Friday, September 23, 2016

The Mexican Cook Book from the 1970's , written and photographed by George and Inger Wallace is a real gem

I bought this cookbook when I was in college right when it was published in 1971.  The recipes are straight forward,  somewhat elementary.  The authors traveled throughout Mexico and put together a collection of their favorite Mexican recipes and adapted them for the American kitchen.  Things have changed drastically in what ingredients one can find now verses back then.  But the thing I like best about this small cookbook is the photography.
First let me tell you a little about the George Wallace...  Born in San Francisco, he excelled in two completely different fields, speed skating and photography.  
He was the only American athlete to compete independently in the 1940 World Games (later known at the Olympics).  He won top medals in Latvia, competing in minus 40 degrees Celsius weather!
In 1939 he was invited by the Oslo Skating Club to train on their outdoor rink and that is where he met his future wife, Inger Dalhberg.  Fleeing Norway after the German occupation, they were fortunate to get the last available passage on the U.S. Manhattan.
Back in the states, he worked for his family's company, US Pipe Mfg..  
He was passionate about photography since the age of 12.  In the late 1940's, he was a full time student on a scholarship for two years under Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston.   He later became a professor of photography and created a simple hand calculator   to determine the best DOF, depth of field.  He had a knack for shooting from the hip which was useful when shooting in Mexico were the people were standoffish of having their photo taken for they believed the photograph would steal their spirit.  He would engage his subjects in friendly conversation which led to mutual respect which show in the images below.  You can see this in his photos, for many of his subjects have a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eyes. 
He shot with minimal equipment using natural light and sometimes a mini-tripod.
He invented the ExpoDisc.  This disc, like a lens, sets the white balance on the camera enabling the photographer to capture accurate color when clicking the shutter.  Good color and exposure saved the photographer tremendous time from having to make adjustments on the camera's settings and less time in the dark room.  
Most of his photographic archives were destroyed by a fire in 1989, but negatives and slides from Mexico and Norway were spared.
Enjoy some of the photographs below that I scanned from the cookbook along with the copy that accompanied the photo.
"This is one of the three large bands of musicians in Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village in the state of Oaxaca.  These bands provide all the music for the local religious festivals and pageants."   Teotitlan del Valle is one of the villages that I take my group to and is renown for it weaving of rebozas and rugs.
"Their work in the fields caught up and the rainy season begun, mestizos from San Juan Chilateca wait for a ride to the nearby fiesta where they will earn extra money as professional musicians."
"Many men of nearby Santa Catarina Minas share work provided by stills hidden in remote barrancas of this desolate region.  From these stills comes the best mescal in all Mexico."
"Largest of all Indian markets of Mexico, the Oaxaca market is within a day's travel of every conceivable combination of soil, climate and topography, and therefore features an exotic and great variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year."  And to this day, the market has not changed that much.
"Indians and mestizos alike converge on the large market on Saturdays.  They come from lonely huts in the hills and nearby villages to buy, sell and barter; and to enjoy the excitement of the market place."  The women today still wear their shiny black hair in a handsome braid and always wearing an apron and a reboza as they effortlessly balance their basket full of vegetables on their head. 
"These girls from San Felipe, A Zapotec village on the outskirts of Oaxaca, have just finished a part of their day's work.  Up long before dawn, they ground corn, made tortillas, ran barefoot to market with their wares loaded in baskets and sold hot, fresh tortillas to waiting customers."  I love these baskets and I buy one or two every time I am in Oaxaca. They are beautifully crafted.  Being pliable, I put one basket inside the other , pack my clothes in them and put the the baskets in my big duffle-shaped suitcase.  Back home, I use them for cloths hampers and waste baskets.
"On their way home from Mass, these women and children had been waiting in a small store for a momentary downpour to pass."  I have been there!  Some of the whiteout downpours in the state of Michoacan are unbelievable. 
"With methods as old as the Conquest itself, the women of Teotitlan de Valle spin yarn for woolen serapes for which their village is so famous."  A practice still done the in the old tradition.  And I have purchased the most beautifully woven serape that Ralph Lauren would have loved to showcase in his store.
"This vanilla bean farmer in Papantla, on the hot and humid Gulf Coast, prefers traditional Totonac dress for himself, but indulges in factory-made clothes for his children."
"This mestiza woman is one of many independent small businesswomen preparing and selling antojitos in the streets surrounding the huge Oaxaca market.   A scene very typical of today with the large clay comal used to cook the tortillas and the enamel pot probably filled with a salsa, freshly chopped nopales (cactus pads) or a mole...
"Refugio Masqueda Mercedes Chaves makes charcoal from the hardwood he gathers in the hills above Guanajuato, then hauls it down by burro to sell in the towns.  His strongly Spanish features are evidence of the harshness of the occupation that followed the Conquest of Mexico."  Don't you just love his name?  There were countless times when there would be a knock at our home in San Miguel de Allende with a man with similar looks and his burro loaded with firewood or bags of dirt for the garden.
"The timorous Tarahumaras only slip down from their primitive caves and huts to attend Mass, watch a Baptism or an occasional marriage ceremony, or seek medicine our counsel from the padre on his monthly visit.  He is the only outside they trust."  
Their way of life has not changes since the 1970's.  My next tour may involve taking the scenic train trip through the Copper Canyon where these interesting people live.  The Copper Canyon makes the Grand Canyon in Arizona look small in comparison.  

The Wallace's captured the warmth and spirit of the Mexican people and that is something I have experienced every time I have ventured out to explore some small village in the remote areas of Mexico.  Such gracious, friendly people.

The Mexican Cook Book is still available and I know you can find it on Amazon.  It's beautifully written, the recipes are easy and the photography is spectacular.

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