Everyone has a food memory.
My mother, Rose Naranjo was a traditional pueblo woman. Rose grew up in an agrarian culture where food was a crucial to everyday life and an important part of pueblo ceremony.
Rose ended her schooling after the 3rd grade although she returned in her late teens learning to sew and cook at a government indian school. The indian school taught Rose a skill, but the essence of her culinary knowledge came from the community and culture she was born into. Rose was not a well educated woman but in her kitchen she was an all knowing presence.
I grew up watching my mother make tasty meals from almost nothing. It was like Rose entered a magic cooking zone the second she entered her kitchen and she entered that zone 3 times a day, every day.
When my father returned from hunting with elk meat, my mother went into over drive. Returning late at night my father would bring home an entire elk that needed to be processed immediately, Rose would wake all the children, it didn’t matter that school was only hours away because knives needed to be sharpened, pans washed and water boiled. Rose commanded her troop with a steady voice once the meat was brought into the house. My older sisters cut thin slices of elk for drying while the rest of us hung the meat on make shift clotheslines that crisscrossed the house. While the meat got processed by an army of daughters, Rose fried and boiled the rest of the elk meat. By early morning when other children were getting up to eat breakfast and ready themselves for school we had processed an entire elk and were doing the cleaning up.
We always ate well thanks to the team effects of both parents but we ate especially well when my father went huning. Most memorable for me was my mother’s elk red chili and potato stew. It smelled like the perfect balance of meat and seasonings in a slow, easy boil that brought out the best of every ingredient in the skillet. The smell of chili filled the house and reassured me that all was well in the world.
Food memories reach into our past. Food memories tell stories about who we are and where we come from and in my case, my mother’s cooking made some profound memories for me. Memories that remind me that food is a ceremony of body and soul.
Rose’s Red Chili
(My mother never followed a recipe, ever , so the recipe of her red chili is not precise.)
You’ll need about a pound and a half of meat. Since elk meat is hard to come by try pork.
Cut meat into small cubes. At a medium temperature cook cubed meat in a large skillet.
Add 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced.
While meat and garlic are cooking, mix about 1/4 cup of red chili powder with just enough
water to make a thick paste.
Add pepper to chili paste.
Peel and dice 3-4 potatoes, you’ll be adding them to the chili later.
When the meat has browned, turn heat down a bit.
Fold the chili paste into the meat and garlic and stir.
Add about 4- 5 cups of water to ingredients.
Add the diced potatoes.
Slow cook for at least an hour.
The longer the stew is slow cooked, the better. Stir and taste often.
Tips-I use an electric crook pot. I place all of the ingredients (except the potato) into the crock pot, slow cook over night adding the potatoes in the morning. Add the diced potatoes to the chili stew an hour or two before serving. Stir and taste often for adjustments.
Food Memories from New Zealand (Fall of 2013):