November 19, 2004 (STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - Whenever I’m looking for an instant sweet fix, I often turn to pastillas de leche. I love the grit of its crystal sugar coating as I bite into this tiny confection, followed by its soft, melt-in-the-mouth goodness. This indulgence is immediately satisfying, and its dreamy taste lingers in the mouth, just like a romantic, dreamy kiss. On my list of favorite sweets, this underrated, native delicacy has always ranked high above other global gourmet goodies.

The sweet seeker that I am led me and fellow foodie-friend Ben Go to Bulacan where the authentic pastillas de leche can be found. My search brought me to the doorstep of Nenita and Eduardo Ocampo, longtime sweethearts who’ve made a successful business out of sweets.

Ocampo’s Sweets is a family business engaged in the distribution of Bulacan delicacies, including ube pastillas, yema, macapuno candy and ube haleya. For the modest and hospitable couple, hard work and perseverance made Ocampo’s Sweets the success that it is today. Now over 30 years, their children and in-laws help in its day-to-day operations.

Nenita vividly remembers its humble beginnings, way back in 1960. It was by divine providence that she met an old woman called by her kababayans as Lola Impiang who taught her how to cook pastillas from carabao’s milk. (There would be no substitute, she insists!) After three years, she got married to her lifetime partner Eduardo who was then an employee. Because of financial difficulties, the couple decided to venture into the pastillas business. Eduardo left his job and put everything on the line. Slowly but surely, the business grew from distributing to pasalubong stores in Bulacan to Manila. And the rest is history.

Nenita gave me a tour of her meticulously clean factory where the famous delicacy is produced. The secret to their products is in the freshness of the carabao milk, which is pasteurized immediately upon delivery.

Their workers are very systematic and hygienic in the rolling of the pastillas paste into bite-size morsels, right down to its packaging. It was indeed a tight and well-run operation.

Of course, I didn’t leave without my bitbit of pasalubongs to take home. It would be impolite to refuse the couple’s generosity as they swamped me and Ben with colorfully wrapped goodies. Well, how could we resist? And just as Lola Impiang generously imparted her trade secrets to Nenita, so did the Ocampos share a treasured recipe of theirs with Philippine STAR readers. Here is another one of her famous bestsellers, presented step-by-step. Make your dream pastillas de ube into a sweet reality. Enjoy!

Ube Pastillas

1 kilo cooked ube, grated
2 cups carabao’s milk
2 cups condensed milk
2-1/2 cups refined sugar pinch violet food color
2 tbsps. butter or margarine, to grease hands sugar for rolling

Combine the first four ingredients in a nonstick frying pan. Cook over low heat, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon or a spatula until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan.

Melt the food color in a little milk. Gradually pour the colored milk into the pan and continue mixing vigorously. This will take about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the thickness of the pan and the kind of heat used. Allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour.

Grease hands with butter or margarine, then knead the ube candy slightly and roll into 1/2-inch-diameter pieces. Cut into two-inch-length pieces with a plastic scraper. Roll in sugar and wrap in clear cellophane.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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