I met my informant at a cooking class in Cancun, Mexico. She and her husband hold these classes in their home just outside of the Hotel Zone. They’re both in their mid-50’s and have lived in Cancun with their three children for close to twenty-five years. My informant was born and raised in Mexico City, where she spent the majority of her youth mastering regional cuisines from throughout Mexico. She ultimately attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though she is well versed in world cuisine, she considers herself an expert in traditional Mexican cooking, as the majority of her recipes have been handed down through both her family and her husband’s.
The classes she holds are for no more than twelve people and lasts roughly six hours. She gives a short lecture on different culinary regions of Mexico and then begins an interactive cooking lesson where the group prepares twelve separate recipes. The lesson was too long to record the entirety of the performance, but I recorded some of her specific introductions and explanations of several dishes. She also gave each participant a copy of the recipes, almost all of which were passed down through the generations. The informant transcribed them and included her own specific instructions.
“You’ll need a big cast-iron skillet or griddle and a tortilla press, too (gestures to a very old, metal tortilla press) this belonged to my grandmother, who got it from her mother, so has been in my family for…130 years? More? A long time (laughter). In most every recipe for corn tortillas the proportion is 2 cups of corn flower to 1-1/4 to…maybe 1-1/3 cups water. The difference between 1/4 and 1/3 cup can be a lot…can be very important. Also, don’t confuse corn flower and corn meal. Very different. Corn meal is a completely different process and it won’t work…when you’re done, you can keep them warm how you like…I use this (holds up a dried gourd with the top cut off as a removable top)…gourds keep things nice and warm, how we like.”
2 cups corn flower
1-1/4 to 1-1/3 cups of water
Mix the corn flower and the water little by little. Work with your hands to form your masa and roll it into a big ball. Take a pinch off a golf-ball sized piece of masa.
- Set the masa on a piece of plastic in the tortilla press and core with another piece of plastic
- Press the masa in tortilla press
- Transfer tortilla to a hot dry skillet
- Cook for about 30 seconds on one side, turn
- Cook for about 60 seconds (it should puff slightly) turn back to the first side
- Cook for another 30 seconds on the first side
- Remove and keep the tortilla warm
Though both simple and fairly generic, Claudia seemed to take the most personal ownership of this recipe. This seemed to be in large part because of the antique tortilla press we used to prepare them. She was very proud of the press and its history, and appeared to have an almost spiritual connection to its personal and cultural significance.