Rooted in tradition, ‘uraro’ makers find success

Keeping more than seven decades’ worth of legacy is a testament to a long-serving tradition and commitment to preserving memories and values.

Carmelita Rejano-Reyes, the owner of the famous Rejano’s bakery in Marinduque, is not only keeping her business up and running for decades now, but also upholds her family’s rich and colorful legacy by reintroducing Marinduque through a well-loved delicacy.

“Walang famous pasalubong ang Marinduque. Bakit hindi natin gawing famous ang arrowroot para maging kilala ang Marinduque (There is no famous delicacy in Marinduque. Why don’t we make arrowroot famous to make Marinduque more known)?” said Rejano-Reyes, looking back at how her mother introduced arrowroot to her and her siblings.

Rejano’s bakery is best known for its arrowroot (uraro) cookies, a crisp, delectable treat that locals and tourists frequently buy, eat and share with their family, friends and loved ones. Gaining widespread popularity within Marinduque, Rejano’s arrowroot cookies serve as their family and province’s pride.

Looking back
If it weren’t for her mother and the values she passed down to her and her siblings, Rejano-Reyes would have been living an entirely different life.

She remembers how her mother would bake arrowroot cookies for her friends and loved ones on special occasions.

It was also her mother who trained them to become business-minded while they were still young. At that time, Reyes watched her mother proudly make arrowroot cookies with love and dedication.
However, operating a bakery was not the long-sought plan at first.

“After graduation, ina-assign ako para mag-manage ng bakery (After graduation, I was assigned to manage the bakery),” she revealed, adding that she had no idea how to manage a bakery since she graduated with a BS in Chemistry degree – a field that is entirely different from managing a bakery and keeping the family business alive.

The journey
Rejano-Reyes’ inexperience in operating their bakery did not hinder her from learning the process step by step as a way to uphold her mother’s legacy.

“Habang wala sila pinag-aralan ko kung paano kumuha ng raw material. Kung paano pina-process ng mga farmers yung starch (while they were gone, I studied how to set the raw material; how the farmers process the starch),” she said.

She also used her skills and knowledge as a chemistry graduate to learn how to make arrowroot cookies. “Dahil nga chemist ako, pinag-aralan ko ang properties, kung ano ‘yung makakatulong kapag kumain ka ng cookies at maraming benefits ang nakita ko (Because I’m a chemist, I studied the properties and what can be beneficial when you eat cookies, and I found a lot of benefits),” she continued.

Operating a bakery is not only about keeping the business running, it also involves a lot of technical and operational aspects, such as having an adequate supply of raw materials and supporting local farmers.

She buys raw materials directly from local farmers as a way to support and motivate them to innovate and increase their harvests.

“Nag-create kami ng Arrow Root Industry Council at ako yung ginawa nilang president. Nag-usap usap kami buong Marinduque, para ipabatid na ang arrowroot ay other income aside from rice and coconut (We established the Arrow Root Industry Council and they appointed me as the president. We had discussions all around Marinduque to make them know that arrowroot can be another source of income aside from rice and coconut),” she explained, noting how they conducted multiple business opportunity seminars in the past where farmers and entrepreneurs can have a head-start on making arrowroot as a source of income.

Improving, innovating
Although the pandemic affected their business, it did not deter Reyes from adapting and finding more ways to improve and innovate their products.

One of these is Polvoron de Uraro, a famous pandemic recipe made of arrowroot with cacao leaves.

They also created arrowroot pancakes (saludsod or sinaludso), a product that is only available in Gasan, Marinduque. Arrowroot pancakes are a gluten-free snack that serves as a livelihood for women during the holy week.

Having been in the business for a long time, Reyes could have been swayed to quit operating the bakery and join politics just like her husband. However, she perseveres in keeping their family’s legacy and helping those around her in good times and bad.

“Ang linya ko is more on the simbahan and the kapwa, ‘yun ang mas masaya sa buhay ko kaysa mag-politics… Kaya mas malaya ako makatulong sa kanila nang walang inaantay na kapalit (My focus is more on the church and my fellowmen; that’s what brings more joy to my life than being in politics… That’s why I feel freer to help other people without expecting anything in return),” she said.

Rejano-Reyes also remains grounded despite all the years and mastery that she dedicated to serving her craft. She hopes to reintroduce Marinduque in a fresher perspective through arrowroot cookies — a long-lived legacy that her family gifted to her and will, indeed, be passed down for generations and remembered for its taste and history.