October is called El Mes Morada, or the purple month, in Lima because this is when El Señor de Milagros, or the Lord of Miracles, a massive religious procession, is held in the historic center. El Señor de los Milagros is the most revered image of Christ on the Peruvian coast. The image was painted on a wall by an West African slave in the Las Nazarenas Church in the district of Pachacamilla in what is now downtown Lima. In 1655, a massive earthquake struck Lima and much of the center was in rubble. Miraculously, the wall of Las Nazarenas where the image of Christ sat was left untouched, though the rest of the church crumbled around it.
People began to worship the image and came from across the country to see it. It was common belief that the image gave protection from earthquakes and could even cure people of grave illnesses. Every October until today tends of thousands visit Las Nazarenas church and on select dates march the image through the streets of downtown Lima in passionate displays of devotion. In the 19th century, one of the people that came to see the image was Josefa Maraminillo, another Afro-Peruvian slave from the Cañete Valley, who was also known as Doña Pepa. She suffered badly from paralysis and ventured to Lima to pray to El Señor de los Milagros and asked him to cure her. Soon after she was felt better and no longer felt pains in her arms and legs.
Eternally grateful to the image, Doña Pepa wanted to do something to give back. In a dream, saints appeared to her and gave her the recipe. The next day she walked through the crowds at Las Nazarenas and began to hand out the god given recipe of, which is a sort of layered anise flavored nougat drizzled with chancaca syrup and topped with sprinkles and candy. Every October thereafter she would come to Lima and do the same and the sweet became known as Turrón de Doña Pepa. Now every October in Lima, Turrón de Doña Pepa is a common sight at the El Señor de Milagros procession and with street vendors, bakeries, and grocery stores who sell what has become one of coastal Peru’s most traditional sweets.
- 4 tbs Anise Seeds
- 4 cups all-purpose Flour
- 1 tsp Kosher salt
- 1 tbs Sugar
- 2 tsp Baking Powder
- 1/2 cup Butter
- 1/2 cup Vegetable Shortening
- 5 Egg Yolks
- 1 tsp Vanilla
- 1 Apple
- 1 Lime
- 1 Orange
- 7 ounce bag of Prunes
- 3 Cinnamon Sticks
- dash of Salt
- 2 tsp Cloves
- 1 tsp whole Allspice (optional)
- 1 cup Sugar
- 1 1/2 cups Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 tbs Molasses
- Line an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 pieces of overlapped wax paper.
- Add 1 tbs of anise seeds to 1/2-cup water and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat and let cool.
- Toast the rest of the anise seeds at 300 degrees until golden and fragrant.
- Place the flour, salt, sesame seeds, anis seeds, sugar, and baking powder in a food processor. Add the cold butter and vegetable shortening, and process briefly, until sandy in texture.
- Add the egg yolks, vanilla, and anise extract and process briefly. Add the anise seeds and water (cooled) one tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a dough.
- Wrap dough in saran wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- On a floured surface, roll out half of the chilled dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Trim the dough into an 8.5-inch x 8.5-inch square. Cut square lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide strips, and place them on a baking sheet. Repeat with other half of dough. Roll scraps as necessary.
- Bake cookie strips for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Working carefully, pour hot syrup slowly over the cookies, letting it soak into the cracks. Cover with candy sprinkles. Let rest for several hours, until completely cool.
- Lift wax paper to remove turrón from the pan. Slice turrón into desired pieces. Turrón will keep for several weeks in an airtight container.
For the Syrup:
- Add 3 1/2 cups of water to a pot. Cut the apple, lime, and the orange into quarters and add along with the prunes, cinnamon sticks, salt, cloves, and allspice.
- Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the apple is soft and translucent.
- While the fruit is simmering, assemble the cookies in the pan. Cover the bottom of the pan (lined with wax paper) with cookie strips layed side by side. Crumble one cookie strip and use the crumbs to fill in any holes between the strips.
- Make another layer of cookie strips on top of the first layer, but lay them down crosswise to the first one. Fill in any holes with crumbs. Repeat until all the strips are used, stopping with a complete top layer.
- When the apples are cooked and translucent, remove fruit and water from heat. Strain mixture into a colander. Discard fruit and spices. Add sugar, brown sugar, and molasses to the strained liquid, and bring to a boil. Boil until mixture reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Syrup will form a thin thread when twirled from a spoon. Let syrup cool for 3-5 minutes.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.