There are many stories going around about the origin of that most improbably Cuban sandwich, the Elena Ruz.
In some websites there have been long discussions with all kinds of theories and suppositions...what most agree on is that the first time it was seen on any Cuban restaurant menu it was at El Carmelo of 23rd and G Streets, a popular place in the upper-class Vedado area of Havana.
Some say it was named after an American whose last name was Rush and Cubans pronounced as Ruz...Someone else asserts that the sandwich was actually named after Babe Ruth's wife Helen when she requested a special order sandwich from the staff at the Hotel National in Havana. This one claims that Helen was changed to Elena and that since Cubans couldn't pronounced Ruth, it was changed to Roos as a literal spelling of the name, so it then turned to Ruz.
Neither of those stories is correct. For the record, my middle name is Ruth and no one in Cuba pronounced it Roos or Ruz.
Elena Ruz Valdez-Fauli was a young Havana socialite from a very prominent family in the late 1920's who used to frequent the El Carmelo Restaurant with her school friends. Elena would request a sandwich made especialy for her with lightly toasted medianoche bread, spread generously with cream cheese and strawberry jam, then filled with roasted turkey slices.
She would have to explain her combination each time she ordered it, so after a while she requested the sandwich be put on the menu so she wouldn't have to explain each time. The management complied and eventually also placed a neon sign at the window announcing the 'Elena Ruz Sandwich' for 25 cents. That was quite expensive at the time considering that a regular Medianoche Sandwich or even the larger Cuban Sandwich were offered for 5 and 10 cents respectively.
Many years later, during an interview with the Miami Herald she explained " I loved it, but my mother was horrified. She thought it was disgraceful to have my name in lights as if I were advertising myself."
In time Elena married Eduardo Ulacia and had 5 children. From Cuba the family settled first in Miami and some years later lived for a while in Spain.
On the morning of November 28th, 2011 at the age of 102 years old, Elena Ruz Valdez-Fauli de Ulacia died in San Jose, Costa Rica where she had moved to be near her daughter Margarita Ulacia Ruz.
Since then any Cuban restaurant or eatery, including in exile, features the Elena Ruz sandwich, although some of them insist in spelling it Ruth and many have no idea of the story or the fascinating woman behind it.
At the Cocina Cubana group in Yahoo, the sandwich came into discussion and one of the group member's who lives in Costa Rica took it upon himself to contact friends of his family who were also friends with Elena's daughter. Through him we received the photo of Elena in this post as well as an e-mail from Elena's daughter Margarita letting the group know of Elena's death and included a story about her mother and the sandwich written by Rosendo Rosell, a well-known Cuban actor, composer and newspaper columnist.
If anyone is interested in reading that story, please send me an e-mail and I will gladly share it.
Elena Ruz Sandwich
1 medianoche bun
Roasted slices of turkey
Medianoche buns are not available in Hawai'i and the recipes I've tried never turned out the way they should. The closest thing I can find here is Portuguese bread or a good challah, so that is what I use.
Spread generous amounts of cream cheese on one side of the bun and strawberry jam on the other. Place turkey slices in between. Butter the outside of the bun on both sides and place on a hot skillet pressing down and turning it until golden on both sides.
No lettuce or anything else is added to this sandwich. If someone serves you a sandwich they claim is an Elena Ruz with lettuce or anything else besides cream cheese, strawberry jam and turkey slices in it, they don't know what they're doing!
My "official" 75th birthday portrait by Gail Armand
Today is my birthday and its a real biggie! I have reached my own Diamond Jubilee of 75 years...and hopefully, still counting... The thing is, I don't really care for diamonds...Maybe for some girls diamonds are their best friends, but I have never had much luck with them...so I will call it my Pearl Jubilee since pearls are my birthstone and I do love them.
The lū‘au location - Wai'uli Beach Park - Kalanianaole Avenue in Keaukaha area of Hilo - looking towards Hilo
Even though today, June 19th is the birthday, the big splash celebration was this past Sunday. My son Anthony and our friend Cathy co-hosted a pot luck lū‘au at a local beach park and invited friends to share with me.
Looking back I can't believe all the twists and turns my life has taken...in fact, I can look back and really count the many lives I've lead. Some of those lives were good and some not so good, but upon reflecting, I would not change anything as I have had some amazing experiences, met some wonderful friends and have had marvelous adventures along the way.
Flower decorations on two of the pavilion posts welcomed our friends
Galyn did the honors cutting the kalua pig - a lū‘au is not a lū‘au without the traditional kalua pig. There was also poi and two different types of seasoned sea salt to go with the food.
A fruit basket with papaya, apple banans, lychee and mountian apples
Lomi lomi salmon - salted salmon, rinsed in ice water several times as you lomi (massage it), onions and tomatoes are added to this delicious and traditional lū‘au pupu!
Sea weed salad and 'ahi poke with a kick! Other pupus brought were boiled and salted soy beans, purple sweet potato slices topped with chutney and chèvre (soft goat cheese), pork filled fried wontons with two sauces, Kimchi mussles and 'popcorn lobsters', tiny, tiny little lobsters served in their shell...oh, my!
There were two trays of colorful and delicious sushi...homemade by Galyn & Trevella
Traditionally, white rice is served at a lū‘au, but trying to eat healthier, the rice served was a mixture of brown and wild rice with seasonings.
Other dishes brought (and I hope I don't forget any) mac salad, noodles, fried rice, corn casserole, fresh fruit salad, sliced Kabocha squash and a liliko'i haupia dessert.
Everyone I have encountered on this trip called Life...family, friends, teachers, acquaintances...even my on-line friends...have had a part in shaping the 'me' I have become and I feel blessed.
The hosts, Cathy Segovia Emery and my son Anthony...
The birthday 'girl'... I am wearing 7 of the 8 lei received as gifts...all were different and all were gorgeous...the 8th one is a rose bud lei decorating the cake...no candles, as probably the cake would have burned before I could have blown them all out!
The day was glorious...the friends wonderful and the food was onolicious! Several friends couldn't make it and I just want to let them know they were very much missed!
This was a "green event" - we used square monkey pod wooden trays, bamboo flatware and colorful cloth napkins!
There were very little non-compostables to throw away!
Mahalo, Cat and Anthony and all of you who shared this beautiful birthday lū‘au with me. Lucky live Hawai'i, eh?
A group of our friends decided to get together for a picnic a few days ago. After a couple of suggestions we decided on the little strip of park tucked in between the Nihon Restaurant and Liliu'okalani Park at the end of Lihiwai Street by Hilo Bay.
The sun was shining, a breeze was blowing, the friends were great and the food was ono!
Everyone brought delicious food to share and to keep it all "green", not a napkin, utensil or dish was disposable.
Fruit salad in watermelon basket, delicious chicken salad with a hint of tarragon, absolutely wonderful pork bits served with either hoisin-plum sauce or mustard, roasted Kabocha squash and Maui onion salad with Italian olive oil and two kinds of sea salt mix, hard boiled eggs and lavosh type multi-grain crackers with pistachios and multi-grain crackers with seeds.
Carol & Bob, Brenda & Kevan, Trevella & Galyn and Sonia & Anthony having a fun time with a picnic at the park.
Kevan and Brenda brought some of their homemade ginger ale and wai loke (rose water) made from rose petals and simple syrup. Carol brought some refreshing agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water). We all tried a combination of all three beverages together!
To make the Kabocha Squash Salad, nothing could be simpler; line a jellu-roll pan with parchment and drizzle with olive oil. After cutting the Kabocha in 6 pieces and getting rid of the seeds and strings, place it on the parchment and roast at 400 F for about 20 minutes. Let cool, peel and cut in chunks. Serve cold with thinly sliced sweet Maui onions, a deizzle of good olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
We spent a couple of fun and relaxing hours in the middle of a busy day for everyone.