Purple yam is used in a variety of desserts, as well as a flavor for ice cream, milk, Swiss rolls, tarts,cookies, cakes, and other pastries.
Ube [ooh-beh] is purple yam, which should not be confused with purple potatoes or with purple sweet potatoes available here in California. Purple yam is not uniquely found in the Philippines but I think Filipinos by far use it more than anyone else to flavor and color their sweet treats and breads. On a recent trip home, I was amazed at how ubiquitous purple sweet treats were. They were seriously everywhere, even in doughnuts.
When I think of ube, I think of my mom making haleyang ube [ha-leh-yang ooh-beh] or purple yam jam in our tiny kitchen. My mom would buy fresh ube from the farmers’ market and would make the jam from scratch at home in her heavy, deep kawali. She would let me stir the jam only if I promised to be very careful. She taught me how to use a small towel to hold the pan’s handle with my left hand and use my right hand to constantly but gingerly stir the jam until it thickens.
Making ube jam, along with collecting 12 round fruits, is my family’s New Year’s tradition. Having 12 round fruits on the dinner table as the clock strikes twelve brings good luck and prosperity in the New Year. Making something purple for media noche brings even more prosperity. The purpler, the better. But why so, you may wonder. For the longest time, the Philippine peso’s highest denomination was 100: the very purple 100-peso bill, until 1987 when the yellow 500-peso bill was first introduced, which was trumped four years later by the blue 1,000-peso bill. And so a very purple New Year meant more 100-peso bills — more prosperity to come.
The beloved ube, therefore, occupies a special spot in my heart. Ube ice cream with crispy, fragile barquillos or wafer rolls.