Noche Mexicana Tour
I just came back from co-hosting our last Beans Tour (The Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Food and Agriculture Tour and Workshops) in Hidalgo. I'm sad to say goodbye to this project but I'm more than happy to linger over the photos, especially of the food!
The first morning. Waiting for the guests.
Chabela and her kitchen staff prepare the masa treats. This morning, it's tlacoyos stuffed with refried beans and cheese and sopes, topped with several different ingredients. (Tlacoyos can be many things, depending on where in Mexico you are.)
It's starts with the masa. Without it, you're off to a rocky start.
What did you have for breakfast?
One of many, many sopes I consumed that first morning.
I'm late posting the photos but here are some scenes from the Beans Tour ealier this spring. I actually stopped taking photos when I saw how good the photos were from some of the guests, but you'll get an idea.
We announced the trip via email and we sold out within one and a half hours! The year before it took a full day. It makes it seem a little like winning a Willie Wonka ticket but the food is much better.
There were many littel signs that the fields were beyond organic.
I don't think it's an exagerration to say that everyone fell in love with Araceli. She makes our chocolate (in her village in Guerrero) and she traveled a full day to teach her workshop on making chocolate. Here she's toasting the canela (true cinnamon) on a large clay comal. She's very sweet and softspoken but I'd bet this woman can do anything she sets her mind to.
Here's Lucas (who has a Mexican restaurant in New Zealand!) proving that maybe he better keep his day job.
The oregano growers from the Huasteca came down to sing and say hello!
One of the most fun meals was the barbacoa. The men line a pit with roasted maguey leaves and then roast goat meat underground for 10 hours. The results are spectacular.
Araceli with Yunuen and the baby.
We'll do it again next year and we'll even add a second group if all goes as planned. I wish there were an easier way to pick who goes but it's first come, first served after we do our email blast.
After the tour of the bean and corn fields, it was time to eat!
Lupe shows off the masa made from blue corn.
These tasted as good as they look.
Note this clever contraption that allows you to heat the tortillas over a wood fire.
Many of us tried our hands at making tortillas. Many of us should keep our day jobs.
Time to unveil the barbacoa. The pit contains lamb that's been roasting away for hours, covered by maguey leaves.
The best taco ever.
As the farmers told me how much hope our visit had given them, I just started blubbering. These are campensinos who just want to work their land. Economics and other circumstances (often involving the US) force these guys to become construction workers or even make the the dangerous journey to the U.S. The market for their beautiful heirloom beans is shrinking in Mexico and our consumption allows them to do what they do best. And we get some great beans. Even if they were nasty people, this is the right thing to do. But these guys were so sweet and hospitiable, it humbled me. I'm sure they though I was nuts for being so emotional. I am, and lucky, and a better person for having met them.
I think I'll end the description of the Noche Mexicana trip here. I didn't get to all the details and I hope you get a chance to come soon. We'll be doing this trip annually and it's really not to be missed.
As part of our tour, I think one of the unexpected highlights was visiting the bean farmers in Hidalgo. They grow our Moro and Ayocote Morado beans and they were a little overwhelmed with our large group, traveling so far to meet them and see how they grow the beans using such traditional techniques.
Everyone in our group was interested in food production and some of us are in the business. Seeing these guys working the horse and plow for real, not just for the "cutes", was amazing.
This is a shot of me with Yunuen and Gabriel (from Xoxoc) and the growers. Notice I'm the only fool without a hat!
Personally, I wasn't expecting much, but I was really touched by the beanfields. These guys are so proud of their crops and I think they're probably a little confused why so many people take their work for granted. Having a busload of gringo fans come to visit and pay tribute to them was pretty wild.
Next, we eat barbacoa.....
Bean farmer Roberto demonstrates one way of making a nice crunchy tostada without deep frying.
Lupe offers a platter of taquitos. The salsas she served with them were out of this world.
My favorite Huastecan band, Trio Renovacion. These guys are incredible and they're the foundation of the collective that sends us their Oregano Indio. They swing hard and at moments it's not unlike Western Swing or Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. All three had great voices and they played for us through dinner, through our bonfire and even after. I'm working on getting their CD for sale via our website.
Such good food, drink and friends!
After dinner, a bonfire and El Grito for Mexican Independence. You can see the Trio Renovacion in the background playing away.
What says, "Viva Mexico" quite like a platter of chles en nogada? That's a rather rich walnut sauce over the stuffed chiles. The red dots are pomegranite seeds. They all add up to be the most perfect of dishes.
The guest left and Gabino, the group's leader asked, "Are you too tired for some more music?" How can you say no? They stayed and played until 4 in the morning. I lasted until untl 2 a.m. but the trip, the mezcal and the hour really got to me.
That's my pal Antonio on the right, looking pretty borracho to me!
I don't think you can take too many classes on tamal making. Each teacher has a slightly different trick or technique and it's always fun to get together and make them.
After a very full day, the guests on the tour made their way to the tamal workshop.
It's always odd that so many of us think nothing of making fresh pasta, or pad thai and yet these key Mexican techniques are so foreign to us and we share a border. I aim to fix that. A good tamal is thing of beauty and worthy of your attention!
Tamal is singular. Tamales are plural. In Spanish, there is no word tamale. I think it's accepted English now, however, and there are much bigger battles to be fought.
Another key reason to take a class is get to know the dough and how wet it should be and what texture. It's really a place where cookbooks can only be so much help.
When it came time to mix the fat in with the masa, Chabela insists it's better by hand and she would never use a mixer. Time for the big guns and Gabriel came in and impressed all with his mixing skills.
Once all the tamales were made and taken to the kitchen for steaming, we all enjoyed a well-deserved bowl of Mole de Olla, a local vegetable and beef stew with the addition of the sour prickly pears, xoconostle. It was pretty grand, proving once again the basis for a good soup or stew is often an incredible broth. It's something you just can't replicate with a store-bought product.
I always chant that the foundation of Mexican cuisine is chiles, beans and corn. Restaurants that don't specialize in these things may have some nice dishes or a hip bar, but they're missing the essence of Mexican cooking. There are shortcuts and there are the traditional methods that are simply superior.
As part of the tour of the hacienda grounds, we made our way to a neighbor's cornfield (milpa) and then Gabirel and Antonio had everyone harvesting ears of field corn.
Believe me, the not so subtle irony of gringos being supervised in an agriculture setting by Mexicans was not lost on me!
Back at the hacienda, a fire was started and water heated, anticpating the corn.
Shucking corn is apparently back breaking work and requires a break with a platter of sopes from the kitchen. Gracias, Antonio.
Lily, who is from Colombia but lives in Guadalajara, apparently likes hers.
While the corn cooked, matriarch Chabela held a seminar on nixtamal, the product of soaking corn in cal and then heating it and then letting it set. This is later ground into the dough, masa, that's used for tortillas and tamales.
Lupe, the other matriarch of the hacienda, found this incredible brass strainer in Santa Clara del Cobre in Michoacan. I want it!
Next, the nixtamal and the group made their way to the smoke kitchen where bean farmer Roberto's mother demonstrated how she uses the metate to grind the cooked corn into masa. The idea was to let all the guests have a go at it but she was very protective of her metate and no one else would be using it!
She also demonstrated hand patting tortillas. We were all a mess at this.
Meanwhile, Gabriel and Roberto cut the corn and cooked it further with salt and epazote and served it in corn husk "boats" and "spoons", bringing the morning's harvest full circle. I have to say, there was a lot of killer food on the trip but this fresh corn snack was one of my favorites.
I just spent an amazing few days with some of my wonderful Rancho Gordo customers from the US in Hidalgo. It was a pipe dream a few months ago but we pulled it off. We were hosted by my business partners from Xoxoc and psent most of the time in their ex-hacienda. The food and drink were incredible but the chance to meet some of our bean growers, their families and see how much they love what they do and their appreciation for our support was pretty moving.
I'm so tired I'm almost goofy but I'm filled with recent memories and a little overwhelmed. It was a weird, rare wonderful meeting and it seems everybody learned a little something from each other.
Our trip to Mexico, Noche Mexicana, is really happening. It's sold out but I think we may have to do it again one day. In the meantime, here are some shots of the ex-hacienda Sam Jose el Marquez.