More than 120 years ago, an Ecuadorian teenager named Rosalía Suárez decided to make dessert for herself and a friend. She put some fresh fruit juice in a bowl with some ice, surrounded it with straw, and after a lengthy process of spinning and beating it, she ended up with her own version of ice cream. She realized that she was onto something, and started perfecting her technique, swapping her simple bowl for a bronze version called a paila, and adding a bit of salt so the ice cream would keep a little longer.
Her great-grandson and other supposed descendents still use her recipe—and her name—in their own ice cream shops, making fruity helados de paila, as the sorbet-style frozen treat is called. Ice creams have become one of Ecuador's signature desserts, although the range of flavors for helados de paila have expanded to include assorted fruits and some milk-based varieties—and one Quito-based vendor is even serving scoops of guinea pig.
According to the Associated Press, María del Carmen Pilapaña has started making ice cream from the rodents. Guinea pigs, or cuy, are a traditional dish in parts of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, and after taking an entrepreneurship course, Pilapaña came up with the idea to turn them into a dessert, too.
To flavor the ice cream, she turns the guinea pig's meat into a kind of paté, adds milk or cream, and then refrigerates it until it's either scoopable or lickable. Pilapaña tested her recipe for six months before quietly launching the cuy cream in September. Less than a month later, it's her best-seller. (One of her other frozen treats is a sweet-and-salty ice cream made from beetles.)
"My family and my husband thought I was crazy," Pilapaña said. "They didn’t think anyone would like these ice creams, but now they’re our main product." She has plans to add a few more flavors to the menu, including crab, chicken, and pork.
The guinea pig is believed to have originated in the Andean regions of South America—not Guinea, despite the name—and along with the llama and alpaca, it was one of the first three mammals to be domesticated in the New World. According to historical records from that time period and the presence of mummified cuy in human graves, the guinea pig seems to have become part of the Peruvian diet in the 12th or 13th century, mostly because it was a readily available source of meat.
Cuy has remained on the menu in the Andean countries in the centuries since: it even makes an appearance on Jesus' dinner table in Marcos Zapata's 1753 painting of The Last Supper. (The massive artwork is displayed in the Cusco Cathedral in Cusco, Peru).
Given its staying power and Ecuador's love for frozen desserts, Pilapaña's eventual descendents may be serving her cuy ice cream several decades from now.