Origins: Turrón de Doña Pepa

In recent years, there has been a commercialization of the traditional Peruvian sweet, Turrón de Doña Pepa, which is found widespread throughout Lima.  Pre-packaged portions are now sold at grocery stores and Jorge Chavez airport year round, though traditionally the layered nougat, drizzled with chancaca and topped with sprinkles and candy, is only found freshly baked in neighborhood pastelerías in October and early November. The origins of the dessert, a variation of a classic Spanish nougat or alba nougat, has a history that extends back hundreds of years.

The setting for the origins of Turrón de Doña Pepa are tied to the month of October, called the Mes Morada, or the purple month, in Lima, Peru. This is when El Señor de Milagros, or the Lord of Miracles, a massive religious procession, is held in the historic center of the city. El Señor de los Milagros, painted on a wall by an Angolan slave in the Las Nazarenas Church in the district of Pachacamilla in what is now downtown Lima, is the most revered image of Christ on the Peruvian coast. In 1655, a massive earthquake struck Lima and much of the center was in rubble. Miraculously, the wall of Las Nazarenas where the image of Christ sat was left untouched, even as the rest of the church crumbled around it. People began to worship the image, called Cristo de Pachacamilla, and came from across the country to see it and a chapel was built around it. It was common belief that the image gave protection from earthquakes and could even cure people of grave illnesses. Each October tens of thousands visit Las Nazarenas church and on select dates march the image through the streets of downtown Lima in passionate displays of devotion.

The origins of how Turrón de Doña Pepa came to be associated with El Señor de Milagros are somewhat murky, with varying accounts of what actually happened, though the the general idea is similar. In the late 1700s, one of those that came to see the image was Josefa Maraminillo, an Afro-Peruvian woman from the Cañete Valley. She suffered badly from paralysis and ventured to Lima to pray to El Señor de los Milagros and asked him to cure her. Soon after she was felt better and no longer felt pains in her arms and legs. Eternally grateful to the image, the story goes that Maraminillo wanted to do something to give back. Saints are said to have appeared to her and gave her the recipe some have alleged, or she may have created the sweet for a competition held by the Viceroy. Some historians say she may have been a noted cook who sold chicha, sango, and ñaju on the streets of Lima, but it was her original creation of the turrón that made her stand out.

Regardless of how and why the recipe was invented, at some point she began walking through the crowds around Las Nazarenas to hand out her recipe with its anise flavored nougat made of wheat flour, butter, and eggs, which was drizzled with chancaca and topped with dried fruits. Each October thereafter she would come to Lima and do the same. Years later, as Maraminillo became more and more identified at the scene of celebration, her nickname Doña Pepa was added, immortalizing her. Now each October in Lima, Turrón de Doña Pepa is a common sight at the El Señor de Milagros procession and free samples are passed out along Avenida Tacna near the church.