Juno Parreñas’s Roots Cupcakes

This cupcake tells a story of roots: my own roots and my efforts to be rooted in my new home of Ithaca. This story is told with the help of root vegetables, ube, and carrots.

Ube (Dioscorea alata) and its purple flesh is the quintessential flavor of my childhood in the Philippines. It is known as Ubi Keladi in Malaysia and Indonesia and has travelled with seafaring Austronesian-speaking peoples, becoming naturalized in such far flung places as Haiti and Madagascar. Its flavor is described as vanilla meeting pistachio, but one never just tastes with the tongue. You eat ube with eyes, too, because the sight of its vibrant purple color delivers joyful synesthesia. Ube is impossible to get in Ithaca, but Stokes® purple sweet potatoes are a suitable substitute, as are Okinawan purple sweet potatoes.

Carrots are the ubiquitous root vegetable probably slowly aging in the bottom of your refrigerator. Roasted, Quick pickled, sauteed, steamed, boiled, blanched, sous vide, pureed, and baked, its possible forms of preparation are endless. Nearly every cuisine in the world has adopted this modest cultivar, Daucus Carota subspecies Sativus. I must admit that my favorite way to eat carrots are in cake.

This cupcake, naturally bright purple and with vibrant orange carrot speckles, is an experiment for me in recalling my personal history, caught as it is between the United States and Southeast Asia. Biting into it, I am transported back to memories of eating ube chia pudding with my sisters, steamed ube rice cakes with grated cheese with my mother, and carrot cake birthday parties with friends. 

—By Juno Parreñas