Dear Shaded Viewers,
With 35 complete menus, over 200 recipes and one hundred color photos,
Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes broadens the
reader/cook‘s understanding of Mexican cuisine and culture by delving
into the history behind the special events that occasion fiesta menus.
The book begins with the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe and that
most quintessential of Mexican foods, tamales; and chapter by chapter,
reveals a culture rich with folklore. Included are all major holidays
celebrated nationally for which special foods are prepared.
Much of what we know about Mexican cuisine had, for years, been passed
down through an oral tradition, and to this day, recipes are
faithfully written by hand in personal notebooks of Mexico’s
daughters, as dictated by their mothers and grandmothers. Every family
has its own unique menus, and every family has its own special and
secret recipes. Celebraciones Mexicanas shares the recipes of the
Almazan family with complete menus, sometimes several, for each
festive event, so as to allow the reader to plan a meal very much like
that which would be prepared in Mexico for the occasion.
Why made you decide to write this book?
Andrea: I had an idea that I might write a cookbook one day, but my plan was
to write ii after I moved to Mexico, when I would have more time and
be more immersed in the culture. But, as they say, “Man plans and God
laughs”. I met my editor, Ken Albala, and learned about his Food
Studies and Gastronmy Series for Rowan Littlefield and I met my
co-author, Adriana Lahl Almazan through La Cocina and everything just
sort of fell together. Next thing you know I was writing a book
proposal. When my proposal was accepted, I couldn’t believe it!
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Andrea: Really, it was a combination of personal experience and
feedback from my readers. It seemed that, every time I was in Mexico
— and I go frequently because I am building a small Casa de Huesperas
or Guest House there — there was a always a party, a fiesta, some
kind of holiday and I found myself participating in the preparation of
a special dish. As I began to share some of these recipes in the
column I write for the Examiner.com, I noticed that these were the
most popular of my articles. There just seemed to be a lot of interest
in Mexican holidays and related food. I didn’t even realize that ours
was the first book to combine the history behind and traditions of
Mexico’s fiestas as well as the recipes for the dishes served, until I
saw the marketing materials from our publisher.
The book is organized in an unusual way, by menus. What made you
decide to do it this way?
Andrea: This was something that grew, almost organically, out of early
meetings with my co-author, Adriana Almazan Lahl. As we began to
create a list of recipes for the book, it was logical to approach them
like this. I would ask Adriana what her family might typically share
for any given holiday, and she would rattle off a litany of dishes,
really, a complete menu. Given that the premise was to bring the
richness of those meals and traditions to an American audience, it
stuck us that the menu presentation would really communicate that.
Aside from the beautiful food photos, there are many photos of people
in very colorful, traditional garb. Can you tell me about those?
Andrea: We were very lucky to be able to work with in-country
photographer Jorge Ontiveros, whose passion is photographing Mexico’s
indigenous people in their native environments. These are photos of a
few of the diverse groups that make up Mexico’s indigenous population;
taken as they are preparing food and/or celebrating a holiday. They
did not dress up for the photos, the clothing they are wearing is part
of the culture and tradition that has been preserved over time, it is
what they wear. All of the apparel and accessories are made in each of
the indigenous communities in a way of life that has been passed down
from generation to generation. This is one of the aspects of the book
that I am most proud of— that I was able to share just a little of
the history and culture of these people with our readers.
What surprised you most as you were researching the book?
Andrea: I would have to say two things: One, how very little cooking
techniques, implements and ingredients have changed since
pre-Columbian times. I knew tamales and tortillas were part of the
Aztec diet, but what I learned was that the very heart of the cuisine
has stayed true to the foodways of Mexico before the colonization, and
this in spite of real pressure to “modernize”. The food politics of
Mexican history fascinate me: I also learned so much about the folk
Catholicism that is at the heart of many festivals, and the push and
pull between the Catholic Church and Aztec customs that evolved to
create celebrations as they exist in Mexico today.
I know Mexican cooking can be complicated. What dish would you
recommend to someone who wants to try his or her hand at something
special but is not familiar with Mexican cuisine?
Andrea: The recipes are designed for a broad audience. There are many
recipes that work for a person who is looking to learn to cook
Mexican. To begin with, we have included an entire section of Basic
Recipes and Cooking techniques, which include everything from making a
basic chicken stock to rendering lard. There is a section on Salsas,
which are such a key component to many dishes. Making enchiladas is a
great place to start because it can begin with making masa from which
you can make tortillas by hand, and a salsa, plus a filling… these are
great basics to have under your belt when learning Mexican cuisine.
Nominations: Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Fiction, Stonewall Book Award-Barbara Gittings Literature Award