The culinary memory of Mexico

Many of the dishes that today characterize Mexican cuisine had their origins in homes and convents centuries ago. These recipes survived over the years thanks to the recipe books that chefs passed down from generation to generation.

By Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Manual del cocinero y cocinera (1849) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

The writing of recipe books is a literary genre whose significance for the study of thought and its contexts has not been fully valued.

Quaderno de guisados caseros. Siglo XVIII by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

As historical sources, cookbooks were long cataloged as curiosities or sources of second or third importance, perhaps by the fact that, at first glance, their contents respond only to some part of everyday life and are not related to heroes, or notable battles or eras.

Arte de Cosina según el uso de la Provincia (1829) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

This has been a mistake, because a more pressing observation of these documents shows that their pages reveal, in one way or another, the uses, customs and tasks of several actors and moments of history.

Libro de cocina de Don José Moreda (1832) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

In the recipes of a cookbook there are technical details such as the production methods of a kitchen, as well as knowledge related to seasoning, intangible heritage that, impossible to transcribe textually, is recognized as a product of knowledge, sensitivity and tradition.

Siglo XVIII. Manuscrito de la Biblioteca Nacional de España by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

The recipe books perpetuate the food memory on witnessing the inclusion or abandonment of practices and ingredients and on accounting for changes in fashion and the taste perception of a human group.

Libro de Cocina para el uso y asiento de Da. María de la Luz Tissier (1823) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

In cookbooks, endearing emotional windows to the past, the life and culture of former Mexicans are naturally trapped in their quest to establish their class consciousness and national identity.

El Cocinero Mejicano en forma de Diccionario (1858) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

Some handwritten and others printed, a number of Mexican recipe books from the past are still with us now.

Manual de cocina. Recetas recopiladas por la Srita. María Isla quien las cedió a la Casa de “La Misericordia Cristiana”. (1911) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

They originated in households privileged by abundance and in convent kitchens inhabited by women and men.

Receta manuscrita temprana de un mole negro de Oaxaca (1832) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Some were brought to the press by anonymous compilers, more than others we know more their author and their intentions.

El cocinero Mexicano ó colección de las mejores recetas para guisar al estilo americano (1831) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

The State of Mexico and likewise the capital of the country passed on to us early testimonies of food as a living component of the national.

Receta manuscrita de una “Quezadilla” (1823) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

Oaxaca, in a tradition shared by several federal entities of the central region of the Republic, did not lag behind.

La cocinera poblana. 300 recetas. Mole poblano (1950) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

However, in general it can be said that the country's history, represented in surviving recipe books and cookbooks, is rich in two senses: by possessing the value of the distinctively old and by honoring the richness—translated as pleasure—of its flavors and meanings.

Reproducción de la Receta manuscrita más antigua que se conoce del Manchamanteles (1829) by Alberto Peralta de LegarretaCocina Cinco Fuegos

We also find in them the origin of iconic dishes such as manchamanteles (black mole) stew.

La cocinera poblana o el Libro de las familias (1913) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

These are documents that are useful in bringing us closer to proud identity processes of a micro-nationalist nature, such as the case of Puebla, a state that became the main supplier of printed culinary materials throughout the 19th century and thanks to this gave visibility to its regional cuisine, elevating it in no small number of cases to the altars of national gastronomy, as was the case with the mole poblano (Puebla mole) and chiles in nogada (chilis in walnut salsa).

El Cocinero Mejicano en forma de Diccionario (1858) by Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril and Cocina Cinco FuegosCocina Cinco Fuegos

Although still under study, several manuscripts survived from near-independence times that gave away a powerful pride in local ingredients and procedures.

Credits: Story

Curator: Alberto Peralta de Legarreta
Photographers: 
Alberto Peralta de Legarreta
Fototeca Lorenzo Becerril A.C. / Cocina Cinco Fuegos

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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