- Posted October 22, 2012 by
San Antonio, Texas
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Who taught you to love food?
MARRIED YOUNG, LEARNED TO COOK, TRAINED HERSELF TO SURVIVE
Man can adjust to anything except not eating…
My mother has an eighth grade education and yet she is one of the most ingenious people I know. As our neighbor Lina Espinoza used to quote, “Para tonto no se estudia, one need not study to become a fool. As I look back at my mother’s friends, they were a bunch of smart cookies. They didn’t have much, but what they had they stretched and they always shared. Mother was one of the few women in the neighborhood who drove, so she’d drive people to the doctor or to run an errand and they would return the favor by paying for gas, bringing food or babysitting. There wasn’t much cash, so bartering was a way of life.
Mom had to use her brain to make things go further, especially meat. The beef soup I make often today used to be a special treat we looked forward to as kids. But then when I went off to college and was surrounded by American food, I turned my back on the dishes of my childhood, they reminded me of being poor. Now those are the very recipes I am collecting and preserving for the generations to come so they will know what an excellent cook my mother became.
My mother did not know much about cooking when she married, but with years of practice she became a great cocinera. She married at eighteen and by nineteen she had my oldest brother. Being an only child and going to work at seventeen hadn’t given her the opportunity to learn to cook before she married, so she relied on her neighbors like Doña Hercilia Uribe to give her direction. Learning to cook, was learning to survive, as the Mexican dicho proverb reads, “A todo se acostumbra el hombre, menos a no comer, Man can adjust to anything except not eating.”
Chelo as my mother was called would yell out from her kitchen window to Hercilia who was tending her matas. Doña Uribe might be watering the plants or hoeing hierbas, weeding her garden. Qué más echo en el molcajete, what else do I add in the mortar before I start grinding? This basic lesson would serve as the foundation to my mother’s cuisine for the rest of her life. Almost all the dishes she prepared were spiced with the ingredients ground in the molcajete. The spices all Mexicanos kept on hand, salt, whole pepper, garlic in cloves, and whole comino/cumin seeds were added to every dish. In those days even if there was chicken or beef broth for sell in a can, my mother didn’t buy it. It was always a matter of saving a few cents, so she made her own broth by boiling beef or chicken in water with the spices she ground in her molcajete. About money, to this day mom reminds us, no vayan a gastar el último níquel, don’t spend all your money down to the last nickel. Recuerden el dicho, remember the Mexican proverb, “No hay corazón tan triste como una bolsa sin dinero, there’s no heart as sad as an empty purse.”
I still have the little molcajete she gave me when I was twenty with, “Mija this is going to be your best friend en la cocina, in the kitchen. Once in awhile she’ll ask me, y tu molcajete and where is your mortar? I lie to her, “Oh mom it’s in a cabinet somewhere in the kitchen.” I don’t have the heart to tell her I burn sage in it when my house needs smudging. What would she think, best to keep that to myself, don’t want to hear her say, “Los tíos de tu Papá eran unos indios ladinos, your father’s uncles were a bunch of wild Indians.” For the most part I try to keep my month shut about rituals I’ve picked up along the way, Mamá is very fearful of change. As the saying goes, “En boca errada no entran moscas, flies don’t enter a closed mouth. In other words some times it’s best to keep your mouth shut.
Such is the case in tweaking mom’s recipe for caldo de carne de res, beef soup. I took her recipe and made it healthier. When she finds out I know what she‘ll say, “Qué, qué healthy, todos los tenemos que morir. I don’t want to argue with her, “Yes we all have to die, but why speed up the process!”
My version of my mother’s recipe:
Chelo’s Caldo de Carne de Res, Beef Soup
¼ cup garlic extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ to 2 lbs. beef short ribs bone in
64 ounces beef cooking stock
14 oz. small purple potatoes, cut each potato in half
4 celery sticks, cut into ½ inch pieces
1 cup baby style carrots
¼ yellow onion sliced
½ cup brown rice
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In soup pot brown ribs (low heat) on all four sides in garlic olive oil, add beef stock slowly, then add the potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, rice and salt and pepper to taste. Turn up heat to medium, cook in pot with lid on for one hour. Serves four.
Buen Provecho, Bon Appetit
Edna Campos Gravenhorst will be teaching the workshop at Gemini Ink in San Antonio, “The Story Behind the Spice.”