Take a whirlwind tour with the globe’s favorite flavor, vanilla. A member of the orchid family, trace its role from a spice in hot chocolate in ancient Mexico to a favored ingredient among European royalty to its first mention in cookbooks and into today.
This series of monthly discussions are about agriculture, trade, and how our taste for foods have changed the landscape of our world. Students are greeted with a topical appetizer and, after the conversation, participate in the hands-on cooking of a dish which uses the theme of the day as the main attraction. ($45)
“This is not Mexican food,” said my Mexican-born parents anytime they got a whiff of chili. A mere plateful inspired disapproving gestures as they sensed the dish wafting the aroma of cumin in a San Antonio Mexican restaurant. Growing up on the Texas/Mexico border, life was more Mex than Tex. But a mere 150 miles north, it was a different story.
They were right—sort of. Chili is not Mexican, but its history is complicated. Chili is Texas Mexican, one of the country’s oldest regional cuisines. The term Tex-Mex first appeared in the culinary lexicon in 1972 when English-born cookbook author Diana Kennedy made a clear distinction between the food served in Mexico and everything served north of the border. By doing so she inadvertently defined a centuries old cuisine—one that’s heavy on meat and cheese, features flour tortillas over corn, and highlights cumin—a spice not commonly used in central Mexico.
An ancient medical elixir is the ancestor for a family of drinks.
Mexican horchata is the agua fresca that dreams are made of. While sweet and slightly creamy, it usually isn’t dairy-derived. Instead, it’s made by soaking white rice in water and cinnamon for several hours, straining, and adding sugar. Vaguely reminiscent of a delicate rice pudding, there’s nothing more refreshing than a cold cup of horchata on a hot summer day.
But long ago, horchata was more than just a refreshment. While the Mexican version of the drink first appeared in the 16th century, its roots date back to an ancient Roman medical elixir made from barley. In fact, the word horchata comes from the Latin hordeum (barley) and hordeata (drink made with barley). From its role as medicine in antiquity, the beverage took a circuitous route across Europe and across the Atlantic to Latin America. Along the way, horchata became a whole family of drinks made from various grains, nuts, and seeds.