The University of Texas at San Antonio is currently working to bring diverse perspectives on Mexican cuisine together for a global audience. Taking a digitized collection of 2,000 Mexican cookbooks, archivists at the UTSA Libraries Special Collections are compiling recipes into a series of three cookbooks they’re calling Recetas: Cooking in the Time of Coronavirus. The series acknowledges that recipes are invested with cultural and familial significance, and cookbooks can be arenas for contesting cultural and national constructions.
The first volume, Postres: Guardando Lo Mejor Para el Principio (Desserts: Saving the Best for First), starts with classic Mexican desserts. Each recipe in the digitized collection is drawn from the Rare Books Collection, and the oldest cookbook dates back to 1789. Chosen and transcribed by the librarians and archivists at UTSA, some of the recipes lack features familiar to modern chefs such as ingredient lists or exact measurements. The creators of the volume write, “We encourage you to view these instructions as opportunities to acquire an intuitive feel for your food. With a little experimentation, you’ll have your very own secret specialty.”
Readers can learn to make rice pudding (arroz de leche) from a recipe published in 1831, but according to the recipe they must learn to gauge “when the pudding is half done.” Similarly, a churro recipe from a 1928 unpublished manuscript uses “parts” to describe ingredient ratios. In a moving preface to the mini-cookbook, chef and restaurant owner Rico Torres writes, “a renewed sense of self-reliance has led to a resurgence of the home cook.” Reviving old recipes may help foster this self-reliance while encourage joy in experimentation.
While Postres is available in print, many of the recipe collections held at UTSA are in manuscript form. Elaborate handwriting, archaic spellings, and physical damage can make reading the documents difficult. Doodles by past owners and spills from culinary adventures provide evidence of the importance of the physical book. In an effort to bring these originals to a wider audience, librarians are in the process of digitizing the texts, which can be viewed online. Whether connecting with family traditions or learning something new, the recipes of Mexican cookbooks offer insight into the shaping of Mexican cuisine.
Postres is currently available as a free downloadable pdf. The other two cookbooks expected in this series are currently listed as Coming Soon.