky sugar mixture splattered everywhere. “My Lola would be so proud of me,” I said to myself. Yes, because the puto project was one of the family history ways that help me know my grandmother better.
A Little About Lola
All my life, I knew my Lola (grandmother) as the lady who loved to take walks in small, dainty steps. She was gracious in the way she dressed and the way she walked. Her demeanor reminded people of the stern yet classy ways of people born in the ‘40s. She loved red roses and red lipstick. Her favorite hobby was showing up unannounced at our home with multiple plastic bags containing “pre-loved” clothes from an ukay-ukay shop nearby. She smelled of violet orchids with a little hint of citrus. “My favorite scent is Ivana from Avon,” she would always tell us.
I always saw my grandmother as an old woman who showered us with so much love. I know so many details about her: she was a Festival Queen once, she lost one of her twin babies, and she took care of a sick child for 14 years. She was also a great puto-maker. Yes, I was a grandchild of a puto-maker, yet I did not have a single clue on how to make one. This struck me hard. Why had I never asked her about the one recipe she had mastered the most?
Missing Lola’s Recipe
Realizing that I did not know how to make my lola’s special dessert, I set a goal to learn how to make rice cakes. As I started learning from the web and from Youtube, the thought came to my mind. “Why did I not ask for the puto recipe before she died?” Then it dawned on me that, despite my assumption that I already knew her, I had not truly given much thought to her experiences or the things that mattered to her.
I began to realize that it was not really my Lola’s first choice to be a puto-maker. But when Lolo (grandfather) left his job, she needed to find extra income. I imagined her waking up at 4:00 AM to prepare the puto they needed to sell at 6:00 AM in order to support two college students, and two other kids, and I couldn’t help but admire her strength.
Her strength wasn’t just limited to her ability to make puto in the early hours. I remembered how she lost her twins. In the entire time I was with her, I had never asked how she felt when one of her twin girls died, and the other lived only to be bedridden for the rest of her young life. I never asked her what kept her going, or how she faithfully continued teaching her three boys even when she was limited by a heart condition. And with so many realizations came so many regrets. If only I could have known Lola better.
Know Grandmother Better, Love Grandmother More
Even though we know so much about our ancestors, there are still things about them that can inspire and amaze us. That is what I experienced as I tried to copy my Lola’s rice cake recipe. More than knowing the exact measurements of ingredients, I learned about her sacrifices and her strength. Along with figuring out what makes a puto delicious, I discovered her resilience and her bright spirit.
When the Area Presidency in the Philippines invited Filipino members to fill out their “My Family, My Story” booklet, I couldn’t help but be a little emotional. It was a perfect time for me to record my Lola’s admirable puto-making skills and her commendable sacrifices. Yes, I missed my chance to ask her more about her life, but I still have hope in my heart because I know one day, I will see her again and I can ask her all my questions.
Indeed, these words from Pres. Russell M. Nelson prove true even today: “When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves.”
I am a granddaughter of a puto-maker. I am a granddaughter of someone who experienced deepest sorrow. My grandmother is a woman of sacrifice. And when the time comes that the Lord gives faith-testing experiences to me, I will surely gain strength from my Lola’s example.
Take Time To Do Family History
My third attempt at making puto was a success. The evidence can be seen in my 1-year-old son who considers puto his new favorite. I hope he will one day want to learn more about his great grandmother, the putomaker.
The blessings of doing family history are enormous. Indeed, our ancestors are not just names; they are stories. And their stories, their lives have made us who we are. Their stories help us know more of who we are and what we are capable of. Let us take the time to do the work and learn from it. You may never know how the smallest things, like a simple puto recipe, can teach you so much more about your family.