Question answered by Matthew Hughes, Program Coordinator at PTPI.
What traditions does your family have that involve food? Is there a secret ingredient or preparation method that your family claims as only yours?
Food is a central element of Like Water for Chocolate. Tita’s family regularly gathers round the table to share a meal, and it’s no exaggeration to say that Tita puts herself into every dish she cooks. Nacha mentors her in the culinary arts; by the end of the novel, Tita is mentoring others.
Cooks often go beyond a written recipe, experimenting with new flavor combinations, altering ingredient lists based on what they have in their pantry, and updating antiquated parsley-covered presentations. As a cover artist who makes a classic track sound new again, Tita has a transcendent effect on at least three of the meals in the novel. The intense longing she feels at her sister’s wedding is internalized in the cake she prepares and translates into an interesting reaction from the guests. Quail in place of pheasants, coupled with rose petals marked by Tita, leads to an unexpected effect for Tita’s family members in March. In November, Tita’s anger almost ruins her bean dish until she finds a way to coax the beans into deliciousness. Ultimately it is Tita, and not just the ingredients or method of preparation, that influences her food and its impact on those she feeds.
As I was growing up, my mother and grandmother had a custom of saying that they were making my food with love. I don’t expect that this line was unique to my family—I’ve seen it used as marketing language in the grocery store—but it meant so much nonetheless. Somehow, the love with which my mother and grandmother prepared meals transferred into the taste, into the food’s ability to sate a hunger, into the togetherness that my family felt, gathered at table.
Last year, when my mother mailed me cookies on a whim, she included a note that meant more than the cookies themselves (delicious though they were!). Love was my mother’s not-so-secret ingredient in the cookies and something that I’ll always treasure.
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