Last month, I decided to add a little history to my time in Puerto Rico with a visit to UNESCO World Heritage and San Juan National Historic Site, Castillo San Cristobal. A colleague and I spent the morning walking around Old San Juan (more on that soon!), but hadn’t quite worked up an appetite for lunch, so we decided to head up the hill to visit the massive fortress.
Built by Spain over a 150-year period and the largest European fortification in the Americas, Castillo San Cristobal is expansive, covering nearly 20 acres.
Now flying the flags of the United States, Puerto Rico, and Spanish Empire,
the fortress guarded the only land access to Old San Juan, which translates into stunning views of both the city and the sea.
The fort hosts a series of sentry boxes, or guerites, used to protect itself and its city. The best known is The Devil’s Guerite, built in 1634.
While this particular lookout isn’t accessible to the public, many others are and the views they provide are breathtaking.
Entering the fortress, visitors walk through a tunnel that leads to the main plaza.
There are six such hidden passages in the fort that once offered protection and the ability to move unseen from the enemy. But what about the enemy who ended up in the fortress? There’s a cell open for visitation and, on its walls, are hand-drawn ships. These drawings were one of my favorite parts of the fort visit and are said to be the work of a captive Spanish captain awaiting trial for mutiny.
Walking across the main plaza to see the troops’ quarters and chapel, I couldn’t help but notice a pile of mortar shells.
But instead of letting my imagination run wild with thoughts of Colonial-era battles, it ran straight to the kitchen with thoughts of Rum Balls!
This recipe was adapted from Emeril Lagasse’s and since it’s no-bake, it’s perfect for the Puerto Rican heat.
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 cup rum
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 1/2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers (a 12 oz box, crushed)
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Sparkling sugar and/or powdered sugar to garnish
- In a large bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and spices. Whisk in rum and honey.
- Using a rubber spatula, stir in vanilla wafers and pecans; mix well.
- Place in the refrigerator to firm up slightly, about 30 minutes. (Note: The mixture may appear crumbly.)
- Using a tablespoon, scoop out portions of the chocolate mixture and press into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the powdered sugar or sparkling sugar, coating evenly.
- Place on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to soak in.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, placing waxed paper between the layers to prevent sticking. (Note: The rum flavor will be more prominent the longer the rum balls sit before serving.)
DISTANCE TRAVELED FROM PHILADELPHIA TO SAN JUAN: 1,576 miles