Tag Archives: cooking

Cooking With a Pinch of History: Chile Verde

by Brittany Avila

This month in the Presidio Heritage Gardens the following vegetables just so happened to be perfectly ripe and ready for picking: tomatillos, onions, poblano peppers and oregano. So instead of searching through historical cookbooks for my next recipe, I decided to utilize the products of our fruitful garden and create a traditional Mexican dish that was sure to have been served in various forms in early California. Therefore I present to you this fresh, tangy concoction known popularly as chile verde.

Ingredients

1 ½ lbs tomatillos

1 white onion

2 poblano peppers (halved and seeded)

4 cloves garlic

¼ tsp Mexican oregano

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp sugar

½ cup vegetable broth

fresh ground pepper (however much you feel necessary)

meat of your choice (pork and poultry are most common for this sauce, but everything from eggs to beef have been used instead!)

These tomatillos were picked fresh from the Presidio Heritage Gardens where they grew like weeds! Photo by Brittany Avila.
These tomatillos were picked fresh from the Presidio Heritage Gardens where they grew like weeds! Photo by Brittany Avila.

You will need to begin by preheating your oven to 450 degrees. Prepare your tomatillos by husking and washing each of them. The washing portion may also involve some scrubbing as some tomatillos might have a sticky residue.

Although we don’t have a specific historical reference of their cultivation in early California, tomatillos were so popular in New Spain that it’s assumed they made their way to California at one point or another through the colonists coming from Mexico.

The tomatillos after preparation and over-ready! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The tomatillos after preparation and oven-ready! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Cut into halves and place onto a well-oiled baking sheet. As always, I used our Santa Inés Mission Mills olive oil to lubricate the sheet.

Tomatillos were domesticated by the Aztecs almost 3,000 years ago. When Spanish conquistadores were introduced to them in Mexico and Central America, they brought them back to Spain but misnamed them as tomate.

Another pick from the Presidio Heritage Gardens! Photo by Brittany Avila.
Another pick from the Presidio Heritage Gardens! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Next cut the poblano peppers into halves, remove all of the seeds inside, wash them off for good measure, and place on a baking sheet when done.

In early California all chiles, regardless of their size, taste or origin were referred to simply as chiles. Therefore it is difficult to make reference to any type of specific chile during this era.

Onions from once again…El Presidio Heritage Gardens! Photo by Brittany Avila.
Onions from once again…the Presidio Heritage Gardens! Photo by Brittany Avila.

I then cut up my onion, which actually was a bundle of small white onions, since they grew to a smaller size in our garden. I guesstimated how much would be equivalent to one whole onion. I simply cut my small onions into halves, but if you are using one large onion I advise cutting it into quarters or even eighths. Place your chopped onions on the sheet.

Garlic before peeled. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Garlic before being peeled. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Lastly I peeled my garlic cloves and placed them on the sheet with everything else. Garlic was eaten raw to cure dropsy, which is more commonly known as edema. Unfortunately breath mints didn’t exist then to cure the bad breath side effects.

By this time my oven was toasty and ready, and I placed my sheet inside.

The outside of the pepper right before it’s ready to be peeled. Photo by Brittany Avila.
The outside of the pepper right before it’s ready to be peeled. Photo by Brittany Avila.

After 30 minutes, check on the vegetables…the peppers should be blackening on the outside but not so burnt that the skin WON’T peel off (that’s right, you want that leathery outside to come off). Take only the peppers off the sheet and run under cold water. As you do this, massage the pepper so that the black parts, or the skin, come off. Set aside.

Chiles sold in markets today are 20th century versions of the chiles found by Europeans during the colonization of California.

The vegetables are just brown enough and ready to be taken out of the oven. Photo by Brittany Avila.
The vegetables are just brown enough and ready to be taken out of the oven. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Once the sheet has been in there a TOTAL of 40 minutes, or when you see the onions browning take the sheet out and let cool.

In early California onions were used as an appetite enhancer, insect repellant and treatment for insect and snake bites.

Take your oregano, salt, sugar, vegetable broth and fresh ground pepper and mix in with peppers, tomatillos, garlic, and onion in a food processor.

The oregano shown here was taken from El Presidio Heritage Gardens and therefore had to be taken off the stalk and crushed before I could add it in. Also shown are the quantities of salt and sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.
The oregano shown here was taken from El Presidio Heritage Gardens and therefore had to be taken off the stalk and crushed before I could add it in. Also shown are the quantities of salt and sugar. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Once the mixture has reached a puree, let it simmer in a well-oiled pan for 5-10 minutes. This is the point where you can add some shredded chicken as I did, or whatever pre-cooked meat meets your carnivorous needs.

Hens found in our local region during early California would have been Basque or Majorcan hens brought up from Mexico.

Finished to a puree in the blender and then simmering on medium level heat just enough to warm up meat choice and the chile verde. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Finished to a puree in the blender and then simmering on medium level heat just enough to warm up meat choice and the chile verde. Photo by Brittany Avila.

And once again a traditional recipe from Early CA turned out to be a taste bud pleaser!

The final product…tastes better than it looks! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The final product…tastes better than it looks! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Sources

Garriga, Andrew, and Francis J. Weber. Andrew Garriga’s Compilation of Herbs & Remedies Used by the Indians & Spanish Californians: Together with Some Remedies of His Own Experience. S. 1978. 22, 25.

Timbrook, J. Chumash Ethnobotany:Plant Knowledge Among the Chumash People of Southern California. Berkeley, CA: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Heyday Books, 2007. 26.

Mike Imwalle, SBTHP Archaeologist and Master Gardener, also provided a significant amount of historical information for this piece

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina

New Publication about El Presidio de Santa Barbara in the shop!

birth of a cityWe are pleased to announce the publication of El Presidio de Santa Barbara, Birth of a City, now available at La Tiendita (the shop) at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, and on our website.  At $7.95, it’s a bargain, and it contains a concise overview of the history of the Presidio site not available anywhere else.

We asked longtime SBTHP volunteer and founder of Los Soldados de Cuera, Mike Hardwick, for his thoughts on the new piece, and here’s what he shared with us:

The mini-book timeline, El Presidio de Santa Barbara: Birth of a City, is an excellent and beautifully illustrated publication. It is well researched and provides the reader with a quick historical reference to the major events highlighting the development of the City of Santa Barbara.  Focusing on the nuclear heart of the City where the last Royal Presidio in New Spain was founded in 1782, the timeline quickly moves the reader from prehistory of Santa Barbara to the present day.  The mini book is just thirteen pages and is colorfully illustrated. Each page covers an important historic period.  The timeline starts by describing The First People, moves to Early Development of the Presidio (1782-1784), progresses to The Presidio Neighborhood Transforms (1870-1930), and ends with Rebirth of the Presidio (1959-Present).  A handy reference, this booklet is great value for the money and is a must for any library.

DSC_0783Michael Hardwick is the author of Changes in Landscape, the Beginnings of Horticulture in the California Missions and Timeless Vista, the history of Mission La Purisima

Cooking with a Pinch of History: Lamb Shanks with Claret

by Brittany Avila

I found this particular recipe in California Mission Recipes and decided on it solely for the self-serving purpose that I LOVE lamb. I cut the original recipe I found into a third, as it calls for 6 lamb shanks, and I wasn’t keen on cooking for a large family. Therefore, I began with 2 lamb shanks and cut down the rest of the ingredients accordingly:

Ingredients:

2 lamb shanks

1 tablespoon of dried celery tops (you can find this in the spice isle of the grocery store, or do what I did and simply use fresh celery tops)

1/3 sprig of parsley, chopped

1/8 tsp thyme

1/3 of a bay leaf

½ to 1 cup of boiling water

¼ cup whole wheat flour

½ cup claret wine (any light, dry wine will do; I used a cheap sauvignon blanc)

1/6 cup olive oil (I used Mission Mills olive oil, SBTHP’s newest product in the shop (for sales info contact our shop manager through the link) pressed from olives grown at the historic Santa Inés Mission Mills! You can find more info about our olives here)

Salt and pepper

Parsley was originally imported to Alta California for use as an herb, spice, and vegetable. Its herbal uses ranged from cooking to medicinal purposes, where it was used to treat gastronomical disorders by grinding the root, stem and seeds into a flour that was then eaten. California Bay Laurel (bay leaf) is a native plant used for flavoring in early California. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Parsley was originally imported to Alta California for use as an herb, spice, and vegetable. Its herbal uses ranged from cooking to medicinal purposes, where it was used to treat gastronomical disorders by grinding the root, stem and seeds into a flour that was then eaten. California Bay Laurel (bay leaf) is a native plant used for flavoring in early California. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Place both lamb shanks and herbs together in a kettle. If you are puzzled by what celery tops are, they are exactly what they sound like. Cut off only the top leaves of the celery stalks if you’re going fresh, or make life easy and simply add your pre-dried celery tops.

Sheep, or borregas, were brought to California to the beautiful frontier during the Portola-Serra expedition. Sheep’s wool was the chief source for clothing and blankets for both Spaniards and neophytes at the missions, but sheep were used secondarily as a meat source. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Sheep, or borregas, were brought to California during the Portola-Serra expedition. Sheep’s wool was the chief source for clothing and blankets for both Spaniards and neophytes at the missions, but sheep were used secondarily as a meat source. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Because this would’ve been a large iron cast kettle hung over an open fire, I improvised with an iron cooking pan over my stove, since I imagine my landlord wouldn’t be too pleased with an open fire on my porch and I didn’t have a large iron kettle laying around, nor would I know where to purchase one.

The modern day stove top we are cooking on would’ve been replaced by a bracero during Early California, which was a ladrillo, or red tile stove top with stow holes and iron grates to place hot coals in. The bottom portion would’ve been built out of adobe, ladrillo or stone. If you’d like to see a reconstructed bracero, stop by the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, SHP! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The modern day stove top we are cooking on would’ve been replaced by a bracero during Early California, which was a ladrillo, or red tile stove top with stow holes and iron grates to place hot coals in. The bottom portion would’ve been built out of adobe, ladrillo or stone. If you’d like to see a reconstructed bracero, stop by the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara, SHP! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Place the ½ cup of boiling water (boiled in a separate pot) over the lamb shanks and herbs. Let this simmer for one hour. During my cooking venture, I had to add ½ cup more boiling water half way through since most of it had evaporated and I didn’t want the herbs or lamb burning on the pan.

Take lamb shanks off the pan and allow to cool slightly. Then sprinkle with salt and pepper, roll each shank in flour, and sprinkle with salt and pepper again. Because I wasn’t growing and grinding up my own flour as Spanish settlers did (my porch doesn’t make for a good garden), I purchased whole wheat flour to be as close and accurate to the recipe as possible.

Flour was made from Sonoran wheat, which was introduced to California by Spanish missionaries coming from the Sonora region of Mexico. Instead of a factory with specialized heavy machinery, a grinding stone or metate, would’ve been used by early Californians to grind the wheat into flour by hand or por mano. The stone used to grind the wheat against the metate was called a mano! Photo by Brittany Avila.
Flour was made from Sonoran wheat, which was introduced to California by Spanish missionaries coming from the Sonora region of Mexico. Instead of a factory with specialized heavy machinery, a grinding stone or metate, would’ve been used by early Californians to grind the wheat into flour by hand or “por mano.” The stone used to grind the wheat against the metate was called a mano! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and place lamb shanks in a shallow cooking pan. Place in oven for one hour. Instead of an oven, an horno would’ve been used in Early California, which is a dome shaped adobe structure commonly used to bake bread and other foods. This too can be seen in the cocina at El Presidio de Santa Barbara SHP.

Mix the olive oil and wine together. Baste the lamb shanks with this mixture every 15 minutes. Do not skimp on the basting; the more basting, the more juicy your meat will come out.

Claret was a type of grape introduced to California by the Spanish. Claret and other wines were made by fermenting all of the sugar from the grape. These wines were popular as a lot could be consumed before intoxication. Photo by Brittany Avila.
Claret was a type of grape introduced to California by the Spanish. Claret and other wines were made by fermenting all of the sugar from the grape. These wines were popular as a lot could be consumed before intoxication. Photo by Brittany Avila.

Take lamb shanks out of the oven after an hour, or when they reach a nice golden brown.

I cut my lamb shanks up and shared with the SBTHP staff, who gave the final product a thumbs up! Lamb mission #1 successfully completed!

The final product! Photo by Brittany Avila.
The final product! Photo by Brittany Avila.

Sources

Sortomme, Jerry. Plants of Spanish, Alta CA 1764-1834. Rep. N.p.: n.p., October 2011.

Cleveland, Bess. California Mission Recipes. Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company,1965: 50.

Spiller, Monica. “Sonoran Wheat History: Another Look.” mss (2008): 1-2. Presidio Research Center Vertical Files, “Plants.”

Tays, George. Ranch and Mission Industries in California. Berkeley: n.p., 1941.

Mission San Antonio De Padua Herbs: Medical Herbs of Early Days with Ambrisan, Latin, remedial and common index and glossary. 1974. Presidio Research Center Vertical Files, “Plants.”

Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying  pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina