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Voices in the Kitchen

Views of Food and the World from Working-Class Mexican and Mexican American Women

By Meredith E. Abarca

Publication Year: 2006

“Literally, chilaquiles are a breakfast I grew up eating: fried corn tortillas with tomato-chile sauce. Symbolically, they are the culinary metaphor for how working-class women speak with the seasoning of their food.”—from the Introduction Through the ages and across cultures, women have carved out a domain in which their cooking allowed them to express themselves, strengthen family relationships, and create a world of shared meanings with other women. In Voices in the Kitchen, Meredith E. Abarca features the voices of her mother and several other family members and friends, seated at their kitchen tables, to share the grassroots world view of these working-class Mexican and Mexican American women. In the kitchen, Abarca demonstrates, women assert their own sazón (seasoning), not only in their cooking but also in their lives. Through a series of oral histories, or charlas culinarias (culinary chats), the women interviewed address issues of space, sensual knowledge, artistic and narrative expression, and cultural and social change. From her mother’s breakfast chilaquiles to the most elaborate traditional dinner, these women share their lives as they share their savory, symbolic, and theoretical meanings of food. The charlas culinarias represent spoken personal narratives, testimonial autobiography, and a form of culinary memoir, one created by the cooks-as-writers who speak from their kitchen space. Abarca then looks at writers-as-cooks to add an additional dimension to the understanding of women’s power to define themselves. Voices in the Kitchen joins the extensive culinary research of the last decade in exploring the importance of the knowledge found in the practical, concrete, and temporal aspects of the ordinary practice of everyday cooking.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: Rio Grande/Río Bravo Series: Borderlands Culture and Traditions

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-x

Voices in the Kitchen owes its foundation, most of all, to women of the charlas culinarias. I take this opportunity to say estoy muy agradecida por sus palabras: Liduvina V

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Introduction: What’s for Breakfast? Los chilaquiles de mi ’amá, of course!

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pp. 3-17

We have all heard from nutritionists that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. While I have ignored it on many occasions, this time I will follow the experts’ advice and begin with the breakfast that gives this book its basic yet essential nourishment: los chilaquiles de mi ’amá. This dish flavors the premise of Voices in the...

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Chapter 1. A Place of Their Own: Appropriating the Kitchen Space

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pp. 18-49

For V

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Chapter 2. Saz

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pp. 50-77

By using her hand as the measuring utensil, Irma Vásquez knows how much water she needs so her rice cooks to perfection. While confident in the efficiency of her sazón, a sensory way of knowing, Vásquez cannot explain the intrinsic logic of her touch. She only knows it works. Vásquez’s sensory utensil, in this case her hand...

Image Plates

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Chapter 3. Homemade Culinary Art (El arte culinario casero): Cooks-as-Artists

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pp. 78-108

Alma Welty in a charla culinaria held in her home’s kitchen in Puebla, Mexico, defines quotidian cuisine as el arte culinario casero. “I have always said that culinary art is an amazing thing. How wonderful when you see that what you have cooked is eaten with such pleasure. . . . And truthfully [cooking] is easy. All that is...

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Chapter 4. Kitchen Talk: Cooks-as-Writers

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pp. 109-134

When Alma Contreras, my sister, explains how she developed her recipe for making what in our family is known as Alma’s famosas enchiladas, she expresses part of her identity, of her life: “Okay, one time I made a salsa with oregano using el molcajete [mortar and pestle], and I thought of putting it in the middle before putting in...

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Chapter 5. The Literary Kitchen: Writers-as-Cooks

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pp. 135-163

Food is life. Food as knowledge feeds our hunger for understanding, for belonging, and our need for change. Literature explores the depth of our hunger. Food in literature pacifies such hunger. M. F. K. Fisher, food writer, cooks because she is hungry for love, for understanding, and for community.1 Lorna Dee Cervantes, Chicana poet...

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Conclusion: Maybe Dessert First? Charlas Culinarias

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pp. 164-170

Often when I go out to dinner, especially to a new restaurant, my inclination is to look first at the desserts. Knowing what I want to have for dessert determines what the main course will be. Following this logic, that dessert determines the meal, I want to close with one more taste of the charla culinarias. They have, in fact, become...


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pp. 171-210


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pp. 211-230


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pp. 231-240

E-ISBN-13: 9781603445634
E-ISBN-10: 1603445633
Print-ISBN-13: 9781585445318
Print-ISBN-10: 1585445312

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 13 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: Rio Grande/Río Bravo Series: Borderlands Culture and Traditions