A friend of mine was preparing for her first trip to Oaxaca. She asked me to recommend a cooking school in Oaxaca, so I searched on the web and found an article on the Austin Chronicle's site that mentioned one. It was Seasons of my Heart, in Etla, Oaxaca, taught by Susana Trilling.
The article was from June of 1998 and said that classes in December of '98 would be a problem as a PBS station, WMHT, from Albany, NY was going to be taping a cooking series on the foods of Oaxaca. I e-mailed the station about the status of the series and got a wonderful reply from the Vice President of Communication and Education. She said that the series is currently being shown at some PBS stations around the US. When I realized that none of the PBS stations here in the Bay Area were going to showing "Seasons" I bought the series on tape
The night the tapes arrived, my wife and I watched the first three episodes. They were so good we had to force ourselves to wait until the weekend to watch the rest. The series is a treasure. The shows are split about 50/50 between cooking demonstrations and "field trips" taking us to peoples' homes, to markets, to farms and to villages. These side trips show the food in context, demonstrating the culture of the food and people of Oaxaca.
Each show covers a specific food or related focus. Show topics for the thirteen episodes are:
- Corn, Beans and Squash
- Tamales and Chocolate
- Colonial Era Kitchen
- Exotic Game
- The Pacific Coast: Fish and Coconuts
- Salted and Smoked Fish
- Vegetables and Herbs
- Botanas and Mezcal
- Wedding Soup and Pineapple
- The Ride to Mangoland
- Holiday Breads and Coffee
In the show about tamales and chocolate, Susana takes us to the main market in Oaxaca to show how Chocolate is ground per each customer's recipe. Then we go into a lady's home to see how she prepares chocolate from the roasting of cacao beans on a comal over a wood fire to the grinding of the roasted beans and cinnamon on a heated metate and finally to the preparation of a hot chocolate drink. From there we are taken to a craftsman's workshop where we watch as he makes a molinillo (chocolate swirler) from a single piece of wood on a lathe. Once we've been shown the background of chocolate, Susana demonstrates recipes using chocolate. Frequently she uses utensils like metates, molcajetes and comales to show the traditional ways of preparing la comida oaxaquena. After seeing Susana preparing chiles rellenos in the show on chiles I realized they weren't nearly as hard to make as the finished product always looked. My repertoire has expanded.
The series name again is Seasons of My Heart. For those living in Gringolandia, I think that it would be a great idea to contact your local public television requesting that this series be shown in your area. If you are interested in purchasing the series, it is available for $99.95 plus shipping and handling for all 13 episodes from:
P.O. Box 17
Schenectady, NY 12301
An excellent companion cookbook by Susana published by Ballantine Books is also available from WMHT for $25.00 plus shipping and handling.
P.G. Meier is a native Californian who lives in Oakland with his wife, dog and cat. He has traveled in Mexico since the early seventies and says there is no better way to start a day than drinking a big glass of freshly squeezed orange juice in an open-air café while the sun warms the day.