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South Texas Living

Christmas traditions

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Julia Castro
Apple Pie and Salsa
December 11, 2013 | 2,389 views | Post a comment

It was a few days before Christmas one evening in the late ’60s, when there was a knock at the kitchen door. One of the kids opened the door and there stood Dora with some of her children. She was holding a good-sized box in her hands. It was a white box, the kind that one used for gifts.

Dora was Henry’s aunt by marriage, being the widow of Henry’s uncle, Carlos. Henry never called Carlos or any of his uncles “uncle” since he grew up with them. They were more like brothers. So Dora was just Dora. She set the box on the kitchen table while sporting a big smile. When I asked her what she had, she didn’t answer; she just opened the box. What I saw was what I would call cookies. She had layered them, with sheets of waxed paper between the layers. She told me to go ahead and taste one. I did, and it practically melted in my mouth! I had never tasted anything like that before. They were cut out in the shapes of playing card symbols -- the spade, the club, the diamond, and the heart. They were thin and covered with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. I asked her if they were all for us and she said, “Yes,” but to be careful not to eat too many at one time because they were very rich. When she gave me the recipe I could understand why. And she called them ojarascas -- a Mexican pastry.

From that day on those ojarascas became part of our Christmas tradition. For many years I would make sure to set aside time in the early afternoon of Christmas Eve to bake them. Once I started the process I couldn’t stop because you had to roll them in the sugar mixture as soon as they came out of the oven. I didn’t become an expert at making them right away. I had to learn to roll the dough to just the right thickness. If it was too thick it wasn’t as appetizing. If it was too thin they would break up when I was coating them. And I started using Christmas shapes, like a bell and a star. I would get about 100 of those delicacies from one batch.

Some years ago I tried a recipe that my daughter Dee Dee shared with me. The ingredients are the same, but they are easier to make. You don’t roll out the dough. You make little balls and they spread out. They are just as delicious.

I have made them for special occasions, such as a small family wedding or a birthday party. And I have seen people pile them on their plates. They are like the chips in a commercial -- “You can’t eat just one.”

I don’t make them for Christmas anymore. I would rather make empanadas like Mamá and my sister Dalila used to make. I didn’t get a recipe from them. The recipe I use for the dough comes from my dear friend, Mary Anna Gonzales.

And I still can’t help but think of Dora as Christmas draws near.

Julia Castro, a retired Head Start teacher and mother of 10, lives in Floresville with her husband, Henry. Her email is

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