The Origins of Mazamorra Morada, Peruvian Purple Corn Pudding
Having grown up in the Boston-area, where for many years the Peruvian community was small, my familiarity with all the different types of dishes and desserts was limited for quite some time. It wasn't until I lived in Lima that I learned how to make certain desserts and grew to love a few in particular. One dessert, Mazamorra morada, became the one I looked out for often when walking around the city,
It is a pudding made with purple corn, pineapple, and spices. It begins much like Chicha Morada but then has dried fruits, fresh fruits, and sweet potato starch added to give texture and viscosity. It can be found sold by street vendors and in high-end restaurants. It has a porridge-like texture with delicious chunks of fruit that have been jeweled by the stain of the deeply purple corn used to make its base. You can't take your eyes off of it.
I came to know this dessert more intimately from the many times I ordered it on the streets of Lima while walking through Parque Kennedy in Miraflores or down the Alameda Chabuca Granda beside the Rio Rimac. I would look for the characteristic red and yellow carts in the hopes that one of them might offer the classic combination of Mazamorra morada and Arroz con leche (rice pudding). The combo is referred to as "combinao," "combinado," or "el clásico," They are served warm and you can get any number of toppings like sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and/or shredded coconut.
I would become even more intimately familiar with this dessert when I received the gift of a very special lesson from my tia Amandita, the woman who cared for my young father when he left his home in Chimbote in the 1960s to live in the Big City. Some 40 years later she lovingly showed me how to make one of my new favorite desserts, step by step. When I showed up for a visit one day in early December of 2011, I didn't know she had planned to teach me how to make the pudding. She brought me back to her kitchen and quickly caught me up to where she left off, as she had already gotten started (I got a little lost and was therefore a little late). She finished up the last steps while I watched and took pictures. She said, "At the very end, right before serving, yo want to just sprinkle a little cinnamon on top. Not too much, not too little." And then she handed me a serving so I could try it, still nice and hot. She and I finished up in the kitchen and then sat down at the table with other family members to enjoy a delicious dinner. Everyone cheered when the mazamorra morada was brought out for dessert.
The history of the dessert is interesting, and as with many Peruvian dishes, it also has Indigenous, pre-Columbian roots. It is said that a similar dessert was known in Incan times as ishkupcha made with yellow corn and lime (the mineral, not the fruit). When the Spanish came and introduced a number of new ingredients like sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and dried fruits, these new items slowly began to be added until the dish became what we now know as a modern mazamorra morada. I love that while all the added ingredients came from abroad, at the base of this recipe is what is from the American continent: corn, sweet potato, and pineapple.
More interesting still is the various theories of how the dish got its name. The word itself "mazamorra" is thought to perhaps have different origins. One thought is that the Spanish brought Moorish culinary traditions with them to Mesoamerica and a similar Arab dessert called "matmora" inflluenced its naming (I could not find a citation for this). Another theory is that the Spanish called dungeons "mazamoras" and because prisoners were given porridge as meals, the term stuck to describe anything with a porridge-like consistency. Lastly, the Peruvian historian Juan José Vegas believed that because the Spanish brought Moor concubines, known as "moras," who often became domestics and cooks, that the term "masa mora" (Moorish dough/mush) referenced their skill in the kitchen and a dish they would have mostly prepared for colonial homes.
While the origins of the name may be in question, many believe that the traditional ingrdients as they would have been in Viceroyalty times should remain the same. I am not of that camp! The recipe I am sharing below is a riff off of the traditional. The traditional is a purple corn pudding with fresh and dried fruits like quince, prunes, peaches, apples and pineapple. The truth is, you can play with the types of fresh fruit and dried fruit you add to the pudding -- whatever your preference! Today, I used fresh apples and pineapple, dried apricots and cranberries. This pudding, because of the corn, sweet potato starch, and fruit it is very high in antioxidants, flavonoids, fiber, and even vitamin C. This is a deeply playful and satisfying dessert that I hope you will enjoy! Buen provecho, amig@s!
Mazamorra morada - Serves 4-6
1 1/2 pounds maiz morado (purple corn)
Skin of 1 pineapple
6 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
Skin of one small apple
1/2 cup cane sugar
1 cup pineapple,diced
1 small apple, diced
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2-3/4 cup harina de camote (sweet potato starch)
1 lime, juiced
In a large pot, place pineapple skins, purple corn, cinnamon and cloves in water and bring to boil. Strip the corn kernels from the cob to achieve the best and deepest color. Once pot has come to a boil, allow to simmer for 1 and a 1/2 hours.
Strain liquid and place into a clean pot. Bring back up to a boil.
Add diced fruit, dried fruit and sugar. Allow to simmer for another 20 minutes until fruit is soft.
Take about 3-4 tablespoons of liquid and mix well with sweet potato starch until no lumps are visible. Set aside.
Before adding potato starch slurry, taste liquid to adjust sugar if necessary. Add slurry slowly into pot, constantly stirring the liquid to avoid clumping.
Add juice of one lime. Mix well.
Serve with a sprinkle of powdered cinnamon on top. It is most often served warm but can also be eaten cold.