It was Maria Y. Orosa’s 125th birth anniversary on Nov. 29. To celebrate the milestone, her relatives gathered in her hometown of Taal, Batangas, for morning Mass at the Basilica of St. Martin de Tours, and a luncheon afterward at Escuela Pia Taal Cultural Center.
Though she’s long gone, the Orosa’s legacy lives on. This courageous lady was a war heroine who was secretly a captain in the guerrilla movement against the invading Japanese forces in World War II.
While quietly doing her work at the Bureau of Plant Industry which she headed, she found a way to smuggle food to famished Filipino soldiers and to prisoners of war—helping to nourish them and keep them alive.
In the prewar years, Orosa traveled throughout the country, teaching women how to prepare economical but nutritious meals. She also organized 4-H clubs (Health-Heart-Head-Hand) in rural areas and invented the palayok oven, so women living in areas without electricity could bake.
Orosa was also a brilliant inventor who pioneered in food preservation and developed recipes even for by-products that would otherwise have been discarded, such as darak (rice bran) and coconut sapal (the remains of coconut meat after its milk had been extracted).
Thanks to her tireless experiments, Filipinos can now enjoy guava jelly and banana ketchup, pickled native fruits and vegetables as well as native fruit wines.
But more than that, she was also a caring individual, whose concern for others was legendary. In the book “The Recipes of Maria Y. Orosa,” edited and compiled by her niece, Helen Orosa del Rosario, art critic Rosalinda L. Orosa quotes a former food demonstrator, Rosa G. Buenaluz, describing Maria Orosa as being generous to a fault: “She’d remember clerks and janitors on their birthdays and personally take gifts of food and money to sick employees.”
Rosalinda Orosa adds that Maria, incidentally her aunt, “was a lively, stimulating conversationalist who dinned in my ear the value of time and of hard work.”
As the situation in Manila became more dangerous in the last few months of the war, the family decided to evacuate to Batangas, but without Maria, who refused to leave her post.
“My place is here,” she told her family. “I cannot in conscience abandon my work and my girls.”
The last time Rosalinda saw her Tia Mary, she had rushed down the stairs in her pajamas, and with a sweet smile on her face, waved goodbye to her departing relatives. Not long afterwards, this noble and gallant lady was hit by two shrapnels during the bombing raid in Manila, and passed away.
But she won’t be forgotten. A street in Ermita has been named after her and, in her native Batangas, a bust and a plaque have been installed in her honor. The American Red Cross has also given her an award for her valiant efforts in smuggling food to American prisoners of war.
Here’s one of the recipes that Maria Orosa developed and was published in the book of Helen Orosa del Rosario. The recipe is for a chocolate cake, which is unusual in its usage of shredded coconut. You can use freshly shredded coconut, or packaged coconut flakes available in the supermarket.
Using only ¼ cup butter, a scant ½ cup sugar and one egg, it is typical of the economical recipes developed by Orosa. Yet the result is satisfying. The taste is somewhat like a brownie, chocolaty without being excessively rich. More important, it brings back the memory and legacy of a patriotic lady whose service to her countrymen knew no bounds.
‘Buko’ chocolate cake
(Recipe of Maria Y. Orosa)
1 ½ c flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ c butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
½ c sugar
1 egg, well beaten
½ c grated or shredded buko (coconut strips)
¼ c milk
Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C). Grease an 8-inch cake pan and line it with nonstick baking paper. In a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a saucepan melt the butter then add the cocoa powder. Remove from heat. Add the sugar and mix well to combine. Stir in the egg and buko. Alternately mix in the milk and the flour mixture. The batter will be dense.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
Let cool for a few minutes then transfer to a serving dish.