Crossing Borders in Oaxaca - part 2
Sometimes I get a little long winded..so this is part 2 of the full story. If you haven't read part 1..maybe go do that first. I'll wait here...
It All Comes Together
So..we decided to collaborate. Now what?
With Cherries fast approaching harvest in Colorado I suggested we feature organic family farmed sweet cherries from my long partner First Fruits Orchards in Paonia, Co..and ..something unique to Oaxaca. Chilis? Chocolate? chepiche, epazote, ?? Chefs choice. We sat down and brainstormed. What is Oaxaca? What is the culture and heritage and body and soul of Oaxaca? What encapsulates this place?
Eduardo quickly jotted out 30 of the 40+ ingredients in his family mole recipe and we cross analyzed flavor profiles until we narrowed it down to 6. Six ingredients that we imagined would taste well with cherries. Now..it was time to shop for a few test batches.
Oaxacan markets are infamous for dizzying amounts of selection of herbs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, meats, cheeses, breads and nearly anything you can imagine for a meal or kitchen. Chili anchos, Chili Pasilla Criollo*, tortillas, thyme, piñones & almonds and sugar were quickly found on the first stop.
But no one had cherries, cerazas..no cerazas...... 4 markets and miles later I resigned to my last resort..the Chhedrai. Walmart of Mexico. It was after all..June. 2 months past the local growing season for Cherries..so they had to be imported from North America..but luckily they were. And there, like an unwanted lost sock were 6 pints of North American Cherries packaged in little plastic cubes almost hidden between the rows of duraznos, tuna, papayas and mameys. Phew.
We had everything we needed. We placed the tortillas on the window sill to dry out..and prepared the rest of the menagerie of ingredients.
We chopped cherries, and roasted chilis, and ground nuts, and crushed thyme, and started tortillas on fire! I laughed to myself as a new Oaxacan friend had told me recently that the Oaxacan way was just to "burn the sh*t out of everything" and that we did..mostly. Turns out there is a fine craft to the burn.
Several hours later we emerged with 3 versions.
"This is Oaxaca" Eduardo said, beaming.
We created something that wasn't jam, wasn't mole, but was a crazy mashup of sweet cherries, charred tortillas, earthy chilis, a hint of thyme and a bit of crunchy nuts to round it off. It was savory and addictive. It was sweet summertime mountain orchard fruit and smokey sensory overload with a warm burn to remind you what you just experienced.
"And with Colorado fruit it will be incredible." I said, also beaming.
We literally high fived. It felt amazing. The taste of an idea that turned out 10x better than I ever imagined was intoxicating. In one afternoon we came together and created a truly delicious creation.
Now to do it back in Colorado..without my co-creator. We purchased kilos of chilis in burlap bags and in a rented car moved them across the city to a shipper, Eduardos dad coincidentally, and I tucked the recipe into my cherished recipe book and put it into my carryon. Precious cargo.
Going to the source
As my time in Oaxaca collaborating with my new best food friend drew to a close I was invited to meet the maestros, maestras, for dinner, Eduardo's mom and grandmother, those who had taught him from a very young age how to cook. Truly an incredible experience I'm grateful to have had. In their comfortable home, lush with plants, I had the best tlayuda I'd had yet, and I'd had a lot at this point. It is Oaxaca's favorite food. Amazing homemade beans, grilled meat, quesillo, slow stewed chicken and 2 kinds of sauces, including one made by Eduardo from the once a year harvest of chicatanas. (flying ants that come out for one night only after the first hard rain of the year that I had been fortunate enough to be there for) Yes, it was all amazing. Yes, I forgot to photograph it I was so busy eating..sorry. Not sorry.
Tripa the very pregnant pup.
Left to right: little sister Camila, Eduardo, mother Monica & her partner Vicente. Not pictured: Grandma Angela who went to bed, and other sister Paola who left before I got the family portrait taken.
Back across the border to get to work
Sadly..I had to go back to Colorado..but I climbed into the plane with bags filled with extra chilis, the sacred recipe book and loads of excitement.
Back at home I set out to recreate our recipe. I connected with an amazing Southwest USA pine nut supplier who works with communities to wild harvest these incredible nuts, Penny Frazier from Pinenut.com. Having grown up in Arizona, handpicking piñon nuts myself, there was no way I was going to use Chinese pine nuts. We paid a premium, but we sourced piñons we ethically and morally believe in. Please read her story and by all means.please support her and people like her who are trying to preserve the natural resources we have. I received the big box of chilis Eduardo Sr had shipped (mailman was pissed it was so heavy) And with the help of my distant collaborator, we found proper, pure, corn tortillas with no preservatives, additives or nefarious ingredients at a tiny authentic tortillaria down on Federal..Tortilleria Cuauhtemoc. "Real" Tortillas. Go. You won't regret it.
We set out on scaling up the recipe and with the beauty of the internet, co-cooked our first Colorado batch with the help of WhatsApp chats, photos and videos of the work in progress as we worked our way through burning tortillas and proper chili roasting techniques.
And we did it. A successful run with team RedCamper was had. A true unique recipe was created and a finished product was born in relativly short time. Cherries from the beautiful Paonia region of Colorado, chilis imported from Oaxaca, piñon nuts from the Southwest region of the US and a whole lot of love is mashed up into a crazy explosion of smell and taste that bring both regions to mind when savoring.
Not only is it a finished product though, a lasting camaraderie and friendship was born between two makers from two different countries with two different lives, but shared goals and values and passion for creating something great, to benefit people. All people. The farmers, the shippers, our employees, the shopkeepers, and ultimately, you, the eaters. We are all part of this economic, agricultural and social circle that keeps this planet going. Every choice we make adds to the collective impact on soil, on purity of agriculture, on social / economic results. If you have read this far, I thank you. For participating in this journey with us, to better the planet, the lives of the inhabitants. Your choice to support us, to purchase our products, helps us continue this journey.
Eduardo and I.
Thank you, genuinely, thank you.
*"Criollo" is a signifier of a heritage, native, undomesticated pepper, cacao or corn.