Book review: Flora’s Kitchen, Recipes from a New Mexico Family

FlorasKitchenCover

Flora’s Kitchen, Recipes from a New Mexico Family

La Cocina de Flora, Recetas de una Familia de Nuevo Mexico

“Grandma Flora was indeed a gourmet cook and … her recipes are some of the best of the traditional style that is unique to New Mexico.”

Regina Romero is a manita who comes home to New Mexico and, with the help of her sister, recreates the recipes of her paternal grandmother, Flora Duran Romero, which were previously held only “in head and hand”. This memoir / cookbook is a portrait of a pioneer women who was a gourmet cook and healer, among many other things. Grandma Flora was an example of a manita grandmother who taught through example. Manitos, short for hermanito (little brother) were Spanish who settled in northern New Mexico, which made it “the northernmost and often isolated frontier of the Spanish empire in the New World”.

I enjoyed this book aesthetically, with it’s brightly colored rendering of Grandma Flora in the garden, holding a bounty of vegetables in her arms. The red border and back cover, reminiscent of red chile, and the terra cotta illustrations within make for a beautiful design. Throughout the book, there are family photos and community photos including the church in Albuquerque Old Town in 1881, and a view of Gallup. Don’t forget to pop into the Glossary as needed for clarity as these manito stories intersperse Spanish and English.

Romero imbues each recipe with culture, family and memories. Each chapter opens with an old family photo and a charming title such as “Oraciones y Pan, Prayers and Bread”, and “Sopa Is Not A Soup, Manita Desserts”. Each recipe is laced with stories and cooking secrets. She makes subtle distinctions between Flora’s time and now, for example, noting that foods such as enchiladas, carne adovada, and soapapillas were mainly for special occasions. There are nuances for beans, cooking them according to the food they were served with. The recipes have been pleasantly modified to reduce fat, and include a few newer dishes such as nachos and fajitas. Although they aren’t Grandma’s recipes, the granddaughters felt that she would approve.

Flora’s domain, the kitchen, contained the coal stove which was also used also for heating the home. As the kitchen is the heart of the home, the grandmother is the keeper of that fire. She was devoutly religious, immaculately clean, industrious, and nonmaterialistic. I loved the story about when Regina and her sisters would get the treat of sleeping in Grandma’s bed. They were scrubbed, put on Tio’s cotton tee shirts, and climbed into bed. While falling asleep, and upon waking, they saw Flora at her altar, and wondered if she had stayed up all night praying.

Most of the recipes are the expected and desired: tortillas, chile, enchiladas, flan; but there are some surprises such as a local green called quiletes, also known as “Spanish spinach”. There is plenty lesser known to try, such as New Mexico quiche, Manito Cornbread, and Meatball Soup. The Cinnamon buns are already on my Christmas menu. I am also partial to trying the Arroz Dulce, as my favorite childhood dessert was my own paternal grandmother’s Rice Pudding.

I think the author has connected to her family and ancestors through recording these traditions and customs. I certainly felt the warmth and values they were brought up with; “Cuando uno es mas pobre, se le debe socorrer mas.” To one who needs the most, give the most.

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