Cinco de Mayo y El Cocinera Mexicano
Having just realized that next week’s Boston Book Fair is taking place on Cinco de Mayo, I’ve put together a group of 19th and early 20th century Mexican cookbooks to bring to the fair…
Cinco de Mayo celebrates a Mexican victory over the invading French forces in 1862 just outside the cookery rich city of Puebla. The French ultimately won the war, but were unable to hold onto Mexico and were expelled, with U.S. assistance, in 1867. Hostilities between Mexico and France can be traced even further back, however, to La Guerra de los pasteles (The Pastry War) of 1838. While I would prefer to tell you that it was a curiously bloody misunderstanding between sopapilla and croissant enthusiasts, the Pastry War was actually touched off by complaints of marauding Mexican officers made by a French pastry chef in Mexico City. King Louis-Philippe said some things, Mexican President Anastasio Bustamante said some things – the Mexican navy was captured at Veracruz, there was smuggling, Texans, and 100 barrels of flour abandoned on a beach near Corpus Christi now called “Flour Bluffs”.
Despite or perhaps because of (to use an irritating turn of phrase that so enrages a friend of mine that I’ve come around to finding it funny) French intrusions into Mexican sovereignty in the 19th century, Mexican cookery owes a great deal more to French culinary technique and history than it does to Spanish. Throughout the formative period of Mexican cookery beginning with the publication of the first truly Mexican cookbook in 1831 and ending in the first decades of the 20th century, there is a constant tension between Continental (and this is almost always French) cookery and the development of a distinct Mexican cuisine. In fact, many Mexican cookbooks were printed (in Spanish) in Paris – though you only very infrequently will see one printed in Spain. This tension, as might be imagined, is more pronounced in cookbooks on what we call “haute cuisine” (and the French typically called royal or city cookery), but is also identifiable in “regular” (or bourgeois or country) cookbooks.
A little of everything here: a later (and Paris printed) edition of the first Mexican cookbook that gradually transformed itself into a Diccionario de Cocina; a number books on La Cocinera Poblana (Puebla Cookery) including the classics texts on the subject and one that was printed at a publisher located on Avenida Cinco de Mayo; works on Franco-Mexican cookery (including the first Mexican edition of Gouffé’s classic cookbook which occupied a space similar to Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook and/or the Joy of Cooking, in turn of the Century Mexico); and a curious and rare work on vegetarian cookery. [click the gallery images for a full view]