Recipe of Memory

Five generations of the family have produced five generations of cooks, and the Valles have collected their recipes in RECIPE OF MEMORY, a combination cookbook, history, and memoir. Beginning with the birth in 1848 of Trinidad, Victor Valle’s great-great grandmother, the family coped with and ultimately prevailed over changes brought about by drought, industrialization, the revolution of 1910, and finally immigration.

Trinidad, a Guadalajara innkeeper’s wife who needed to feed many frugally but also wholesomely, relied on dishes such as garbanzo soup flavored with pineapple and oregano, a frittata with corn and chiles, and a chicken simmered with nutmeg, cloves, chorizones, ham, and sherry—strong flavors that complement each other.

The art of cooking was passed on to Catalina, Trinidad’s daughter and the author’s great aunt, who defied many of the culture’s assumptions about women. She was educated at a time when most women were not, composed poetry, had an interest in political affairs, chose to remain unmarried, and pursued a career as headmistress of a girls’ parochial school in which, in addition to academic subjects, cooking and sewing were taught. Her handwritten cookbook contained recipes for meatballs stuffed with sausage and almonds accompanied with a sauce flavored with chiles and cinnamon and a Lenten soup with shrimp fritters.

Delfina, Catalina’s niece and the author’s grandmother, experienced revolution, the death of her unfaithful husband, and immigration to Los Angeles, where she sorted rags, made cheese, and cooked for workers of a small dairy using such recipes as one for a beef stew with green beans, chiles and red wine. Insisting on maintaining a cultural link to Mexico, she taught her grandchildren Spanish, and Lily, the author’s mother, cooking. Lily’s contribution to the family recipes include abalone ceviche, cod chowder, and stuffed beef tongue.

The recipes are not the taco, burrito, enchilada, and refried beans combination plate that one finds so typically in Mexican restaurants but dishes that require time to prepare and many ingredients—even ones difficult to find, such as quince, squash flowers, and the many different varieties of chiles. Nevertheless, the result is worth the effort.