Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mexican Bread.

In advance of Cinco de Mayo, I thought I would look at descriptions and opinions of Mexico - especially the food - from outsiders.

I give you an article from Putnam’s Monthly, Volume III, 1854, written by (or from the perspective of, it is not clear which) a visitor in 1846 - at the beginning of the war with the United States.

The writer notes that “Life has its varieties even in San Antonio. The fandango of last night is followed by the funeral of this morning;—thus sorrow treads on the heels of joy, and checkers with black and white, the universal picture of human life.” He then puts aside the metaphor of the fandango, and goes on to describe the actual event, and the making of “Mexican bread” – and the use of the latter as payment for the entertainment by American “visitors.” It is written in the tone usual for such conquerors and colonists – a tone which it minds us to remember is still used in modern times in such situations.

The selection includes our recipe for the day – tortillas from scratch.

“"Fandango " is the term given in the dictionaries for a "lively Spanish dance," but is here applied to nocturnal gatherings for dances, ''lively" enough, certainly, but possessing very few of the qualities of the "poetry of motion." The women who attend these assemblies are seen, with their rebozos drawn closely over the face, serving for bonnets, which they never wear, wending their way early in the evening, by tho light of their own cigarretas, and puffing most industriously, to the place of rendezvous. These are of a class not definable, as in Mexican female society here, there appeared to be little distinction between vice and virtue, and the chaste matron or maiden (if there be such), and the leprous prostitute, seemed to be on terms of social equality. The young girl not yet indoctrinated in the ways of vice, finds ready instructors at these gatherings, where she soon loses the modesty of feeling and purity of heart, innate in the sex, and by degrees falls at last into that pit from which there is no recovery. Fandangoes, as conducted here, are mere schools of corruption and immorality for the destruction of the younger attendants, soul and body; in which the alphabet of vice and the rudiments of prostitution are acquired with fatal facility. Yet there is positively nothing more attractive in them, than the discordant tones produced by the untutored hand of a village blacksmith, upon fibres of untanned catgut. The males were drawn entirely from the Americans; the few Mexicans who were prowling round the outside of the building, seemed to surrender without a struggle or a regret, their wives, sisters, and daughters to hopeless pollution and degradation. In the dance, the females are ranged in a right line on one side of the room, and the males opposite their respective partners; then to the sounds of unearthly music, they proceed to go through with the most laborious antics and gyrations; motions fore and aft and up and down, vulgar if not voluptuous; and having succeeded in working themselves up to the proper point of perspiration—thereby generating a species of perfumery less delicious than the "gales of Araby"—the dance ceases, and each man conducts his partner to a refreshment table, where he purchases a dime's worth of cake or tortillas, which she receives in her handkerchief or hands, and proceeds to deposit under a bench, or with a friend, for safe keeping, so that it may not encumber her performances in the next dance. This pile accumulates during the evening, if she is tolerable good-looking, to a mass large enough to feed a small family of Mexicans, until the next fandango. The dance is thus considered a business transaction, conducted on the cash system.
Tortillas constitute the ordinary Mexican bread. They are of corn, and as thin as pancakes, which in appearance (only) they resemble. The grain is first soaked in ley [lye], until it becomes soft and loses the outer covering; it is then thoroughly washed in water, and made ready for the mill. This consists of a flat stone, the upper surface slightly concave, and a cylindrical crusher of the same material. A woman places the corn thus prepared beside her, and with the stones before her, she crushes about a handful at a time, when it becomes pulpy and soft. It is then turned into a trough, and after a little additional manipulation, is ready for the oven. Apropos of this operation, one of our countrymen was in a sort of cake shop belonging to a native, where the woman was making pies. There being no chairs, he was about to make use of the bed as a substitute, when the woman, under an unaccountable excitement, earnestly begged him to desist. As her language was wholly unintelligible, she was compelled at last to reveal the cause of her uneasiness and opposition, by exhibiting a layer of pies which she had snugly stowed away between the sheets, preparatory to transferring them to the oven.”

Quotation for the Day.
A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned - this is the sum of good government.
Thomas Jefferson.

No comments: