Sometimes, you put childhood food memories up on a pretty high pedestal. This is the case with consilva, or pinasugbo as it’s more commonly referred to these days. My grandmother was a doctor, one of the first female doctors in the country at that, and she espoused a very healthy and spartan diet which may have helped her reach the ripe age of 94! Her typical meal consisted of a soup with malunggay or horseradish tree/moringa leaves and either native chicken or fish, rice and vegetables. Never a soda, rarely a sweet or dessert, though sometimes a banana for dessert. However, whenever the grandchildren came for the annual summer visit, she allowed us three indulgences that I can vividly recall: ice cream (by the gallon, in whatever flavor you desired) would be purchased and placed in her barely-cool-enough freezer for the duration of your stay, whatever fruit you preferred (manoges, lansones or sineguelas by the kaing), and huge latas or cans standing nearly two feet tall of freshly made consilva, from her suki that I never met. When we were back in Manila, and had a birthday or special occasion, she would sometimes airfreight a can of consilva (along with a lechon) to us along with an envelope with a crisp PHP5 or PHP10 bill inside, her distinctive penmanship spelling out our names… I think it even got to a point where a can was sent specifically to me, and my brother, so we would have our own stash and wouldn’t fight. Calories and teeth be damned. :)
At the time, consilva were made up of three (probably hand sliced) pieces of unripe saba bananas, tied together with the rib of coconut leaves, then that was all dipped in the caramelized sugar or melted brown sugar, dried and and placed in the tin cans. No silly white paper cones at the bottom of each bunch, as is de rigeur these days, and no sesame seeds. Just bananas and sugar. When at their freshest, they were heavenly, but as the humidity crept into the can, the consilva would get softer and stickier, it made extraction a bit of a challenge. Nevertheless, they were heavenly. And I have always liked them and still occasionally buy them when I see them at pasalubong stalls around the country, now mostly from Negros it seems, where they are called Pinasugbo, hopefully in recognition of the fact that they started out in Cebu…
The commercial consilvas that are available today just aren’t the ones from my childhood, or at least I remember them differently. I have tried to make these before, and failed miserably, but in my quest to re-create a fond memory, I am at it again. Meanwhile, I have asked crew from our Cebu office to scour the city for folks who make this delicacy so I can get them to teach me how to do it properly… but until they find someone willing to share their recipe, this is what I came up with yesterday… they looked pretty darned good, but still need some improvement… :)
Get some green or unripe saba bananas. Slice them thinly… we used a mandoline for consistently thin slices. We tried frying them directly, or soaking them first in salted ice water, and for some reason (don’t ask me the science) the latter really did seem to make a difference. The chips ended up looking great, were nice and crisp and had a slightly salty touch. Next I melted some really good muscovado sugar with a bit of water and simmered until it thickened a bit. Take the fried banana slices and dip them in the sugar syrup, dry them on a silpat mat or other less stickable surface and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired. I ate a couple while they were hot and knew I had a much better batch than ever before. Once cooled, they were definitely quite edible, but they still weren’t what we had as kids. For one thing, the childhood version was almost certainly hand cut, and just a tad thicker than these ones. I am wondering now if they might have been sun-dried or baked, instead of fried, though I would still guess fried. I am pretty sure they used brown sugar, but perhaps not muscovado, though some folks today might actually be caramelizing white sugar instead. I definitely miss the more natural coconut ribs as the native tie to each bunch of bananas.
A side discovery is that it is pretty easy to make good banana chips as well… the fried bananas are just brushed with clear sugar syrup and dried before packaging…
The day after making the consilva, the bananas had started to soften a bit, resulting in a gooey, chewy delicacy… a bit more like my childhood memory, but still missing something… :)