Guatemaltecan Cookery (1887): Tostadas, Chile Relleno

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Tue Sep 30 00:48:05 UTC 2003

by William T. Brigham
New York:  Charles Scribner's Sons
Gainesville: University of Florida Press:
1965 reprint

   Guatamala was one of the first places visited on the grand Popik world tour (in 1998).  I went for the Mayan temples.  The cuisine wasn't a highlight.  As a joke/experience/safety measure, I "dined" at the Guatemala City Chuck E. Cheese.
   OED has only two citations from this book (for "dante" and "sapota").
   I'll get to Lafacadio Hearn's TWO YEARS IN THE FRENCH WEST INDIES (1890) in a little bit.  It has a large food section.  Again, OED has only two cites from it ("Madras" and "Martiniquais").

Pg. 86:  A Boston boy who has a fine coffee estate in the neighborhood came in as we were at dinner and initiated us into the mystery of _tortillas tostadas_.  Certainly by toasting, the tough, clammy, cold tortilla is made even better than new.

Pg. 185:  Almost worn out with sight-seeing, we stopped at a restaurant near by, and with our lunch had some native _cerveza negra_,--an unpleasant beer brewed from molasses.

Pg. 314:  Guatemaltecan cookery, although simplicity itself in its instalment, is excellent and wholesome,--none of the vile saleratus-bread, tough doughnuts, and clammy pies (I have great respect for a good tart) which are the curse of the country cooking of New England.  But let the comida consist of (Pg. 315) only tortillas, frijoles, and huevos; these staples are always well cooked.

Pg. 366:  Tomatoes grow everywhere, and are of great importance in the kitchen, next to the universal chile (_Capsicum annuum_).  Peppers of other kinds are used, especially a large green one which is stuffed with minced meat coated with egg and crumbs and served as _Chile relleno_.  Pawpaws (_Carica papaya_) are common (a small wild species is abundant on the Pacific coast); and the fruit, as large as a cantaloupe, and filled with pungent seeds like those of the tropaeolum, is eaten raw, or cooked in tarts.  Its juice is of the greates use in making tough meat tender.  The akee (_Blighia sapida_) is much like a custard when cooked.
   The avocado (_Persea gratissima_) is one of the fruits that have many names.  In Peru it is called _palta_, and the Mexican _ahuacatl_ was twisted by the Spaniards into _aguacate_ and _avocado_, and the English corrupted this last into alligator-pear.
   (OED has 1906 for "relleno."  OED 1993 ADDITIONS has 1929 for "chile rellenos"--ed.)

   I do not speak of the tables of the upper classes, where variety is found in Guatemala as well as elsewhere; but of the common cookery that a stranger finds in travelling, it may truly be said that it has not a national character, nor does justice to the abundant material at hand.  What there is of it is, however, good; a fresh tortilla is better than the cakes of the Northern backwoods, and the wheaten bread made by the _panadero_ of the village is exceedingly palatable.  Frijoles, or beans, the most popular general dish, are always stewed over an open fire, and are much better than the baked beans of New England.  Eggs are always present, either fried, poached, or baked in the shell (_huevos tibios_); when fried, always seasoned with tomato, chillis, and vinegar.  _Salchichas_, or sausages, fried in lard, with plenty of garlic; _gigote_, or hashed meat; _higate_, a potage made of figs, pork, fowl, sugar, ginger, cinnamon and allspice, (Pg. 422--ed.) bread, soup, and innumerable ollas,--are present as solid dishes, the meats generally being of poor quality.  Besides the vegetables of Northern gardens, there are _chiotes_, palm-cabbage, and, best of all, plantain.  For_verduras_, or greens, there are many plants,--none, however, better than spinach or dandelions; and the _ensaladas_ are not remarkable.  In the shore region one can have the most delicious turtle-steak, white and tender as veal, iguanas fricasseed,--perhaps the best native dish,--javia-steaks, armadillo (which I am sorry to say I have not eaten), and fish of many kinds and flavors.
   I have spoken of the bad coffees served as "essencia," but have not said enough about the chocolate, which I never found carelessly prepared.  Perhaps the best is prepared entirely ar home; that is, the beans of cacao are carefully roasted, as coffee might be, and the shells removed by rubbing in the hands.  The metatle then serves to crush the oily mass, as corn is prepared in tortilla-making; sugar is added, and enough cinnamon or vanilla to flavor the crushed cacao, which becomes pasty by grinding, and may be run into moulds, or simply dropped on some cool surface to harden.  These chocolate-drops are dissolved in boiling milk as wanted, and the whole churned to a froth.  Prepared in this way, chocolate is much better than the cake chocolate of the manufacturers.  An ancient recipe was much more complicated than this, and although I have never tried it myself, I venture to give it to my readers.  It is this: "One hundred cacaos,--treating them as has been described,--two pods of chilli, a handful or anis and orjevala, two of mesachasil or vanilla (this may be replaced by six roses of Alexandria, powdered), two drams of cinnamon, a dozen each of almonds and filberts, half a pound of white sugar, and arnotto to color it."  This mixture must of course be whipped to a froth.

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