In the 2015 Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (DGF) Food Writing Award, “Moon Over Makapuno” won first place. The subject matter was coconut, and the writer, Jenny B. Orillos, presented a well-researched, well-written essay on what is considered a “defective” coconut, an oddity because, when the macapuno is cut open, the meat fills up most of the space within.
She wrote about how, before 1960, the macapuno didn’t “germinate on its own so everything is left to chance,” until two women scientists, Dr. Emerita V. de Guzman and Erlinda P. Rillo were able to “[produce] macapuno seedlings from tissue culture.”
But Orillos didn’t lose sight of the food aspect, veering her essay to recipes in cookbooks that make use of macapuno. Sweetened strips were mentioned in Julia A. Iturralde’s cookbook, “Treasured Home Recipes,” while Macapuno Upside-Down Cake, macaroons and mazapan were in the Manila Chronicle recipe books.
Suspiros de Macapuno appeared in Pat Limjuco Dayrit’s “Favorite Filipino Recipes,” and Macapuno Chiffon Cake was in “Let’s Cook with Nora (Daza).”
Orillos previously won second place, twice, in the same food writing competition, in 2008 and 2011. She and another former DGF winner, Amy Uy, wrote the book “Panaderia: Philippine Breads, Biscuits and Bakery Traditions,” which will be launched this year.
Four past winners also made the cut this year—Elmer Nocheseda (second), Caesar Horatius Mosquera (third), Lolita Lacuesta and Ruby Cariño (both honorable mention).
Nocheseda’s “Puso sa Lukay” was about food packets shaped from coconut leaves called “lukay in Cebu, uyok in Masbate, dugokan in Leyte, palaspas in Laguna, ugbos in Pangasinan, ebus in Pampanga and langkóy in Bicol.” The packets are woven to hold food, mainly rice, and are also called by different names such as “pusô in Cebu, linambay in Samar, piyoso in Lanao… patupat in Pangasinan and Ilocos, and katumpat in Tawi-Tawi.”
His essay seems like an extension of his book, “Palaspas: An Appreciation of Palm Leaf Art in the Philippines.”
Mosquera wrote about tuba in “The Sweet Nectar of Life,” where he traced its process from “extracted sap from cut floral branches of the coconut tree” to fermentation, then the addition of the bark of mangrove to make the alcoholic drink reddish. But he also remembered his grandmother who lived to 110, “her longevity attributed not exactly to a healthy lifestyle, but to her favorite tipple: tuba.”
Mosquera won first place in the 2011 edition of the competition.
Lacuesta, last year’s first-prize winner, also wrote about macapuno planted in her aunt’s farm in Davao but which didn’t produce a hundred percent macapuno. Harvest then included separating the coconut to be processed into copra and those that are macapuno, an “imperfection [that holds] a promise of many sweet endings to come.” Lacuesta is a retired teacher who resides and farms in Davao.
Ruby Cariño wrote about coconut oil in her essay, “Holy Week Guests and VCO.” Her guests were her aunts who extract the oil as a ritual only on First Friday, to be used when they do the healing massage known as hilot. Last year, her entry won third place. She writes a food column for the Sun.Star in Baguio and is known for her cooking.
Noelle Q. de Jesus joined the competition for the first time and won honorable mention for “Wanting Ginatan.” It was about ginataang halo-halo, her comfort food away from home. She related how, while somewhere in the Midwest United States, she was able to assemble enough ingredients, but “sans ube or taro, bilo-bilo or saging saba” to make “sweet coconut milk soup.” That ginatan stood out, according to her, as a “memory of me at my most self-reliant.”
De Jesus introduced herself as “a writer and editor based in Singapore [with an] MFA in Fiction from Bowling Green University in Ohio.” She is a Palanca awardee (short story) and edited the book “Fast Food Fiction: Short Short Stories to Go.”
Coconut was chosen as the subject of the 2014 DGF Food Writing Award to call attention to the disease that’s killing what is regarded as our “tree of life.” The winners will be honored at a function of the International Wine and Food Society Manila Ladies Branch, whose project is this culinary writing competition.
The DGF Awards also thanks chef Jessie Sincioco for hosting the judges’ deliberation at her 101 Revolving Restaurant in Eastwood, Quezon City.