A Refugee Cookbook

By María R. Estorino Dooling, CHC Chair

Recipes such as this one for croquettes indicated with an (R) the products distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program. Click to enlarge.

Recipes such as this one for croquettes indicated with an (R) the products distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program. Click to enlarge.

The Cuban Refugee Program, established by the U.S. government in 1961 and operated from Miami’s Freedom Tower, trained and employed exiled Cubans as social workers to connect refugees to services such as job training, resettlement, and food distribution. One of those social workers was Evangelina Aristigueta Vidaña, who in Cuba had been a high school physics and chemistry teacher.

As a social worker, Mrs. Vidaña found that many Cuban women were having a hard time cooking with the non-perishable foods distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program, such as powdered eggs, canned meat, and peanut butter. She started compiling and transcribing recipes that her clients were creating using the food received from el refugio (the refuge), as the program became known. With more than thirty recipes, Mrs. Vidaña distributed her “refugee” cookbook to clients and, in so doing, helped hundreds of Cuban families ease into their new lives in the United States.

Pictured is an empty can of chopped meat distributed by el refugio. This item was donated by Carmen Vega. After the can was emptied of its contents, Ms. Vega used it as a hair roller. Click to enlarge.

Pictured is an empty can of chopped meat distributed by el refugio. This item was donated by Carmen Vega. After the can was emptied of its contents, Ms. Vega used it as a hair roller. Click to enlarge.

Mrs. Vidaña worked as a social worker with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services for thirty years. Her daughter María Eugenia Vidaña Soler-Baillo donated to the Cuban Heritage Collection a copy of her “Recetas de cocina usando los productos alimenticios donados por el Centro de Distribuición de Víveres del Programa de Asistencia de los Refugiados Cubanos” (“Recipes using the food products donated by the Food Distribution Center of the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program”).

The Cuban Heritage Collection houses the records of the Cuban Refugee Program. A small selection of materials from that collection are available online and were used in the digital exhibition, “In Search of Freedom: Cuban Exiles and the U.S. Cuban Refugee Program.”




Food and Memory exhibit inspires new Restaurant Ephemera Collection

We’ve recently completed processing the Restaurant Ephemera Collection, which contains restaurant, bakery and cafeteria menus, brochures, flyers and miscellaneous objects from eating establishments in Cuba and its diaspora. This collection was inspired by the materials in last spring’s exhibit titled Food and Memory: An exploration of Cuban cooking, 1857-today. Help us grow our collection by sending us Cuban restaurant menus, photos and memorabilia to the address below:

Cuban Heritage Collection
Attn. Natalie Baur
1300 Memorial Drive
Coral Gables, Florida 33146

Below you can browse through a few photos submitted by our viewers since we began our blog series on Food and Memory.

What’s cookin’: Leche, el alimento completo

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Milk is a fixture in many a Cuban recipe, but it is often not thought of as a star ingredient. The highly nutritious beverage is used in a variety of dishes, from desserts to café and more savory fare. In her 1944 book on food in art and literature, Gertrudis Aguilera y Céspedes de Ferrer underscores the value of milk by describing it as an “alimento completo” whose consumption established the “diferencia de peso, tamaño y salud” in Cuban society.[1] Due to food rationing policies under the current regime, milk in Cuba is scarce, a luxury provided only to young children as well as the elderly, the ill and pregnant women.[2] The following recipes from J.P. Legrán’s Nuevo manual del cocinero cubano y español (1857) are simple reminders of a freer, more plentiful time in Cuban history.

Sopa de leche

Hágase hervir leche, échese sal y azúcar y tírese sobre rebanadas de pan.

Sopa de leche batida

Prepárese del mismo modo que la anterior, póngase un batido de cuatro huevos por cada media azumbre, revuélvase con una cuchara de palo, y empezando a cuajarse en la cuchara, esto es antes de hervir, tírese sobre pedazos pequeños de pan.

[1] Gertrudis Aguilera y Céspedes de Ferrer, Alimentos y nutrición en gráficas y cantos populares (Havana: Editorial Lex, 1944), 337.

[2] José Alvarez, “Overview of Cuba’s Food Rationing System” (2004).

What’s cookin’: Cuban Gold: the making of Hatuey and La Tropical

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Although Cuba may be best known for its rum drinks, the island has a strong history of brewing refreshing tropical beers that live on in the memory of its exile community in the diaspora. Two well-known beers originally developed in Cuba, Hatuey and La Tropical, have been rebooted in the States to cater to regional demand in South Florida for the taste of a distant home.


Hatuey [1]

The Hatuey brand was created in 1914 by Santiago Brewing Company in Santiago de Cuba. The beer is named after a Taíno cacique that fought the Spanish invasion of Hispaniola in the early 1500s. By 1920, Cuba’s rum giant Compañía Ron Bacardí acquired the defunct Santiago Brewing Company. Bacardí built Cervecería Hatuey in 1926 after Enrique Schueg, son-in-law of founder Don Facundo Bacardí Massó, arranged for German brewer George J. Friedrich to perfect the Hatuey beer recipe, which went into production in 1927; Cerveza Hatuey won accolades at the Cienfuegos Exposition that same year. With demand growing for the malty, hop-infused pale ale, Bacardí opened two more factories in Havana to increase production, Cervecería Modelo (1947) and Cervecería Central (1953). By 1959, Hatuey essentially controlled Cuba’s beer market, selling over 12 million cases of product a year. When the company’s assets were seized after Fidel Castro’s revolutionary takeover, Bacardí focused on its rum production in Puerto Rico until 1995, when Hatuey was brought to the US market. The beer has recently been rebranded in an effort to appeal to craft brew enthusiasts.

La Tropical [2]

A golden pilsner first brewed in 1888 at the Nueva Fábrica de Hielo, Cerveza La Tropical was a product of Havana’s Blanco Herrera family and an incredibly popular brand until its government takeover in 1960. During its time in Cuba, La Tropical became a local and international favorite, winning awards across Europe and the US and developing a wide array of products including La Tropical, Cristal, Tropical 50 and Maltina.[3] The brewery held weekly gatherings for the community in its garden along the Almendares River where people came together to dance and drink an ice-cold Tropical. La Tropical was introduced to the American market in 1998 through the collaboration of Manuel J. Portuondo, an industry professional, and Ramón Blanco Herrera, great-grandson of La Tropical’s founder. The beer is brewed locally in Coral Gables, and distributed throughout South Florida.

Bul [4]

A refreshing way to enjoy Cuban beer is by making your own beer cocktail, known throughout the island as bul. Raquel Rabade Roque offers her own version in The Cuban Kitchen (2011) that combines lime juice, ginger ale and the beer of your choice. Add ⅓ cup fresh lime juice, one 12-ounce bottle of beer and one 12-ounce bottle of ginger ale to a pitcher. Garnish with lime and enjoy!


[2] Our Beers, Cerveza Tropical, http://www.cervezatropical.com/id2.html

[4] Raquel Rabade Roque, The Cuban Kitchen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 25.


What’s cookin’: Delicious Deceit: the legend behind Pato Yemayá

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

The flavors of Africa have played an integral role in the execution of Cuban cuisine since the arrival of West African slaves en masse to the island in the 1700s. Whether its ñame, quimbombó or fufú, African influence is prevalent in both the food and culture of Cuba. Certain foods retain particular significance for practitioners of Cuba’s syncretic religions, as in the orisha offerings of santería. The legend of one such offering and a complementary recipe can be found below.

Yemayá and the duck [1]

Yemayá, a santería orisha associated with the ocean and motherhood, is closely connected to the duck Kuekueye, whom she took as a confidant and entrusted with many secrets. Facing a difficult situation, the orisha asked Kuekueye to present her problem to Olofi, the supreme god in the Yoruba pantheon, and seek a solution. But the duck Kuekueye secretly envied Yemayá, so he purposefully misinterpreted her message to Olofi and the advice the latter gave was not helpful; Yemayá recognized Kuekueye’s betrayal but she forgave him.

Despite Yemayá’s graciousness, Kuekueye did not learn his lesson, alternately exalting and vilifying Yemayá to anyone who would listen and gossiping about her vast riches hidden  on the ocean floor to the point that people conspired to steal them. Elegguá, the orisha guardian, found out and told Olofi, who convened a meeting of the orishas to inform Yemayá of Kuekueye’s treason. The hunting orishas Oggún and Ochosi shook the duck by its wings so hard in an attempt to get him to confess that Kuekueye swallowed his tongue and never spoke again. Olofi sentenced Kuekueye to live with Yemayá until she decided to sacrifice him, eating him and drinking his blood.

And so when Yemayá asks her followers for a duck sacrifice, her children blindfold the bird with a blue kerchief and make sure to pluck out all of its feathers in absolute silence as additional punishment for Kuekueye’s duplicity.

Pato Yemayá [2]

Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs adapted the version of Pato Yemayá described by Natalia Bolívar in her book, Mitos y leyendas de la comida afrocubana (1993). To prepare this dish, you will need the following ingredients:

1 large (6-pound) duck; ½ cup bitter orange juice, or ¼ cup regular orange juice and ¼ cup fresh lime juice; ⅓ cup thinly sliced onion; 2 cloves garlic, crushed in garlic press; 1 tbs minced fresh basil, or ¾ tsp dried basil; 1 tbs minced fresh ginger, or ¾ tsp dried ginger; ½ tsp ground cumin; ½ tsp marjoram; ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper (optional); 1 tbs olive oil; ¼ tsp salt; about 2 (11.8 ounce) cans guarapo, or 1 cup sugar dissolved in 2 cups water.

Remove the giblets and fully rinse the duck with cold water.  Cut into quarters and place pieces into a single layer, combining the orange juice, onion, garlic, basil, ginger, cumin, marjoram, pepper, oil and salt and coating the duck and its giblets thoroughly with the marinade. Refrigerate for two to three hours and pat dry, grilling the duck at medium to hot heat while turning it frequently for 20 to 30 minutes until it’s crisp and browned. After pre-heating the oven to 350°F, place the duck, giblets and marinade in a baking dish filled with guarapo; cover loosely in foil and bake for an hour until tender. Remove the duck and fat from pan juices. Boil the juice until most of the liquid evaporates and use the remainder as a glaze.

  • For more on food in santería rituals, see Series 3.1 of the Lydia Cabrera Collection, Manuscripts on Afro-Cuban culture, and listen to Hector Lavoe’s song, “Para Ochun.”


[1] Natalia Bolívar Aróstegui, Mitos y leyendas de la comida afrocubana (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1993), 38-39.

[2] Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, Eating Cuban (New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006), 25.

What’s cookin’: Landmark Cocktails: A Taste of Havana

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Havana’s Hotel Nacional is an iconic example of classic Cuban architectural elegance. Situated in the Vedado district along the famed Malecón Drive, the hotel offers beautiful views of both Havana Harbor and the capitol city’s skyline. Since opening in 1930 the hotel has withstood military occupations, a notable mafia presence and the physical decay experienced by many other of the island’s historic buildings. [1] An extensive renovation project was undertaken from 1990 to 1992 in order to restore the hotel’s original decorative details and its overall “eclectic” style. [2] The Hotel Nacional has inspired a lovely cocktail, also referred to as the “National Cocktail,” reproduced from Coctelería cubana: 100 recetas con ron (1992) below:

Hotel Nacional [3]

En la coctelera:

Media onza de jugo de piña, ½ onza de apricot brandy, una onza de ron carta oro, gotas de limón y hielo picado. Batir y servir colado en una copa de coctel.


Floridita drink menu.

El Floridita drink menu.

At the intersection of Calles Obispo and Monserrate lies another famous landmark, the Havana haunt Bar La Florida.  Affectionately known as El Floridita by locals and visitors alike, this home of the daiquiri and Ernest Hemingway has existed in Havana in one form or another since the early 19th century, opening as “La Piña de Plata” in 1817 and eventually changing its name to La Florida because of the influence of North American tourism to the island. [4] Its most celebrated bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, began working at the bar as a cantinero in 1914 (the terms “bartender” and “barman” had not yet been invented). Ribalaigua, a Spanish immigrant nicknamed Constante, eventually became owner of El Floridita in 1918. [5] Under his direction the bar flourished, inventing such tasty drinks as its namesake, the Floridita Special. The following recipe comes directly from El Floridita to you.

Floridita Special [6]

⅓ Rye Whisky.
½ Martini Rossi Vermouth.
1 teaspoonful Amer Picon.
½ teaspoonful curacao.
½ teaspoonful sugar.
1 dash angostura.
1 small lemon peel.
Cracked ice.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

[1] Dania Pérez Rubio, Hotel Nacional de Cuba: el hotel de mis sueños (Havana: Editorial José Martí, 1999), 12.

[2] Pérez Rubio, Hotel Nacional de Cuba, 13.

[3] Fernando G. Campoamor, Coctelería cubana: 100 recetas con ron (Havana: Editorial Científico-Técnica, 1992), 34.

[4] Fernando G. Campoamor, El Floridita de Hemingway (Havana: Editorial Científico-Técnica, 1993), 9 and 17.

[5] Campoamor, El Floridita, 19.

[6] “Bar La Florida Cocktails,” Havana, Cuba.

What’s cookin’: Coconut Bliss

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Need a sweet fix? Try your hand at one of these delectable dessert recipes that highlight a staple Caribbean flavor: the coconut. Whether it’s quick and simple coconut kisses, a classic coco quemado or the more involved flan de coco, your taste buds will thank you.

Tía Berta’s Coconut Kisses [1]

Men and children gathered under a coconut tree.

Men and children gathered under a coconut tree from “Cuba, c. 1895”

In Havana Salsa (2006), author Viviana Carballo shares recipes and stories of her family’s life in Cuba. Food played an integral role in her memories of the island and her eventual exile, underscoring the sweetness of her native land but also the bitter pain of having to leave it. In “Tía Berta’s Coconut Kisses,” Carballo offers a short anecdote about her aunt’s coconut macaroons:

“Since Tía was not welcome in Dulce’s kitchen, she had to… rush in and make a commando raid in the shortest time possible. I was grateful for her kindness… She wasn’t much of a cook either, but these besitos required very little skill and just three ingredients—that much she could handle.”

Indeed, the recipe is simple: combine seven ounces of grated coconut flakes, half a cup of condensed milk and one egg, well beaten, in a bowl while preheating the oven to 300°F. Drop dollops of the mixture on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. The kisses should be firm but still chewy.

Coco Quemado [2]

In this recipe from 1914, José E. Triay brings us another simple coconut dessert preparation, reproduced below:

Rallado el coco, se le incorporan yemas de huevo batidas, amasándolo, y se echan en almíbar con un poco de canela y vino de Jerez, y se tienen al fuego hasta que espesen; entonces se echan en un plato y se queman por arriba, poniendo sobre ellas la tapadera con unas brasas.

Flan de coco [3]

Coconut tree.

Coconut tree from “Album of Photographs”

Nitza Villapol’s seminal Cocina al minuto (1958) gives us yet another reason to cook with the fruit that keeps on giving. Her flan de coco is a coconut custard that is guaranteed to send you into a delicious sugar coma. Villapol offers brand suggestions for her ingredients, preferring Aspuru sugar and La Dichosa brand eggs for her flan. The ingredients are as follows:

½ taza azúcar blanca Aspuru.
3 huevos de La Dichosa.
1 lata de 14 oz. dulce de coco.
3 yemas de huevo.

Melt the sugar to use as a glaze in the flan mold. Beat the egg yolks lightly and add the syrupy canned coconut shavings. Pour into the mold and double boil at 350°F for an hour and half.


[1] Viviana Carballo, Havana Salsa: Stories and Recipes (New York: Atria Books, 2006), 134.

[2] José E. Triay, Nuevo manual del cocinero criollo (Havana: La Moderna Poesía, 1914), 294.

[3] Nitza Villapol, Cocina al minuto (Havana, 1958), 302-303.


What’s cookin’: Back to Basics: Cox’s Daiquiri

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

When you think of Cuban cocktails, your mind might wander to the minty mojito or the fresh fizz of a well-made Cuba Libre, but what could be more Cuban than the sweet yet sour kick of the original daiquirí? A favorite among Cuba’s classic drinks, the origin story of the daiquiri rivals that of its older sibling the mojito, sans blistering pirates’ rum. [1]

In 1898, Jennings S. Cox led a group of U.S. mining engineers to Daiquirí, a mining town near Santiago, on an expedition to develop copper mines after the Spanish American War. During his time in Cuba, Cox “experimented” with Bacardi rum, blending lemon juice, sugar, water and ice with Bacardi Carta Blanca to create the now-famous drink named after the small Cuban town where he worked: the Daiquiri. [2] The recipe became popularized by the continued presence of American military and business interests in Cuba, with U.S. Navy Admiral Lucius Johnson introducing the daiquiri to Washington at the Army-Navy Club in 1909. [3]

You can recreate Cox’s original recipe, shown below, or try your luck with recipes from Havana’s famous El Floridita, a bar known as much for its drinks as for its infamous patrons (Ernest Hemingway was a regular, and was known to take his daiquiris with minimal sugar and double the rum).

Daiquirí Number Two [4]

2 ounces Bacardí rum.
Several dashes Curacao.
1 teaspoonful orange juice.
1 teaspoonful sugar.
Juice of half a lemon.
Cracked ice.
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

 Daiquiri Maidique Style [5]

2 ounces Bacardí rum.
1 spoonful sugar.
1 teaspoonful grape fruit juice.
1 teaspoonful maraschino.
Juice of half a lemon.
Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Serve frappe.


[1] The mojito’s predecessor was a rough aguardiente concoction, “El Draque,” invented in 1586 and named after an English privateer.

[2] Sidney Maran, The World of Bacardi-Martini, Bermuda: Bacardi Ltd., 2000, 60.

[3] “Happy Birthday, Mr. Daiquiri,” Museum of the American Cocktail press release, Oct. 16, 2009, http://ajiggerofblog.com/2009/10/16/upcoming-seminar-happy-birthday-mr-daiquiri/, accessed March 7, 2013.

[4] “Bar La Florida Cocktails,” Havana, Cuba.

[5] “Bar La Florida Cocktails.”

What’s cookin’: Te conozco bacalao

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Bacalao is easily recognized as the salty fish of choice for many a Cuban household. Gertrudis Aguilera y Céspedes de Ferrer’s book Alimentos y nutrición en gráficas y cantos populares (1944) categorizes bacalao as a good source of protein and iron in the Cuban diet, as noted in the image below.

Although salted cod has many preparations, the author of the classic Cuban cookbook Nuevo manual del cocinero criollo (1914),  José Triay, prefers a simple take on the dish. Triay laments the extravagance of some bacalao preparations, favoring a simple approach to the popular Cuban fish using fried cod in a pepper and tomato sauce stew, Bacalao a la vizcaina. “A la vizcaína” indicates that the recipe is of Basque origin, but the addition of tomatoes underscores the Cuban element of the dish since original Spanish preparations of salsa vizcaína do not call for anything other than pimientos choriceros (from which the sauce derives its red color) and onions and other seasonings in an olive oil or butter base. In Triay’s recipe, the tomatoes used for the sauce are grilled and strained to later be combined with chunks of onion lightly fried in hot oil. Once the sauce is prepared, strips of bacalao are added to the pot until cooked and topped with sweet peppers and fried breadcrumbs.


Title inspired by Hector Lavoe and Willie Colón’s song “Te conozco bacalao.”

What’s cookin’: It’s Havana Hour

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

In this installment of “What’s Cookin,’” we bring you four drink recipes featuring Havana Club rum. Established in 1878 in Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba, by José Arechabala, the Havana Club Rum distillery was nationalized by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution and the Arechabala family left the country for Spain, eventually settling in the United States.

The Havana Club rum that is produced in Cuba today under the company’s original logo is the product of a 50:50 joint venture between the Cuban government and Pernod Ricard; its sale is prohibited in the United States because of the current embargo with Cuba, but a rum by the same name is manufactured by Barcardí Limited in Puerto Rico using the original Havana Club recipe created by the Arechabala family.

Whichever rum you choose, the recipes quoted below are sure to delight your palate with the classic taste of Cuba.

Havana Club [1]
1 drink

1 ½ ounces white or light rum
½ ounce dry vermouth
¼ cup cracked ice
1 mint sprig, if available, for garnish

Mix all the ingredients except the mint with cracked ice in a shaker or blender, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

Havana Club Orange Blossom [2]
En la coctelera:
Una y media onzas de jugo de naranja, 1 ½ onzas de ron blanco y trozos de hielo.
Batir y servir colado en una copa de coctel.

Havana Club Special [3]
En la coctelera:
Una cucharadita de azúcar y ¼ onza de jugo de limón.
Diluir y añadir 1 ½ onzas de ron blanco y trozos de hielo.
Batir y servir colado en una copa de coctel.

Havana Club Highball [4]
1 Jigger Havana Club Rum.
Serve in highball glass with ice.
Fill glass with sparkling water or ginger-ale.


[1] Raquel Rabade Roque, The Cuban Kitchen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 19.
[2] Fernando G. Campoamor, Coctelería cubana: 100 recetas con ron (La Habana, Cuba: Editorial Científico-Técnica, 1984), 33.
[3] Campoamor, Coctelería cubana, 33.
[4] Havana Club Rum (La Habana, Cuba: Imp. Ucar, García & Cía, 1934-1953), 13.