Growing up on a remote ranch in South Texas, and now raising a family on the next ranch over, I have spent a lifetime cooking three meals a day. I come from a family of five children, my husband's is a family of six children. Today, between both families there are about 30 grandchildren, with a few grand-spouses and great grandchildren in the mix. Get togethers are logistical challenges, serving over 65 family members, more when they have invited guests (usually extended family). Did I mention we live 40 miles from the grocery store? No restaurants, caterers, KFC or pizza delivery either. People ask me all the time for a copy of my professional bio, and they are shocked that I do not list any formal culinary qualifications. Seriously, I'm qualified.
Hanging around the ranch with my mother, my suegra (mother in law), my grandmothers, and their lady friends from other ranches and small towns, I would hear about old timey ranch dishes that went way beyond macaroni and cheese: morcilla, cuajada,nata, champurrado, cuete mechado de venado...I was intrigued as we ate none of these in our modern, electrified home. My suegra talked about enjoying tacos de huevera, (or tacos filled with sauted fallopian tubes of chickens.) Hmm, is this the same lady sitting in front of me wearing a Prada track suit? What has changed?...the ranch, the cuisine or la suegra?
And moreover, why were they all Spanish dishes? Why weren't they French, or Italian? Or Portuguese or Greek? We live on the border of Mexico, and my husband and I travel there frequently. The cuisine of Mexico was different from what I knew at the ranch, although similar. The cuisines are simultaneously the same and different. I want to know why.
In San Isidro, a small gas stop about 30 miles from the ranch, they make morcilla, a blood sausage. A friend of mine makes it every Christmas for her family, although there are not so many takers in the younger generation. Eating morcilla is mostly for the grownups, the kids only trying it when double dog dared. The only other place in the world where I have heard morcilla is made is Spain, where it is incredibly popular. A flamenco dancer friend who lived in Seville assured me morcilla is the Spanish food she misses most. So how did this wildly popular Spanish blood sausage become the highly regarded, special occasion delicacy in a tiny Texas ranch town?
Surrounding San Isidro are a few hand dug water wells, which have been in the community since the 1600's. Lined with hand cut limestone, the well shafts are about 50 feet deep, reaching the underground aquifer of sweet, fresh water. Spanish settlers riding on horseback up from Mexico dug these wells. The availability of water (an extremely rare commodity in Texas) allowed the Spanish to start the community of San Isidro. It blows my mind that the recipe for morcilla was probably brought by the people that dug these wells 400 years ago, and that the recipe is still being made today...a living remnant of the Spanish conquistadores.
My trip to Spain is going to reveal an incredible amount of information regarding our ranch food. But the bigger picture is what I will learn about exchange of foods between Europe and the Americas.