Heroism, recipes and family in new culinary memoir
NEW YORK — In her previous cookbooks, Filipino America chef Elizabeth Besa-Quirino has given readers morsels of her mother’s culinary influences. In her latest book Every Ounce of Courage: A Daughter’s Reflections on Her Mother’s Bravery, Quirino provides a full course on the woman who raised her.
In what she describes as a historical and culinary memoir, Quirino recounts “stories of heroism” about Lourdes “Lulu” Reyes Besa. From a childhood with tragedy to life as a young socialite in the heyday of 1930s Manila, Besa eventually is thrust into aid work during World War II.
“Lulu embarked unflinchingly on dangerous missions to bring aid and comfort that meant the difference between life and death to countless Filipino and American prisoners of war, at great peril to her own life,” says Quirino.
After the war, Besa received two Medals of Freedom from President Harry Truman. “Becoming the first Filipino woman and civilian to be so honored for her valiant efforts.”
Two decades ago, Quirino received a phone call from a stranger. “He told me, ‘You don’t know me, but your mother saved my life.’
“It was an American war veteran. He contacted me by phone to tell me he had been searching for my mother for over 50 years since the war ended. There was no internet and no social media during all those years, so he was never able to find my mother.
“As a young man living in the Midwest in the 1940s, he had enlisted with the American Army Air Forces and was assigned to the Philippines. Unfortunately, he was one of the thousands captured in 1942. As a prisoner, he got very sick with malaria and other illnesses.”
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Quirino details in the book how Besa’s connections allowed her to enter the prison camps as she clandestinely brought in prohibited medicines.
“That phone call changed my life. I knew very little about my mother’s life during World War II. She never talked
about it. He urged me to start writing my mother’s story.”
Quirino’s previous titles include How to Cook Philippine Desserts, Cakes and Snacks: Filipino Cookbook Recipes of Asian in America and My Mother’s Philippine Recipes : Filipino Cookbook Recipes from Asian in America.
Responding to the Instant Pot craze a few years ago, she released Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Traditional Philippine Food In a Multi-Cooker Pot.
To write about her own mother’s life, Quirino’s years-long research included old letters and photographs. She also looked into news clippings, magazine articles and history books. “The books I read brought me back to different eras. The more I read, the more historical information I found about my family.”
What she anchors her book on is her use of generational family recipes. “The chapters begin with me cooking a different dish from my mother’s time. Each recipe brought me back in time to the stories she used to tell me about the war, about my grandparents and great grandparents.
“There are 24 recipes in the book. In the process of my historical and culinary research, I went back to the time my mother was born, to the era of my grandparents at the turn of the 20th century.”
Some of the recipes Quirino features in the book include Mom’s Shrimp Toast, ensaymadas, pancit molo soup, beef morcon, tibok-tibok and ginataang bilo-bilo. “Food plays a large part in my family.”
“In my mother’s story, I discovered a complex life full of joy, sorrow, selflessness and survival. I learned precious lessons about how the timeless bonds of family, the steadfast strength of faith and the power of an indomitable will can provide solace and sense in a world of uncertainty.”