Culinary mestizaje signifies fusion.
And when the Spanish arrived in the New World, that’s exactly what took place: little by little the Spanish introduced key ingredients from their traditional pantries to their new subjects. Pork, beef, olive oil, and more..
And vice versa. Mostly chiles, tomatoes, beans, squash, and corn.
The Roman Catholic Church played a huge role in this process.
In 1539, Marco de Niza, a Spanish Franciscan friar, became the first European to step foot in what is now Arizona. Just 20 years prior to that, in 1519, the conquistador Hernán Cortés overran the Aztec Empire and claimed the land for Spanish Crown, calling the region all the way to modern-day California and the American Southwest the Viceroyalty of New Spain.
Another name attached the region of what is now southern Arizona and northern Mexico – Pimería Alta (Land of the Upper Pima) – came about because of another Spanish priest by the name of Eusebio Kino.
Although it is primarily desert, the region was anything but barren before the Spanish arrived. Hopi, Pueblo, Zuni, Apache, Papago, Mohave, and Navajo groups lived there, along with diverse flora and fauna.
But not wheat.
The Spanish longed for the taste of wheat bread, a vital ingredient in their traditional diet. And a crucial part of their religion. The missions, such as those established by Father Kino, helped spread the production of wheat throughout Spanish-held territory in the Southwest.
As Cristina Barros and Mónica del Villar state in El santo olor de la panadería (The Holy
Smell of the Bakery):
Animal products such as pork lard, cow’s milk, butter and duck and chicken eggs rounded out the list of ingredients necessary for making bread and reproducing the sweet recipes of Arab, Jewish or Christian origin brought over from the Iberian peninsula.
A legend attributes the growing of wheat to a Black conquistador by the name of Juan Garrido. However, more than likely that Cortés and other conquistadores brought the grain along with them.
The presence of flour tortillas in northern Mexico likely came about because in the beginning the mills, the ovens, and the fuel necessary for making bread in the Spanish manner were scarce. So the local women treated the wheat in the same way they treated corn masa: they made tortillas.
To make flour tortillas Sonoran-style, mix 2 cups bread flour with 1 teaspoon salt, then rub in 1/2 cup lard. Add approximately 3/4 cups very warm water and mix thoroughly. Knead dough until shiny and elastic. Place in plastic bag, seal, and let set for 2 hours. Divide dough into 6 round balls. Rest dough for 10 – 15 minutes. Flour the kitchen counter. Cover remaining rounds while you roll out each one about 10 inches in diameter. Place each rolled round on parchment paper and cover. Tortillas should be very thin, almost paper thin. You may have to reroll after they’ve sat for a while, because the high-gluten wheat flour causes them to shrink a bit. Cook on hot griddle, 10 – 15 seconds per side until brown spots appear. Flip, repeat. Stack cooked tortillas between two clean kitchen towels.
A prime example of culinary mestizaje.