A Puerto Rican kitchen isn’t complete without a pilón. For my family, when you break out THE pilón, it's time to make garlic sauce.
A pilón is a wooden mortar, when you say it, the maceta, pestle, is implied. It's become iconic of Puerto Rican, and Caribbean cooking. An essential tool to make so many of our beloved dishes like mofongo (fried & mashed plantain with savory seasoning) and sofrito (the quintessential cooking base for all soups, stews, rices, beans). Used to mash up food, wooden mortars and pestles date back to the Taínos, the Indigenous people of the Caribbean. They would hollow out large tree trunks by burning, to form waist-tall pilones and use giant macetas also formed from trees. Our modern ones are much smaller, as over time our cooking habits have changed, but methods remain the same. You use a pilón with a crushing motion, not grinding, to breakdown your ingredients into a paste.
We have multiple pilones in our home. Some are rustic, some are small, some are large, some are artistic and for show only, some intricately carved, displaying true artistry with wood. We have a dedicated pilón for mojo garlic sauce- the smell of garlic forever stained into it like a memory of our recipe, absorbing the flavors of the ingredients used time and time again like a seasoned cast-iron skillet. That's part of the charm and magic of the flavor it imparts.
When I think about a pilón, I think about my mother showing me how to use it and take care of it. How to make the paste for mojo- what consistency I want the garlic to be, what the right amount of salt, spices, black pepper are. Not having a recipe, just adding by look and texture, the exact calculations weren't needed.. just the feeling. When I would think it looks good, I would show her and watch for her look of approval, anxiously waiting. Hoping I don't hear "Keep going" as my arms and wrists were tired from pounding. Eventually, I got the seal of approval to do it on own, entrusted with the family recipe, a badge of honor I wear proudly.
I share with you a picture of our mojo garlic sauce pilón, the very instrument that started this business. It's a symbol of my culture, my history, my mom, and what I hope will be my legacy.