Sunday, December 23, 2012

New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate Y Más

What better subject for Christmas Eve than cuisine and chocolate!  Above is the title of an exhibition that just opened at the Museum of International Folk Art here in Santa Fe.  I must confess that while it is the most popular tourist attraction among the State run museums I have never been a big fan, but this time they hit the nail on the head. 

This show is beautifully thought out and installed.  What has been getting the most attention and praise are the kitchens that were set up including a New Mexican Hearth, a Spanish Kitchen and a New Mexican Colonial Kitchen.  The Hearth is a model of what would have been built in a traditional one room house made of adobe bricks mud and plaster with a kiva fireplace which one still finds in houses today. The family lived in and cooked in this room until the family was settled and could afford both the time and money to expand the building.

The curator of the exhibition, Nicolasa Chávez is 14th generation New Mexican on her father’s side, which is unusual even in this part of the world.  So who better qualified to work on the subject of the history of Southwest cooking.

I was not surprised to learn that a great many foreign foods were brought to the Southwest, what I did not realize was that our exports caught on abroad.  Tomatoes and peppers were imported into Spain from the New World.  Tomato sauce was not known before that.  I must say I remember when I was a child and taken to Italy and I found out you couldn’t get pizza there.  Boy, was I disappointed!  Never fear, today it is as ubiquitous in Italy as it is all over the United States.

One of my favorite food and drink combinations is wine and chocolate. Chocolate has been part of the Mesoamerican culture since 1800-1400 BC and was first discovered in North America by Christopher Columbus on one of his later voyages to our continent at the very beginning of the 16th century.   It had been known in New Mexico, however, since the 11th century.  It was originally drunk unsweetened and was not to the taste of the European settlers.  The cacao bean, on its own, is quite bitter but after ingredients such as sugar, milk, honey and cinnamon were added it gained in popularity.  It was only in the mid-19th century when the United States military began its occupation of the Southwest that the tea and coffee they brought with them replaced chocolate as the most popular drinks.

Though, New Mexico may not be the first place you would think to start a vineyard tour,
vineyards were planted here as early as 1629 by Franciscan Monks at various missions along the Rio Grand Valley and  we had the earliest wine production of any of the territories.  By 1884 New Mexico was already producing a million barrels a year and was the 5th largest wine producer in the country.  There was a lull during the 20th century but today, again, there is a great deal of wine produced here.

What I wish I could show you here is a 50-minute video shown in the exhibition courtesy of the University Arizona Press.  It is called, “Chocolate: Pathway to the Gods” and it traces not just it’s history in the Southwest but it’s entire 3,000 year history.  One can learn so much about this fabulous international food. The film was produced by Arecho Productions inc. and it can be acquired directly here.

Clearly there is a lot more to the exhibition than I have outlined and much of the information is about the cross fertilization of foods between this part of the world and Europe.  Even though the exhibition will run for another 12 months, by its very nature it is ephemeral.  I do hope that they produce a catalog for the show so that the focused presentation of the exhibition and its content won’t be lost.

No comments:

Post a Comment