Tag Archives: Mexican

Worried That Big Food Is Deciding What You Eat?

Take heart then, as I do, from this little book that I picked up in a small secondhand store in the south of Mexico City.


Cooking with Campbell's

A Campbell’s Recipe Book
Cooking with Soups
Roasts, sauces, broths, stovetop dishes, baked dishes, soups and seasoning combinations

It was published in 1973.  A little more than two decades earlier in 1952 Cooking with Condensed Soup had propelled tuna casserole, green bean casserole and all kinds of other dishes using condensed soup as a sauce to previously unimagined popularity.

Campbell’s, which had been in Mexico since 1959, had published 55,000 copies, a really huge print run for Mexico.

The classics are there: atún y tallarines al horno (tuna and noodles baked in the oven) on p.110; molde de ejotes (mold of green beans) on p. 75.  And there are some 400 other recipes including macaroni and cheese, stroganoff with mushroom soup, meat loaf with tomato soup, and a series of cakes to which “tomato soup imparts a mysterious flavor of je ne sais quoi (“la sopa de tomate imparte un misterioso sabor de un ‘no-sé-que.’”)

Campbell's recipes for Mexico

On left. Super simple vegetables à la crème.
On right. Tuna casserole with potato chips
Pork chops in cream sauce.

Net result on Mexican cooking. That I can see, zilch, nothing, nada.

Unaccustomed to cream sauces, unaccustomed to using cook books, the middle class housewives that this book targeted went their traditional ways.  In all my years in Mexico, I never saw another copy of this book, never heard a housewife who used condensed soups to make sauces, never saw condensed soup sauce recipes in magazines or books.

Which isn’t to say that housewives don’t buy the popular crema de chile poblano and crema de elote (corn) or that they don’t use the beef broth for tortilla soup. They do.

But just as American housewives never budged on adding a soup course to the evening meal, Mexican housewives were never persuaded to eat tuna casserole with mushroom soup.  They stuck to empanadas de atún.

There’s only so much a housewife will take.

Want to Know Where Ingredients in a Recipe Originated? Try This.

For the past few weeks I’ve been corresponding with Wilfried Hou Je Bek who has an interesting off-beat blog called Cryptoforestry. He’s been developing some nifty tools that might be of interest to many readers of this blog. (They’re available on twitter (@socialfiction) too).

The first allows you to map where the ingredients in a given recipe originated. Here’s a map of the origin of the ingredients in mole.


And now he’s moved on to another tool, the ingredient spectrum.   Take several versions of a recipe and enter the ingredients to find the spectrum of ingredients that people have used.

Wilfried is the first to admit that these tools are far from perfect. But they’re huge fun and, more important, a potentially incredibly useful tool for the food historian.

EDIT.  Wilfried’s working on these tools.  I’ve removed the broken link to the ingredient spectrum. So go straight to his blog where you’ll find his latest ruminations.


Is the fresh the enemy of good canned food?

There’s that wise old saw that the best is the enemy of the good.  And I’ve been wondering recently if the drumbeat that fresh vegetables (and other foods) are the best, the very best, isn’t perhaps the reason for what seems to me to be the so-so quality of many canned foods in American grocery stores.

In Mexico (and when I was in Spain too) I loved many of the canned goods. People served them proudly on any occasion.

Canned broad beans

Habas Extra Finos (tiny broad beans in olive oil). La Europea.

On returning from a trip or on a night when a cold or an overload of work made me reluctant to cook or to go out to a restaurant, they were a godsend.

Quality canned goods

Alubias. Spain Gourmet

Open three glass jars: two tall ones, one of white beans, another of red peppers, and a squatter one of tuna.  A couple of minutes later, the tuna and beans were arranged on one plate, the red peppers on another.  If they were available, a bit of chopped onion went on the beans, a sprinkle of fresh cheese, or an anchovy or two, or a smidgen of chopped garlic and a little olive oil went on the peppers.  Dinner was served de la lata (from the jar).

I was delighted to see that Jeff Koehler, in his lovely and very well received book, Spain, devotes two pages to las latas (tinned delicacies).  Lovely pea-sized broad beans in oil, fine spears of asparagus, the peppers I mentioned, artichoke hearts, and clams, sardines, squid, cockles, mussels, anchovies, along with pickled partridge and chestnuts in syrup.

You can find those (or their equivalents) in the United States but it takes a hunt.  In Mexico I could get them in any of the deli chains such as Europea (thanks to refugees from the Spanish Civil War who contributed so much to Mexican life) but even in my local Walmart. Not all of these were the very finest artisanally canned goods that Jeff talks about but they were of uniformly high quality.

So I can only assume there isn’t much of a market for fine canned goods.

May be that will change. With Lou Amdur of Lou’s Provisions and Wine,   Russ Parsons at the Los Angeles Times just conducted a sardine tasting that picked out the better quality sardines available. And I was delighted today to see that Luigi Guarino of Agricultural Biodiversity posted on the canned goods of Poland, commenting on their unusual vegetable soups and berry juices.

Polish canned goods

Polish juice, blackcurrant by the look of it. Luigi Guarino.

So, questions. What are the good quality canned goods in the United States?  And what are your favorite canned goods from elsewhere? And what would you like to see more widely available?


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