200-Year-Old Mexican Recipes Are Now Free to Download in These Digitized Cookbooks

UTSA Postres Cover Image

UTSA librarians and architects adapted this cover image for “Postres” from a 1960s cookbook in the collection. (Photo: Postres, UTSA Libraries Special Collections.)

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 Similarly, a churro recipe from a 1928 unpublished manuscript uses “parts” to describe ingredient ratios.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.

The UTSA Rare Books Collection contains 2,000 Mexican cookbooks and recipe collections. Librarians and archivists drew from these sources to create Postres.

20th Century Mexican Cooking Manuscript Ojaldras

Page from a 20th century Mexican cooking manuscript entitled “Ojaldras. Libro de cocina de mi mama Margarita.” (Photo: TX773 .T84 1900z. Mexican Cookbooks Collection. UTSA Special Collections.)

Many manuscripts are adorned with drawings from their authors.

Resetas de Cocina- Refrescos, Reposteria, Dulces

Cover page of an early 20th century cookbook “Resetas de Cocina: Refrescos, Reposteria, Dulces.” (Photo:
TX716.M4 V653 1910. Mexican Cookbooks Collection. UTSA Special Collections.)

The oldest document in the Mexican Cookbook Collection is a handwritten collection of recipes from 1789.

Cuaderno de Cosina de Doña Ignacita

Front page of the 1789 manuscript by a woman identified as Doña Ignacita del [mazo] Belarde Calderón de la Barca. (Photo: TX716 .A1 C83 1789. Mexican Cookbooks Collection. UTSA Special Collections.)

h/t:[Open Culture]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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