Historic Mexican Recipes Are Now Available as Free Digital Cookbooks: Get Started With Dessert

There are too many competing stories to tell about the pandemic for any one to take the spotlight for long, which makes coming to terms with the moment especially challenging. Everything seems in upheaval—especially in parts of the world where rampant corruption, ineptitude, and authoritarian abuse have worsened and prolonged an already bad situation. But if there’s a lens that might be wide enough to take it all in, I’d wager it’s the story of food, from manufacture, to supply chains, to the table.

The ability to dine out serves as a barometer of social health. Restaurants are essential to normalcy and neighborhood coherence, as well as hubs of local commerce. They now struggle to adapt or close their doors. Food service staff represent some of the most precarious of workers. Meanwhile, everyone has to eat. “Some of the world’s best restaurants have gone from fine dining to curbside pickups,” writes Rico Torres, Chef and Co-owner of Mixtli. “At home, a renewed sense of self-reliance has led to a resurgence of the home cook.”

Some, amateurs and professionals both, have returned their skills to the community, cooking for protestors on the streets, for example. Others have turned a newfound passion for cooking on their families. Whatever the case, they are all doing important work, not only by feeding hungry bellies but by engaging with and transforming culinary traditions. Despite its essential ephemerality, food preserves memory, through the most memory-intensive of our senses, and through recipes passed down for generations.

Recipe collections are also sites of cultural exchange and conflict. Such has been the case in the long struggle to define the essence of authentic Mexican food. You can learn more about that argument in our previous post on a collection of traditional (and some not-so-traditional) Mexican cookbooks which are being digitized and put online by researchers at the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA). Their collection of over 2,000 titles dates from 1789 to the present and represents a vast repository of knowledge for scholars of Mexican cuisine.

But let’s be honest, what most of us want, and need, is a good meal. It just so happens, as chefs now serving curbside will tell you, that the best cooking (and baking) learns from the cooking of the past. In observance of the times we live in, the UTSA Libraries Special Collections has curated many of the historic Mexican recipes in their collection as what they call “a series of mini-cookbooks” titled “Recetas: Cocindando en los Tiempos del Coronavirus.”

Because many in our communities have found themselves in the kitchen during the COVID-19 pandemic during stay-at-home orders, we hope to share the collection and make it even more accessible to those looking to explore Mexican cuisine.

These recipes, now being made available as e-cookbooks, have been transcribed and translated from handwritten manuscripts by archivists who are passionate about this food. Perhaps in honor of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate—whose novel “paints a narrative of family and tradition using Mexico’s deep connection to cuisine”—the collection has “saved the best for first” and begun with the dessert cookbook. They’ll continue the reverse order with Volume 2, main courses, and Volume 3, appetizers & drinks.

Endorsed by Chef Torres, the first mini-cookbook modernizes and translates the original Spanish into English, and is available in pdf or epub. It does not modernize more traditional ways of cooking. As the Preface points out, “many of the manuscript cookbooks of the early 19th century assume readers to be experienced cooks.” (It was not an occupation undertaken lightly.) As such, the recipes are “often light on details” like ingredient lists and step-by-step instructions. As Atlas Obscura notes, the recipe above for "'Petra’s cookies' calls for “'one cup not quite full of milk.'"

“We encourage you to view these instructions as opportunities to acquire an intuitive feel for your food,” the archive writes. It's good to learn new habits. Whatever else it is now—community service, chore, an exercise in self-reliance, self-improvement, or stress relief—cooking is also creating new ways of remembering and connecting across new distances of time and space, working with the raw materials we have at hand. Download the first Volume of the UTSA cookbook series, Postres: Guardando Lo Mejor Para el Principio, here and look for more "Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus" recipes coming soon.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Cambridge University Professor Cooks 4000-Year-Old Recipes from Ancient Mesopotamia, and Lets You See How They Turned Out

Those of us who’ve dedicated a portion of our isolation to the art of sourdough have not suffered for a lack of information on how that particular sausage should get made.

The Internet harbors hundreds, nay, thousands of complicated, contrary, often contradictory, extremely firm opinions on the subject. You can lose hours…days…weeks, agonizing over which method to use.

The course for Bill Sutherland's recent culinary experiment was much more clearly charted.

As documented in a series of now-viral Twitter posts, the Cambridge University professor of Conservation Biology decided to attempt a Mesopotamian meal, as inscribed on a 3770-year-old recipe tablet containing humankind’s oldest surviving recipes.

As Sutherland told Bored Panda’s Liucija Adomaite and Ilona Baliūnaitė, the translated recipes, found in Ancient Mesopotamia Speaks: Highlights of the Yale Babylonian Collection, were “astonishingly terse” and “perplexing,” leading to some guess work with regard to onions and garlic.

In addition to 25 recipes, the book has photos and illustrations of various artifacts and essays that “present the ancient Near East in the light of present-day discussion of lived experiences, focusing on family life and love, education and scholarship, identity, crime and transgression, demons, and sickness.”

Kind of like a cradle of civilization Martha Stewart Living, just a bit less user friendly with regard to things like measurements, temperature, and cooking times. Which is not to say the instructions aren't step-by-step:

Stew of Lamb

Meat is used. 

You prepare water. 

You add fat. 

You add fine-grained salt, barley cakes, onion, Persian shallot, and milk. 

You crush and add leek and garlic.

The meal, which required just a couple hours prep in Sutherland’s non-ancient kitchen sounds like something he might have ordered for delivery from one of Cambridge's Near Eastern restaurants.

The lamb stew was the hit of the night.

Unwinding, a casserole of leeks and spring onion, looked inviting but was “a bit boring.”

Elamite Broth was "peculiar but delicious," possibly because Sutherland substituted tomato sauce for sheep’s blood.

It’s an admittedly meaty proposition. Only 2 of the 25 recipes in the collection are vegetarian (“meat is not used.”)

And even there, to be really authentic, you’d have to sauté everything in sheep fat.

(Sutherland swapped in butter.)

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her isolation projects are sourdough and an animation with free downloadable posters, encouraging the use of face coverings to stop the spread of COVID-19. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Take a Virtual Tour of the World’s Only Sourdough Library

There’s 15-year-old Precious from the Netherlands…

And Bubble from Australia, age 4…

Yeasty Beasty Methuselah, from Twin Falls, Idaho, is estimated to be around 50…

Every sourdough starter is special to the ones who made or maintain it, but of the 1000s registered online with Quest for Sourdough, only 125 have earned a permanent place in the Puratos Sourdough Library in Saint-Vith, Belgium. It's the world's only library dedicated to Sourdough, and you can take a virtual tour here.

Housed in identical jars in a museum-quality refrigerated cabinets, these heritage starters have been carefully selected by librarian Karl De Smedt, above, who travels the world visiting bakeries, tasting bread, and learning the stories behind each sample that enters the collection.

As De Smedt recalls in an interview with the Sourdough Podcast, the idea for the museum began taking shape when a Lebanese baker reached out to Puratos, a hundred-year-old company that supplies commercial bakers and pastry makers with essentials of the trade. The man’s sons returned from a baking expo in Paris and informed their dad that when they took over, they planned to retire his time-honored practice of baking with fermented chickpeas in favor of instant yeast. Worried that his prized recipe would be lost to history, he appealed to Puratos to help preserve his protocols.

While fermented chickpeas do not count as sourdough—a combination of flour, water, and the resulting microorganisms this marriage gives rise to over time—the company had recently collected and analyzed 43 venerable starters. The bulk came from Italy, including one from Altamura, the “city of bread, producer of what Horace called in 37 B.C. 'the best bread to be had, so good that the wise traveler takes a supply of it for his onward journey.'”

Thus was a non-circulating library born.

Each specimen is analyzed by food microbiologist Marco Gobbetti from the University of Bolzano and Bari.

A collaboration with North Carolina State University biologists Rob Dunn and Anne Madden revealed that sourdough bakers’ hands share distinct microbes with their starters.

More than 1100 strains of microorganisms have been recorded so far.

Every two months, the starters are taken out of the fridge and fed, i.e. reactivated, with a combination of water and some of their flour of origin, yearly quantities of which are contributed by their bakers. Without this regular care, the starters will die off.

(The pandemic has De Smedt working from home, but he intimated to The New York Times that he intended to make it back to feed his babies, or “mothers” as they are known in sourdough circles.)

#72 from Mexico feeds on eggs, lime and beer

#100 from Japan is made of cooked sake rice.

#106 is a veteran of the Gold Rush.

Their consistency is documented along a line that ranges from hard to fluid, with Silly Putty in the middle.

Each year, De Smedt expands the collection with starters from a different area of the world. The latest additions come from Turkey, and are documented in the mouthwatering travelogue above.

For now, of course, he’s grounded in Belgium, and using his Instagram account to provide encouragement to other sourdough practitioners, answering rookie questions and showing off some of the loaves produced by his own personal starters, Barbara and Amanda.

Register your starter on Quest for Sourdough here.

If you haven’t yet taken the sourdough plunge, you can participate in North Carolina State University’s Wild Sourdough Project by following their instructions on making a starter from scratch and then submitting your data here.

And bide your time until you’re cleared to visit the Puratos Sourdough Library in person by taking an interactive virtual tour or watching a complete playlist of De Smedt’s collecting trips here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her current starter, Miss Sourdough, was brought to life with an unholy splash of apple cider. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Quarantine Cooking: 13 Professional Chefs Cook Pasta at Home with the Most Basic Ingredients Available

Bon Appétit takes you to the homes of 13 professional chefs, each cooking pasta with whatever they happen to have on hand. In the next half hour, you may pick up a few handy tips.

Chefs featured include: Claire Saffitz, Brad Leone, Chris Morocco, Gaby Melian, Andy Baraghani, Sohla El-Waylly, Amiel Stanek, Alex Delany, Carla Lalli Music, Priya Krishna, Rick Martinez, Christina Chaey and Molly Baz.

via Mefi

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Japanese Artist Has Drawn Every Meal He’s Eaten for 32 Years: Behold the Delicious Illustrations of Itsuo Kobayashi

Since the 1980s, Itsuo Kobayashi has drawn a picture of every single meal he eats. However notable we find this practice now, it would surely have struck us as downright eccentric back then. Kobayashi began drawing his food before the arrival of inexpensive digital cameras and cellphones, and well before the smartphone combined the two into the single package we now keep close at hand. We all know people who take camera-phone pictures of their meals, some of them with the regularity and solemnity of prayer, but how many of them could produce lifelike renderings of the food placed before them with only pen and paper?

"The Japanese outsider artist and professional cook, born in 1962, first began keeping food diaries as a teenager," Artnet's Sarah Cascone writes of Kobayashi. "In his 20s, he began adding illustrations of the dishes he made at work, and those he ate while dining out." When, at the age of 46, a "debilitating neurological disorder made it difficult for him to walk, leaving him largely confined to his home," Kobayashi began to focus on his food diaries even more intensely.

His subjects are now mostly "food deliveries — sometimes from restaurants, sometimes from his mother. And though his day-to-day existence rarely varies, he’s been pushing his practice in a new direction, creating a new series of pop-up paintings."

After 32 years of making increasingly detailed and realistic overhead drawings of his every meal — including such information as names, prices, flavor notes, and faithfully replicated restaurant logos — Kobayashi's work has caught the attention of the American art world. The Fukuyama-based gallery Kushino Terrace "gave Kobayashi his US debut in January, at New York’s Outsider Art Fair," Cascone writes. "His works sell for between $500 and $3,000." That makes for quite a step up in prestige from his old job cooking at a soba restaurant, though his copious experience with that dish shows whenever it appears in his diary.

But then, after decade upon decade of daily practice, everything Kobayashi draws looks good enough to eat, from bowls of ramen to plates of curry to bento boxes filled with all manner of delights from land and sea. Though hardly fancy, especially by the advanced standards of Japanese food culture, these are the kind of meals you want to savor, the ones to which you feel you should pay appreciative attention rather than just scarfing down. Or at least they look that way under Kobayashi's gaze, which even the most ardent 21st-century food-photographing hobbyist must envy. Many of us wish to eat more consciously, and the work of this cook-turned-artist shows us how: put down the phone, and pick up the sketchbook.

via Artnet

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Archive of Handwritten Traditional Mexican Cookbooks Is Now Online

“The search for authentic Mexican food—or rather, the struggle to define what that meant—has been going on for two hundred years,” writes Jeffrey Pilcher at Guernica. Arguments over national cuisine first divided into factions along historical lines of conquest. Indigenous, corn-based cuisines were pitted against wheat-based European foods, while Tex-Mex cooking has been “industrialized and carried around the world,” its processed commodification posing an offense to both indigenous peoples and Spanish elites, who themselves later “sought to ground their national cuisine in the pre-Hispanic past” in order to fend off associations with globalized Mexican food of the chain restaurant variety.

Stephanie Noell, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA), explains how these lines were drawn centuries earlier during the “culinary cultural exchange” of the colonial period: “[C]onquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo referred to corn dishes as the ‘misery of maize cakes.’ On the other side, the Nahuas were not impressed by the Spaniards’ wheat bread, describing it as ‘famine food.’” Whatever we point to—corn, wheat, etc.—and call “Mexican food,” we are sure to be corrected by someone in the know.

Cooking, as everyone knows, is not only regional and political, but also deeply personal-- tied to family gatherings and passed through generations in handwritten recipes, sometimes jealously guarded lest they be stolen and turned into fast food. But thanks to UTSA Libraries, we have access to hundreds of such recipes. An initial donation of 550 cookbooks has grown to include “over 2,000 titles in English and Spanish,” notes UTSA, “documenting the history of Mexican cuisine from 1789 to the present, with most books dating from 1940-2000.” Many of the books, like that below from 1960, consist of handwritten content next to cut-and-paste recipes and ideas from magazines.

The collection spans “regional cooking, healthy and vegetarian recipes, corporate advertising cookbooks, and manuscript recipe books.” The oldest cookbook, belonging to someone named “Doña Ignacita,” whom Noell believes to have been the kitchen manager of a wealthy family, “is a handwritten recipe collection in a notebook,” writes Nils Bernstein at Atlas Obscura, “complete with liquid stains, doodles, and pages that naturally fall open to the most-loved recipes.” Like the other manuscript cookbooks in the collection, “never intended for public scrutiny,” this one “provides essential insight on how real households cooked on a regular basis.”

“I’ve had students in tears going through these,” says Noell, “because it’s so powerful to see that connection with how their family makes certain dishes and where they originated.” On the other hand, we also have generic “Corporate Cookbooks” like Recetario Bimbo, a book of sandwich recipes from the well-known bread company Bimbo. Recent publications like the ultra-hip, 2017 Fiesta: Vegan Mexican Cookbook, which promises “over 75 authentic vegan-Mexican food recipes included,” strain the word “authentic” to its breaking point. (“Want to feel all the great benefits from the ketogenic diet?” the book’s blurb asks, a question that probably never occurred to either Aztecs or Conquistadors.)

The UTSA Mexican Cookbooks collection is open to the public and anyone can visit it in person, but Noell wants “anybody with an internet connection to be able to see these works.” UTSA has been busy digitizing the 100 manuscript cookbooks in the collection, and has scanned about half so far, with Doña Ignacita’s 1789 notebook coming soon. While these aren’t likely to resolve debates about what constitutes authentic Mexican cooking—as if such a thing existed in a monolithic, timeless form—they are sure to be of very keen interest to chefs, home cooks, historians, and enthusiasts of the history of Mexican food. Enter the digital collection of manuscript cookbooks here.

via Atlas Obscura

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Cooking with Wool: Watch Mouthwatering Tiny Woolen Food Animations

Our fascination with tiny food can be traced to the mouthwatering illustrations in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

Just like the dollhouse-sized comestibles that so confounded the titular rodents, Tom Thumb and Huncamunca, animator Andrea Love’s miniature pasta with red sauce is as inedible as it is appetizing.

The self-taught stop motion specialist’s medium of choice is wool.

In an interview with Dragon Frame stop motion software’s company blog, when they featured Cooking with Wool: Breakfast, above, Love explained:

I like to make short personal projects experimenting with the different ways to animate wool. The technique is called needle felting and it involves shaping wool with a barbed needle. I love the fuzzy aesthetic, and feel like the possibilities are endless. Everything in this video is made out of wool or felt, and is built over rigid insulation foam. This was a weekend/evening project, done over the course of three days… It is very challenging working with tiny bits of wool, but also amazing how much detail can be achieved on a small scale when you consider that it is just tiny clumps of fur.

Forget the showstoppers—the melting butter, the fried eggs flipping in the pan, the steam rising from cup and kettle…

Let’s take a moment to admire the attention to detail that went into the background aspects—the rubber spatula, the bananas, the cheery flecked wallpaper…

The only thing missing is a potholder to handle that piping hot cast iron skillet.

Perhaps she ran out of wool?

The Port Townsend, Washington resident, who graduated from Hampshire College with a concentration in film studies and sustainable agriculture, whips up her teeny weeny wooly meals in the same basement studio where she crafts promotional videos for local businesses, including the yarn shop where she sources her wool rovings.

View more of Andrea Love’s fiber-art stop motion animations, including a “digital” banana painting created with a woolen tablet and stylus, on her website and Instagram page.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, February 3 for New York: The Nation's Metropolis the 21st installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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