Sephardic women built the Pyramids (and called them mustachudos)

That’s ridiculous. Everyone knows they were built by extraterrestrials…

Whatever your own theory about who built the pyramids (bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar), several hundred years ago my female ancestors chose to commemorate the monumental labor with a monumental Passover cookie: the mustachudo.

 

Mustachudos (hazelnut spice pyramids from Rhodes)

Hazelnut mustachudos (Sephardic spice pyramids)

Any Sephardi whose family came from Rhodes (and a few other places) has some kind of mustachudo recipe. Mustachudos are soft, chewy cookies made from ground nuts. They weren’t always shaped like these neat little pyramids. That’s my doing. If you already make them yourself, or have eaten them, chances are the shape you associate with mustachudos is a squashed blob, slightly bulging at the middle and with three dimples around the top. Like a lumpy bell… Maybe. That shape always bothered me. It was nondescript, it didn’t seem to relate to anything, and Sephardic holiday foods generally reference the holiday at hand.

It had to be a pyramid.

How did I get from blob to pyramid to blob and back again? Practice. Shaping the pyramid requires pressing a ball of nut paste with your fingertips against a flat surface. Depending upon how you work, or the shape of your hand, your fingertips can easily dimple the peak of the cookie while pressing down to flatten the bottom.

Also through observation. I believe the dimpled shape first appeared as an inadvertent consequence that, because it happens to everyone, took on a life of its own. When I finally began making mustachudos myself, it was easy to see how the shape must have devolved from a snappier, straight-sided ancestor to a blob. But why?

Why did an inadvertent little pinch come to be the most significant thing about the recipe? Why did my great grandmother, whose techniques were expert, precise and very, very traditional, make those blobs? Because memory is short. By the time her own mother taught her to make mustachudos, they’d been around for hundreds of years.

If you don’t repeat a story in its entirety, people soon forget the details. Too many generations of oral recipes, of “make it this way” and not enough “make it this way because.” And, sadly, there are no mustachudos in the Haggadah – or everyone would be an expert.

The symbolic foods of the Seder plate help illustrate the story of Passover. Every year, we repeat what they are and what they mean, and we remember it all. The rest of the food on the table might seem like just another holiday meal, but the Sephardic women who devised our oldest traditional recipes were not only superb cooks, they were well versed in the Passover story and the custom of eating foods that remind us of our history. Their contributions to the holiday table weren’t just delicious, they were deliberate, thoughtful additions to our cultural heritage.

It’s a pyramid, not a blob.

Happy Passover!

 The recipe’s this way.

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4 Comments

Filed under History, Holidays (fiestas judias), Recipes

4 responses to “Sephardic women built the Pyramids (and called them mustachudos)

  1. Rosa

    My name is Rosa Hazan and my family , from Izmir , make mostachudos all year long.
    Nowadays We live in Argentina and prepare it with nuts and cookies out of Passover.
    They are delicius.
    Rosa Hazan

  2. Joan Bafaloukas

    Great recipe. Joanna

  3. Yehuda

    Great title and nahon b’emet! Just don’t forget that Sephardic men helped by eating them :) The recipe is Endyamantada, Jalal para unos wonderful para otros, de si para si Kascher l’Pessah! The shape appropriate for a wonderful Seder Table. We ate mostachkos in the long version and we will improve the shape thanks to the Sephardic Women who really build the Pyramids. Hag Pessah Kascher Sameah l’kulam!

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