Here’s the concept: when the exploring ships of the Old World returned to Europe with their holds filled with the bounty of the New World – Christopher Columbus the most remembered among them – he was actually somewhere between confused and disappointed. The goal of his journeys was, after all, to find the spice-laden Indies. He spent a lot of time being convinced that he actually had found his quarry, which is why we have certain misnomers in the English language, like “Indians” for America’s indigenous population, and “pepper” for capsicum. (Black pepper is a different species entirely.)
On the other hand, Columbus and the explorers that followed returned with their holds filled with culinary treasure of different and never-before-known varieties: tomatoes, peanuts, potatoes, cacao and capsicums that we now call peppers, especially the hot kinds. The world’s palate would be forever transformed by these discoveries – Europe’s, especially, but also Asia’s, when explorers finally reached there and brought American crops and spices with them.
Likewise, the food consumed in America was forever altered thanks to European imports from home – especially cattle, fruits and spices, including coriander, mustard, parsley, rosemary, sesame, anise, fennel, lavender, oregano, and cumin. Historians call this the Columbian Exchange, in honor of Christopher Columbus, although it stretched far beyond his own involvement in the matter. (Worth noting: the Columbian Exchange also includes less pleasant aspect of this melding of worlds, like the spreading of germs and the taking of slaves. )
The typical cuisine that you’ll enjoy in New Mexico today bear the hallmarks of both ends of this historic exchange – whether it’s the pork flavored posole, a corn stew, carne adovada, capirtoda, calabacitas .
Many of these dishes were pioneered in missionary kitchens and the kitchens of the first settlers, where local ingredients like corn and beans were mixed with European meat and dairy. In New Mexico, for instance, this experiment began in 1598, when an expedition of 500 soldiers, families and Franciscan friars settled in New Mexico. And of course, the influence of cacao on Europe is immeasurable – imagine the continent without the chocolate truffles or pain au chocolat. (Read about the history of chocolate in France here.) New World Cuisine: The Histories of Chocolate, Mate Y Mas will include more than 300 objects from the museum’s holdings of historic culinary items, ranging from farm implements to decorative objects. Among the objects on view will be spice jars with locking lids designed to safeguard cacao from theft, pottery cooking vessels meant to froth chocolate talavera kitchen and tableware and antique silverware from both sides of the pond.
As the name of the exhibit implies, there’s special attention paid to two beverages: chocolate and mate, tracing their history in North American back about a thousand years and their evolution and influence in Europe.
It’s all food for thought (and perhaps inspiration for some additions to your own kitchen at home) as you continue to explore New Mexico’s cuisine.