New Mexico has some of the deepest and most diverse culinary traditions in the country. Our food traditions help us understand where we’ve come from and offer us a source of great cultural wealth and pride. It is important to preserve these traditions, not simply out of pride or nostalgic sentimentality, but also to remember the lessons of history we need to move forward. The food traditions of our state not only help shine light on our greater history, they offer invaluable resources toward reimagining a more sustainable, more equitable, healthier, and, hopefully, more delicious future.
From historic institutions and livestock to shared seeds and cultural traditions, in this issue we are spotlighting some of New Mexico’s greatest culinary heirlooms. Chef Lois Ellen Frank takes us to Russia, where she used food to promote unity and cultural understanding, teaching traditional Native American food practices and recipes to chefs and diplomats. State Historian Rick Hendricks takes us back to the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, when an influx of new foods included the parent generations of two livestock breeds—Dahl sheep and Criollo cattle—that currently hold promise for New Mexico ranchers adapting to a drier future. We then look to another key moment, centuries later, when an Englishman named Fred Harvey began serving up thick beef steaks and chile con carne to hungry travellers along the AT&SF Railway and Route 66. Together, these stories illustrate New Mexicans’ strong commitment to celebrating and preserving their local food history.
In more recent history, we travel to the small town of Monticello, New Mexico, where each autumn a community comes together to harvest and crush grapes for one of the country’s finest vinegars, produced with age-old Italian methods. We’ll also examine a near-legendary retired farmer, Elizabeth Sebastian, who reigned as the premier Santa Fe market farmer of the 1980s and 90s and helped elevate some of the state’s most celebrated restaurants. Finally, in our Edible Tradition section, we focus on three iconic New Mexico restaurants, Michael’s Kitchen, Tomasita’s, and Mary and Tito’s, which have all, over several generations of serving crowd-pleasing comfort food, helped shape how we define the most basic elements of our region’s culinary identity.
Heirlooms come in many forms: an antique watch or a great-grandmother’s cookie recipe or a variety of tomato. In each case, its vitality and significance only endures if its steward protects it, understands its provenance, gives it new life, and passes it on. We hope you enjoy these stories and recipes, each a small slice from New Mexico’s food heritage, and we hope you may be inspired, too, to pass them on.