First Cookbook Published by a Mexican Woman

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443. [MEXICAN COOKBOOK]. TORRES DE RUBIO, Vicenta. Cocina Michoacana por Vicenta T. de Rubio. Cocina propiamente dicha. Dulces, inclusos los de estilo michoacano, ates, conservas mermeladas &c. &c. Reposteria—Licores. Miscelanea. Recetas para curaciones en casa—Barnices—Jabones finos—Colores en Lienzos—Cultivo de las Plantas—Integerteria &c. &c. Zamora: Imprenta Moderna, Hospital número 3, 1896. [4], [i-iii] iv-vi, [7] 8-796, [i] ii-xxxii pp., 6 lithograph plates (5 on tinted grounds), including half title (decorative with culinary themes, except for one showing weights; five imprinted Lit Escuela I. M. Porfirio Diaz, Morelia, and two signed J.T. Silva), title and dedication printed in red and inserted; in two columns. 8vo (22 x 16.5 cm), original quarter brown sheep over red cloth, spine gilt lettered and gilt ruled, both covers gilt lettered and/or gilt decorated. Spine slightly rubbed, cloth moderately waterstained and faded, corners bumped, hinges open but strong; first few and last leaves (including title page and lithograph half title) partly stained red from bleeding dye. Other than the dye staining, the interior is fine, with plates fine except for red staining to first plate. With oval purple ink stamp of Florentino Diaz Mercada, Mayo 1900, Mexico on printed half title and his pencil signature and address on the front pastedown. Pencil doodle on front flyleaf.

     First edition. Pilcher, “¡Vivan Tamales! The Creation of a Mexican National Cuisine”, pp. 260-261. Not in other standard sources. No copies at auction in the past thirty-five years. Pilcher, “Tamales or Timbales,” comments on this book:

This community of cooks extended throughout the nation after 1896, when Vicenta Torres de Rubio began publishing her Cocina michoacana. What started as a serialized guide to the cuisine of Michoacán became perhaps the first real forum for women to self-consciously imagine a national cuisine. Subscribers throughout the Republic sent in recipes allowing readers to reproduce their local specialties. Torres and her correspondents did not shy away from difficult techniques of haute cuisine such as the galantine, a French dish prepared by boning poultry yet leaving the skin intact, then stuffing it with forcemeat and poaching it in broth. Nevertheless, their recipes centered around the colonial moles, “those essentially American dishes,” which were indispensable for Catholic festivals. Torres even included a recipe for the gorditas (corn fritters) typical of the Villa de Guadalupe Hidalgo, the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who had been crowned in 1895 by the Porfirian government as the national saint. The use of overt patriotic language thus served to define the national identity in religious rather than secular terms.

Moreover, like the authors of community cookbooks, Torres’ contributors assumed that their audience shared in the oral culture of the kitchen despite the distances separating them. Confident that readers were familiar with the basic techniques of cooking, they provided correspondingly vague instructions. One woman wrote simply to fry pork chops in “sufficient quantities of pork fat” until well done and to serve with “hot sauce to taste.” Another community cookbook listed among the ingredients for mole poblano, “of all spices, a little bit.” And a recipe for stuffed chiles reads: “having roasted and cleaned [chiles], fill with cooked zucchini squash, onion, oregano, etc.” It went without saying that cooks adjust their seasonings to taste. Books served merely as written keys to a much broader language of the kitchen.

The exchange of recipes even began to cross class lines, for elite women seemed to worry less than men about the social stigma attached to Indian dishes. Unlike the usual practice of segregating enchiladas into a ghetto labeled “light brunches,” the Recetas prácticas integrated these foods among other recipes for meats and vegetables. Another cookbook prepared by a charitable women’s organization in Mexico City gave more recipes for enchiladas than any other type of food. Vicenta Torres made a virtue of including recipes of explicitly Indian origin, assuring readers that these “secrets of the indigenous classes” would be appropriate to any party. She included tamales, gorditas, and pozole, but out of deference to the Porfirian audience, she prudently set them apart with the label indigenista (pp. 212-213).

     Pilcher, ¡Que Vivan los tamales!, further comments: “By printing recipes from throughout Mexico, Torres provided the first genuine forum for uniting regional cuisines into a national repertoire. Contributors exchanged recipes with middle-class counterparts they had never met, and began to experiment with regional dishes, combining them in new ways that transcended oral traditions. In this way women began to imagine their own national community in the familiar terms of the kitchen, rather than as an alien political entity formulated by men and served up to them in didactic literature” (p. 67).

     This important book has several noteworthy features. First, correspondence and recipes from the author’s far-flung readers is printed throughout the book. In the sections on tortas, for example, is inserted an anonymous recipe “Para el ‘Manual de cocina michoacana’” for “Torta de Santa Clara del Cobre” (pp. 287-288). In the section on ham is found a contributed recipe by Manuela Solano for “Jamón frito en aciete ó en buena mantequilla” (p. 299). Second, apparently well aware of some of the imprecision in recipes, many of them include quite specific quantities, as in the one for “Sorbete de marrasquino, moscatel ó Jerez” (p. 632). Third, in an effort to increase the precision of recipes and cooking, Torres includes a substantial section, “El sistema metrico décimal” (pp. 515-545), explaining the metric system and providing several tables to calculate equivalencies with traditional measuring systems (e.g., pounds to grams). As the author explains, this section is necessary because the government has ordered the metric system be used instead of “el antiguo que nos enseñaron los españoles” (p. 515). The section reprints an article by Jesús Olvera. Finally, it includes a recipe for “Gallinas del Gastrónomo Fronterizo” from Nuevo Laredo, an unusual example of a Borderlands recipe whose author declares “es de cierto mérito.”

     This is one of the larger and more important Mexican cookbooks published up until this time and remains a respected classic to this day.


Sold. Hammer: $1,900.00; Price Realized: $2,327.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

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