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Mountain Maid, mountain made

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Millie and Karla Reyes - The Philippine Star

MILLIE: Whenever we go up to Baguio, one of our favorite must-go places is the Good Shepherd Convent on Gibraltar Road near Mines View Park. My mom, Imelda Reyes, was an ardent patron and supported their projects, having met Sister Rosary way back in the ’60s. To my recollection, Mom would visit Sister Rosary every time we were in Baguio and would spend hours chatting with her. Little did I know then that there was more to the yummy strawberry and ube jam jars my mom would buy to bring home and give away as pasalubong to her family and friends.

Karla and I came up to Baguio for a weekend with my friend Susan Bertschy, who was visiting from Switzerland, and Verne and Hector Reyes joined us.

I took Susan on a tour of Baguio and we stopped by the Good Shepherd Convent to buy some goodies. We were quite unprepared to see long queues of shoppers, so we decided to leave and come back another time. At lunchtime, we met up with Verne and Hector, who were meeting with their banker, Kaye Austria. When we told them about the traffic in the city and the long queues at the convent, Kaye volunteered to go with us, saying she knew the sisters very well. So I asked if we could be granted an interview and a peek at their facilities. It’s not every day that the Good Shepherd Sisters would grant an interview, but we were lucky we caught Sister Guada and she instantly agreed, all because she’s an avid reader of our column!

When I handed her my calling card, she broke into a huge smile and said, “Every Christmas, Peluchi Fernandez would send a whole leg of The Plaza premium baked ham for the sisters.” I was so pleased to hear this.

Now, going back to my story, Sister Guada entertained us with her stories and invited us to come back at 7:45 the next morning for part two of the interview. Little did we know that she was going to ask us to join the youth workers for a tai-chi session. So we did, and it was fun! She introduced us to the

group and we proceeded with the interview with Sister Rose and Sister Jeva, who gave us more insights into their mission.

In 1952, the Good Shepherd Sisters were tasked with a mission at the request of Bishop William Brasseur to establish a special apostolate for the Cordilleran youth from the provinces of Apayao, Abra, the Mountain Province, Kalinga, Ifugao and Benguet. Today, thousands of youth workers have graduated from college and vocational courses, some as agriculturists, caregivers, doctors, engineers, nurses, nuns, priests, policemen, teachers, and all of whom have greatly contributed to the uplifting of their respective communities.

KARLA: Good Shepherd products are something I grew up with. Once you open our refrigerator, you can immediately spot a jar or two of strawberry jam. The jar of ube jam never lasts that long. Both my mom and lolo are such ube jam fans that they spoon the ube out of the jar after a meal as their dessert. It would probably last a couple of days at most. I distinctly remember my lola, in between her bible study at night, would spread ube jam on toasted pan de sal or biscocho for her midnight snack.

The strawberry jam is another family staple. Mom and I have it with our croissant and cheese for breakfast. I remember one time, we brought home freshly made croissants and asked for butter and strawberry jam, only to find out that we had run out of it. Mom and I had a panic attack. Never in all my years had we ever run out of strawberry jam! Ha ha! Thankfully, a relative was driving up to Baguio that weekend. We ordered three jars. There is always a debate in our family between whole strawberry jam or the mashed strawberry jam. My cousin Benjo and I prefer the mashed jam as it is easier to spread on bread. Somehow everyone else seems to prefer the whole strawberries.

Our other family favorites from Good Shepherd are the peanut brittle, alfajor and chocolate crinkles. Both my uncle Gerry and I love the peanut brittle. Every time we drive up, we bring a canister back for him. After every Baguio trip, I would always bring peanut brittle to share with my barkada or classmates in school. Since I’m an only child, I realize after a few bites that I can’t really finish one whole canister, so I share it with other people instead. It’s also more fun that way. I also remember the first time lolo and I tried alfajor. It is a caramel-stuffed biscuit covered in confectionery sugar. We probably consumed half the canister in one afternoon. We had it with ice cream and dipped it in coffee for lolo and hot chocolate for me. This is also a favorite of one of my uncles, Bongo Feraren, who can finish off a whole jar in one sitting.

Lastly, the chocolate crinkles. Everyone loves the chocolate crinkles but my cousins Bea and Benjo Guingona insist that they are only good while in Baguio. Perhaps it has something to do with the cool weather in Baguio that makes the cookies so moist, or it’s probably their excuse to consume everything before the drive back to Manila. Other family favorites include the adobo peanuts and angel cookies.

MILLIE: We were informed that the top grosser is the ube jam, making up 70 percent of total sales. During ube season, Good Shepherd can process a minimum of one to two tons of fresh ube a day, harvesting it from the nearby provinces of Benguet and Ilocos. No food coloring is added and only high-quality Alaska condensed milk and Anchor butter are used. Production paraphernalia is partly mechanized, using industrial-sized mixers. To ensure a longer shelf life, the ube jam is now pasteurized.

What very few people know is that Sr. Mary Assumption Ocampo, who also developed dozens of Mountain Maid quality products that have been attracting many tourists, perfected the ube jam recipe. Sr. Annfiel developed the alfajor.

During the recent Panagbenga flower festival, we were told that there were more people up in Baguio than during Holy Week, which explains the long queues and limited selling of two ube jam jars per person at times.

The next bestseller is the strawberry jam, which now comes mashed or whole, sweet and sugar-free, as an increasing number of clients ask for sugar-free products. The fresh strawberries come from Long Long, La Trinidad, which has a cleaner source of water. They process around 800 kilos a day and during the peak months, anywhere from 1,000-2,000 kilos per day.

The third most popular product is the peanut brittle, which uses local peanuts but imported dried cashews.

The Good Shepherd mission has gone full circle. While it helps send a Cordilleran youth to school for every jar sold, they have also helped farmers’ livelihoods by extending loans to ensure good quality and a constant supply of the raw materials.

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