By MARIA TERESA HERNANDEZ, Associated Press
PUEBLA, Mexico (AP) — Every September, when Mexico celebrates its independence from Spain, people across the country feast on chiles en nogada, a seasonal dish of mild poblano peppers stuffed with ground pork and fruit, topped with a walnut, parsley and pomegranate sauce. seeds The recipe was invented in 1821 by a nun, whose name has been lost to history.
Agustín de Iturbide, a general in the War of Independence, was the first to try one. Traveling from the state of Veracruz, on the Gulf Coast, he made a stopover in Puebla where the nuns of the Santa Mónica convent surprised him with the new creation. Its vivid green, white, and red colors visually evoked the colors of Mexico’s national flag, and it remains synonymous with Independence Day celebrations today.
The story illustrates how cloistered nuns left an anonymous but indelible mark on Mexican cuisine throughout the centuries, imagining some of the country’s most iconic dishes when asked to serve special meals for important men while remaining anonymous and out. from the world view.
“There were more than 300 recipes created by nuns, but that is not very well known because it is almost never mentioned,” said Jesús Vázquez, historian at the Santa Rosa art museum in Puebla, located in a former convent that was the birthplace of another delicacy. iconic: mole poblano.
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A hundred years before Iturbide’s mouth watered with chiles en nogada, a nun from Santa Rosa invented the thick brown mole sauce, often served over turkey or chicken. She takes days to make and contains more than 20 ingredients, from chocolate to peanuts and a variety of deveined chiles to reduce the heat.
“The most outstanding recipes are from nuns, and we ask ourselves: why? Out of necessity,” said Sister Caridad, 36, speaking admiringly of her predecessors in Santa Monica, who created chiles en nogada. “To seek sustenance every day, God inspired them to invent such exquisite recipes.”
The Augustinian Recollects of Santa Monica and the Dominicans of Santa Rosa are cloistered nuns, which means that by taking the habit they renounce external life and will live in their convent until death. Historically, women obeyed vows of silence, obedience and austerity, sleeping on wooden boards instead of beds, wearing itchy woolen clothes and having no windows to see the outside world.
The nuns were not allowed to eat what they cooked, because fasting was supposed to purify their bodies and keep their lives austere. They couldn’t even see the faces of those who tasted their mole or chiles en nogada; meals were left on a rotating table with a door for it to be picked up.
Vázquez, the historian, said that those kitchens “were laboratories for gastronomic experiments” where nuns used simple tools and fused pre-Hispanic and European ingredients to create revolutionary new flavors.
In the case of the chiles en nogada, at first the nuns did something similar only with fruit, for dessert, because meat was scarce. As pork became more widely available, they began to play around mixing sweet and savory, and it evolved into the dish that has endured to this day.
Chiles en nogada long ago passed from the exclusive domain of the nuns of Santa Monica to be prepared and savored nationally and internationally. Another convent in Puebla also makes them: Every August, the 17 Carmelite nuns of La Soledad prepare around 250 chiles en nogada to sell.
Throughout the year, however, La Soledad is best known for its nuns’ specialty, desserts. These include Polvorones, crumbly cookies made from flour, butter, and sugar; orange donuts; anise covered sweets; and the most popular, the crispy oval cookies known as campechanas. All are served to the public through a rotating device to maintain privacy similar to those used in Iturbide’s time.
“This community is very traditional in terms of gastronomy,” said Sister Elizabeth, one of the residents of La Soledad. “All our cookies, chocolates and eggnog are made by hand, without a mixer, with saucepans, as was done in the old days.”
Campechanas are resold in a nearby cafeteria. Sister Elizabeth acknowledged some frustration at the idea of the nuns not getting the credit, but she said she takes comfort in knowing that only they know the recipe and can make the golden candies.
The Augustinian Recollects settled at the end of the 17th century in the convent of Santa Mónica in the colonial center of Puebla, one of 11 built in the city. As part of laws separating church and state, the nuns left the site in 1934 and now reside in a modest building nearby with yellow walls and a green garden. The 20 women who live there dedicate all their waking hours, from 6 am to 10 pm, to give themselves to God.
Sister Caridad said that the nuns are integrated as a family and come to share a common heritage. There’s no need for cookbooks, she added: Its culinary secrets are passed down from generation to generation.
Eighteen years of confinement have not been easy, but he takes pride in the monastic life.
“Because of my sacrifices, I may not have some satisfactions in this world,” he said. “But I know that one day God will give them to us because of what we did in this cloister, in this house where we were hidden, because of how much good we did to humanity.”
Associated Press religious coverage is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.
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