The cancellation of both the Meriden Puerto Rican Festival and the Meriden Daffodil Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic greatly disappointed many members of the community.
While we understood the cancellations were the safest route to take, we Meridenites couldn’t help but feel a certain emptiness as we recalled fond memories of festivals past. To some, the festivals are all about the vendors. To others, the crafts make or break a successful experience. Without a doubt, the biggest draw is the food.
While we weren’t able to experience the typical Meriden revelry of festival season this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate a little piece of the fun at home.
Here’s a brief detailing of our “DIY festival food” experience:
The first step was choosing which foods to recreate. Recruiting a kitchen buddy makes the experience much more fun and is highly recommended. I roped my father into the fun and he decided we could make our DIY festival food idea into a family meal.
Growing up in Caguas, Puerto Rico, provided him with intimate knowledge of the preparation of the culture’s most beloved dishes, making him instrumental to the success of our endeavor. We thought about which staples were our favorites, and settled on a couple classics.
Pernil, or pork shoulder, was what we decided on for the entree, with arroz con gandules, or rice and beans, sliced avocado, and tostones, or fried plantains, as the side dishes. Of course, we had to have a sweet beverage to go with our meal, and piña coladas seemed like the obvious choice!
For our ingredients, we decided to head to C-Town, our go-to stop for Puerto Rican spices and goods. We had a blast dancing through the aisles choosing our produce, and left with everything we needed for our feast.
Once home, we got right down to business. The first step was to slice the green plantains and place them in salt water. The tostones are best when made from pre-soaked plantains. The pernil was the next dish we worked with, and the one that required the most attention. This delicacy takes about four hours to cook at 200 degrees, and that doesn’t include the prep time that comes before.
After seasoning the meat and placing it in the oven, our focus shifted to the arroz con gandules. This aspect of our meal also includes meat preparation. A main ingredient to this side dish’s success is salt pork, which must be intricately sliced and added to the mix.
Next up, we transformed the plantain slices into flat, fried morsels. While some households have a tool specifically for squishing down the slices, we simply used a can of tomatoes to get the job done. Next, slicing an avocado was a quick and easy task that added a healthy side to the otherwise indulgent meal.
Finally, combining ice, our sweet coconut milk, and fresh pineapple into a delicious piña colada blend resulted in the perfect treat for our DIY festival meal.
While we have much to look forward to next year, we still have a long way to go before we’ll find ourselves at the Meriden Puerto Rican or Daffodil Festivals. In the meantime, why not try making your own favorites at home? This past year has been one full of new activities. Maybe it’s time for you to add “festival food extraordinaire” to your growing list of new skills!