Jeff Smith 2 p.m., April 16
- Community Blog
- Living in El Fin Del Mundo
It's Called a What?
Is a peanut butter and jelly quesadilla really a quesadilla if it doesn't have queso(cheese)? I guess technically that would be no. But then what should I call one of my favorite snacks? A quesadilla, as I was taught, is a flour tortilla filled with cheese, folded like a taco and heated on a comal(cast iron griddle). Yes, the flour tortilla is folded like a taco but when I was growing up in East Los Angeles a folded flour tortilla wasn't a taco. That word was only used for corn tortillas. Of course, when the word taco was first coined by the indigenous cultures of pre-Columbian Meso-America, flour tortillas didn't exist in the new world. Just like corn tortillas didn't exist in the old one. The more I thought of what I should call my delicious munchies the further I delved into my distant memory. I wish my mind was like a super computer. All full of the latest, up to date information that I can access with the click of a mouse. I wish inside my head was one of those temperature monitored, dust controlled 'clean rooms' that I used to build back when I was working prevailing wage construction jobs. Sadly, my mind isn't a 21st century super computer. It's a dilapidated old warehouse, draped in cobwebs and covered in dust. Boxes of information lay strewn about. Some lie under swinging yellow bulbs that illuminate clearly some memories, while leaving others to lie in malevolent corners where they've been tossed and the light of recognition is no longer known. Let's see now, when did I first learn about tortillas and who taught me? That's an easy one. When I was in elementary school, I once asked my grandmother; "Where do corn tortillas come from?" She told me they came from the corn plant. I was familiar with the plant. Growing up in East LA exposed me to the 'Mexican Garden' like no university course could ever teach. A typical 'American Garden' during my childhood years was maybe a large square of some St Augustine grass bordered by roses and geraniums with maybe a magnolia tree out near the sidewalk. The yards of many Mexican and Mexican-American families in East La usually had a smaller patch of grass, the magnolia was replaced by a lemon or avocado tree and interspersed amongst the roses and geraniums was food. Lots of food. It could be shaggy edged leaves of tomato plants. or the smoother leaves of chilis. There were often vines also. Climbers like chayote or some type of bean. The really serious gardeners had milpas. These are gardens laid out in the traditional style of Meso-America. At it's center are 'Las Tres Hermanas(the three sisters).' They are corn, beans and squash.The three different seeds are planted together. The corn stalk acts as a post. The bean is a climber that utilizes the stalk and the squash grows in a ground cover fashion. This shades the ground around all three plants, thus impeding water evaporation and encroaching weeds. It is a wonderfully symbiotic relationship. I learned a lot about corn, just by zipping around the neighborhood on my cream soda colored bike, baseball glove dangling from one handle and baseball card(only doubles, I still have the singles) clothes pinned to the rear spokes so they'd strike them in that cool, rat-a-tat way. The Mexican artist Diego Rivera once painted a portrait of a woman kneeling before maize(corn) as she gathered the stalks. In many barrios this often painted mural is almost as common as the ubiquitous 'guy holding dead girl' calendar(Popocatepetl). In most of Latin America corn is culture. As rice is to much of Asia. Later, I learned in college that wheat in Sumeria along with rice and corn in other parts of the world were the foundations of the world's great civilizations. Then I remembered the time I asked my grandmother, "Grandma, where do flour tortillas come from?" Now before I tell you what grandma's reply was, let me lay our her 'country credentials.' Rebecca Cota Rangel was born in Calipatria, California in the Imperial valley. 'The Valley' is hot and agricultural. Rebecca grew up in the nearby town of Holtville. She knew crops, yet her experience with wheat was limited. She didn't know nearly as much about wheat as about corn. She could identify a wheat field but the cultural connection wasn't there. She told me that corn tortillas are the 'real' tortillas'. "Flour tortillas," she said, were "gringo tortillas."
According to her account, 'During the great depression, poor Mexican and American families would sweep the railroad boxcars for the spilled wheat that would remain on the floors after unloading. The Mexican folks naturally made tortillas from the dough. She said, 'sweeping boxcars was one of her earliest memories, while growing up in the valley during the great depression. Then I asked her, "Grandma, if corn tortillas are real tortillas, and flour tortillas are recent 'Johnny come late lies ' why do we eat almost nothing but flour tortillas in our house. Which was the truth. We rarely had a package of corn tortillas in our house but there was always a bag of flour ones lying on the kitchen table. Grandma replied; "I've been eating corn tortillas all my life and I got sick and tired of eating them a long time ago!" I wish my grandmother were around. I'd like her opinion on what I should call a peanut butter and jelly quesadilla. Because I don't use cheese and queso means cheese. I just warm the flour tortilla, slather on some peanut butter and jelly, fold it like a quesadilla and get it crispy on the comal. I had thought about calling it a PB & J Taco but a folded flour tortilla isn't a Taco. Whereas a folded corn tortilla is. At least that's how I was taught. Speaking of which, where do peanuts come from? Dang, now I'm really confused! I think I'll go make three Peanut Butter and Jelly in a folded flour tortilla's and think about it...Hey, wait a second... Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go!!!