Felice Prudente Sta. Maria
Felice Prudente Sta. Maria is a recipient of Philippine National Book Awards, the Ceres Alabado Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, the Gourmand World Cook Book Awards and other honors. In 2001, her name was added to the prestigious SEA Write Award for Southeast Asian writers.
She is engaged in research and writing for Eating Our Words (Anvil Publishing), a lexicon of Philippine culinary terms culled from a sampling of Spanish-era dictionaries. The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Recipes, 1521-1935 and The Foods of Jose Rizal are among her culinary works that have received awards.
She is a trustee of the Philippine National Museum and the Museo ng Kaalamang Katutubo (Museum of Indigenous Knowledge), as well as a member of the Ayala Museum Board of Advisers.
The Philippine diet already had sweetness in it when Ferdinand Magellan set off on the first expedition that circumnavigated the world. While in Cebu in 1521, the Italian chronicler of his expedition, Antonio Pigafetta, recorded deghex and tube honey and sugarcane respectively.  The compilation of Philippine words continued as friars arrived starting in 1565 with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who officially began settlement of the archipelago.
The unpublished Spanish-Tagalog dictionary dated to 1609, by Francisco Blancas de San Jose, OP, identifies the word for a “thing that is sweet” as matamys in the language spoken by natives living around Manila. The word polot had several variations, according to him: polot nang pocyotan (honey from bees); polot panilan (honeycomb); polot tubo (from sugarcane); polot sasa (from nipa palm); and polot nang buli (from buri palm).  He is considered the Father of Tagalog Grammarians for his work La Regla y Arte de la Lengua Tagala, published in 1610.
The pioneering dictionary of the Tagalog language published in the Philippines, Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, appeared in 1613, just 48 years into Spanish settlement. It was compiled by Pedro de San Buenaventura, OFM. Açucar – a Spanish word of Arabic adapted to Tagalog — was made from tubo, he noted.  He explained variations in sweetness: lalong matamis ang açucal sa polot; mas dulce es el açucar que la miel. Sugar from sugarcane, in other words, was considered sweeter than honey. Matamistamis described something somewhat sweet. Lubhang matamis meant saccharine. Words for sweetness were a concern for the religious because they could be used to describe heaven. 
Vocabularies reveal the exactitude with which Filipinos related to their natural surroundings. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion, OAR, compiled words from Bohol, Cebu, Negros and Mindanao for his Diccionario Bisaya-Español, published in 1885. He cited the following words: cagas, an abandoned honeycomb that had no honey; ligbos, for bees to harvest pollen from flowers; omo, honey not yet at its peak or that was abandoned by bees.  Other than fruits, honey was the natural source of sweetness, which required only that it be gathered. Combinations of salt, honey and ginger flavored pre-Hispanic cooking.
Colit was the early way to enjoy sweet sugarcane: to munch on a stalk after having stripped the husk off with one’s teeth. Francisco Gainza, OP, includes the word in his Diccionario o Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol. It was first published in 1754, before he was even born, and reprinted in 1865, while he was Bishop of Nueva Cáceres.  Sugarcane was so valued, wrote Guido de Lavezares in his report to King Felipe II, that the thief of even just a few pieces could be enslaved. 
By the twelfth century, if not earlier, raw sugar was imported into the Philippines from China.  The know-how to refine cane juice had been transferred to China from the Magadha area in Central India. The Chinese word for rock sugar, cande, is said to originate from khanda, an Indian word meaning sugar in solidified form.
Words associated with sugarcane increased with the Hispanic presence. Following the medieval custom of convents being food sufficient, friars in the Philippines also established properties. They introduced the Spanish plow and the Chinese carabao to pull it, cows and dairy culture, as well as a significant number of Central and South American flora that were indigenized. They also brought early technology to make sugar.
The Spanish sugarmill was called trapiche in Filipinas; the cabiyavan version was made of molave wood (Vitex parviflora). In a large cauldron cane juice was cooked till it was syrupy, scum was skimmed off and the liquid solidified into raw sugar patties or cones called calamay, chancaca, padac or panocha.  Like panocha, chancaca figures in the sugar nomenclature of Latin America. Panocha in the Philippine context means a candy of raw sugar with peanut or coconut rashers. It is enjoyed alone, chopped up and served atop rice, or eaten at meal’s end prior to drinking a glass of water.
As refining improved, sugar figured increasingly in Philippine cuisine. To make jams and fruits in syrup, every kitchen had a sugar evaporation pan called tacho locally and in Guatemala, Argentina and Bolivia, but more commonly tacha in Venezuela and Mexico.  In the mid-19th century Pangasinan sugar was renowned for its whiteness but it pulverized easily. Brownish Pampanga sugar, on the other hand, was considered good quality for its strong grain that survived international shipment. 
Sugar made possible the Philippine fiesta leitmotif called leche flan. It has a higher proportion of egg yolk and sugar to milk than most custards. Using its gelatinous property, egg binds the other two ingredients. To raise the temperature at which coagulation occurs and thus avoid a stiff product, the amount of sugar is increased. 
A duck egg yolk may be added to deepen color.
Whole cow’s milk is expected, but coconut milk diluted with coconut water or dairy milk can be substituted. The most luxurious version is made with carabao milk, which has more fat content than cow’s milk. Connoisseurs warn, however, it can produce overwhelming rapture. The Spanish government introduced beef and dairy culture as it had done in Mexico. Cows sailed in galleons across the Pacific Ocean. Chinese and Japanese stock added to island herds. Antonio de Morga noted that tame carabaos from China were used “only for milking” because their milk was “thicker and more palatable than that of cows.” 
La Cocina Filipina, sold in 1913 and possibly the earliest Philippine-published cookbook, has two recipes for “flan de leche”  in addition to recipes for ranja, flan de café, and flan de chocolate. Instructions call for moulding the custard in a flanera, also called llanera in the Philippines; both words are not in old Spanish dictionaries. Today Spanish cookware shops sell flanera lidded and conical in shape to hold an individual serving; the common Filipino llanera is metal, oval and originally sized for a large family. 
There are as many ways of making Filipino clan as clans and cooks. Elders said caramelizing sugar to line a flanera was timed by praying several Hail Marys or Our Fathers in Spanish. The water bath – baño de María– in which a flanera sits is kept just below boiling point to avoid porosity and curdling. So ingrained is Spain’s flan that convenient, foolproof adaptations evolved: one combining condensed and evaporated milks; the other, instant powder that just needs water. Leche Flan is a quintessential example of malinamnam, Filipino word for the taste of silken richness equal to umami.
Pura Villanueva de Kalaw used the term horma instead of flanera in Condimentos Indígenas printed in 1918. Common synonyms in Filipino are hulma and hulmahan. Her cookbook had recipes from different parts of the islands; among them was “Leche Flan Popular”. The American colonial public school system was introduced after the Spanish left at the turn of the 20th century. During the American period, flan de leche was renamed leche flan in the Philippines. Putting the descriptive adjective before the noun is common in the English language but not in Spanish.
Leche flan is a Filipino standout in the vocabulary of Hispanic heritage cuisine. It is cultural partnership in every spoonful.