Saturday, July 24, 2010

Part Two - A Mole Tale


First off I must apologize for the ajo word being used instead of it a Mexican fraudian is part two....the tales of ribaldry will come later.....

The momentum has been building and from what I had observed in the markets this morning everyone's energies were hyper-focused on their collective and individual preparations for Day of the Dead which is more than one days worth of celebrations.

Lupe and her son el Diabolito (Angelito) were in the market selling off their last bags of pecans which we had shaken out of the huge tree that morning. I love to sit in the courtyard with a hammer and enjoy them at their freshest. I have found that in the absence of pine nuts these nuezes work just as well. Yes, the food snobs will crucify me for this one but one thing I have learned in my travels is to make adaptations in the absence of certain ingredients. To date, my efforts have been appreciated by those whom I cook for.

By the time I was done with my mornings musings it was time for me to head back to the family compound to have some lunch and get ready for part two of our production. I was really stoked for this. Our household was engaged in its own particular bit of craziness. Lucia, Lupe's mom, had picked the sacrificial victim for tomorrow's special meal the goose which she was going to do with her own particular Coloradito sauce. This is a rich red sauce, not quite a mole but a specialty unto itself. I was to learn the next day during the visitations just how many kinds of sauces could be served and how delightful each one could be in its own right.

Lucia dispatched her husband Artemio to fetch the machete and sharpen it up for the sacrifice. There was no commiseration here. She picked a spot in the yard and got her son Diego to assist her. With two quick motions the goose's neck artery was severed and the blood allowed to flow. This is getting to know your food at its best. How many folks I wonder have never seen a critter get slaughtered, cleaned, dressed and prepped for the pot? Most of my friends think they are being daring going to a butcher shop and getting their meats in brown paper as opposed to the cellophane packages in the big box stores. I prefer Lucia's approach as it brought me back to my farm upbringing.

Lupe was still at the market so I thought it best that I head over to her Auntie's house as they were waiting for me and mole should never wait for anybody. I grabbed my notebook and camera bag and made my way down the circuitous back lanes lined by the adobe walls that to me, define Mitla. I came up with this great thought the other day as I was wandering home one night down the same lane, hearing laughter and music coming from behind those walls. Was the notion of life in the courtyard something handed down from the Moors of Spain? Or was this something that had existed in Mexico before the invading Spaniards put their imprint on this society? Walking a lot is good for the brain.

The big wooden door to Don Fausto's workshop was open and I entered the courtyard yelling out the standard greetings. Everybody laughed, hugs were exchanged and I was beckoned into the kitchen. The tomatillos and tomates rojas were reducing beautifully and within fifteen minutes would be removed from the stove to cool and be strained.

It was upon leaving the kitchen to organize my camera gear that I noticed the comal heater had this huge tin tub on it full of steaming water. Then I saw that the turkeys - the GUAJOLOTES - were being prepped to be defeathered. I made the slashing motion across my neck and this brought gales of laughter. These were gorgeous specimens of black turkeys and unlike the horrible things that are passed off back at home, all fat and flavourless, these Oaxacan turkeys are full of flavour and lacking in fat. I have had turkey many times in Mexico and now when I have one back at home I could almost cry because these creatures are the real thing. Tasty and organic and yes, they lived well and not in cramped feces infested barns.

Fausto and his son Armando and his wife Ophelia got down to the task of defeathering with gusto. It does not take too long to do this but once again this is a practice makes perfect kind of thing.

Fausto's wife Flor summoned me for the next important step, the washing of the chiles that we had toasted the night before. Flor grabs a generous handful, dips them into the pot of water and proceeds to wash and squeeze them. The juices are a rich brown color, a portention of things to come.

I am grateful to be able to capture her motions as well as the juices on the camera.

When the chiles are done being washed we grab the pot of strained tomatoes, the pot of washed chiles and the casserole containing the concoction that had been festering all night covered with a cloth. Flor, myself, Armando's son and his daughter all leave the courtyard to go to the community grinding spot. I am familiar with this ritual for we have an industrial MOLINO (a large machine whose design has not been altered since the 1930's) at our place that gets a great deal of use when folks come in the morning with their fresh-roasted beans for Artemio to grind up. Maybe this is why I love this house for I get to smell fresh coffee everyday. Take that Starbucks!! When the latter-mentioned company tries to duplicate Oaxacan cafe Olla that will be the day that I howl greatly in protest even though I must confess that I do like their pumpkin spice latte (send me a check later for my generous plug here okay?).

I can smell the grinding house before we cross its portal. It is a rich smell, one that promises of great things tomorrow. There are many ladies there, dressed in the de rigeur outfit of dress, apron and braided hair, lined up to have their mole ingredients treated. I feel very privileged to be here in that everyone has their secret ingredients and I get to photograph in this place. Normally, many Zapotecs despise their shots being taken unless they ask you to do so. I too was once one of those stroppy shooters who took umbrage at not having access. It has taken me two years of being in this community to be accepted and thus have unfettered access but I still ask for permission for it is a sign of respect. And I have great respect for my fellow women here.

Now there is a particular order to the grinding process. You just don't dump all the shit in together and schlep it back in one pot. Oh no. That would be not only sacrilegious but it would screw up the flavor order later once the cooking part began. First we place into the Molino what I refer to as the blonde ingredients, the stuff that was in the casserole, the spices, raisins, prunes, garlic, onion, sesame, herbs and yerba santa. I call it blonde for when it comes out it is a rich blonde color. This mash goes back into the same casserole.

The grind house Duena rinses out the Molino so we can do the chiles. Obviously the color of this paste will be much darker. In order to rinse out the Molino the tomato/tomatillo mash is added with a wee bit of water. This mash goes in with the chile paste. We are now ready to return to the kitchen so we hail one of those moto taxis and pile in holding the pots on our laps so as to not spill the precious pastes.

The propane heater setup is turned on almost full-blast and another huge tin tub is placed on it. 1 and ½ litres of cooking oil is poured in to heat up. If you have been cooking long enough all you need to do is carefully observe the oil and how it moves to know when it is at its optimum temperature. I would say to the anal folks out there most likely a 350 degree temperature needs to be reached.

This next step kind of took me by surprise. Another big onion, having been sliced into almost clove-like shapes was incorporated into the hot oil. Another joyous aroma greeted my nostrils. The onion slices had to reach a dark, not too dark, brown consistency. Salt was added during this process. How much salt one uses is purely at the hands of the chef. There are some things one cannot measure. The heat by the way is gradually turned down so this can reduce.

It is now time to add the blonde mash. The mixture froths and spits as we both furiously stir. Now this is the funny part for I am stirring and shooting and Flor is cranking up the flames. This is definitely a two-woman production. This too will be reduced and constant stirring is absolutely necessary.

Once again observation is key and this is why I know that it will take many attempts to duplicate (if I ever can) this particular mole but it is a challenge that I look forward to. Flor after a time decides that we can now incorporate the chile/tomato paste into the mix. The flame is turned to low, the lowest setting. I love to watch the mixing of the dark into the light and have much fun stirring. Flor laughs at my ease with micromanaging two tasks, stirring and shooting.

Remember the tomato/tomatillo straining of earlier in the afternoon? We saved the juice for this next part. We add the juice to the blended pastes and stir some more. More. And more. My arm is getting tired but I dare say nothing for Flor needs me to keep doing this as she adds the last, most special ingredient and one that will vex to no end, the homemade chocolate blocks. I say this will be vexatious for every household has its own particular spin on chocolate. These blocks are of course not the blocks we use to make the infamous Oaxacan hot chocolate. These blocks are more bittersweet. We add 17 in total, stirring them in to the mix.

This brew will reduce and attain a smooth consistency over the next three hours.

My part is done and my next task will be the tasting of the mole the next day with the turkey. I had to take my leave for some guests were arriving from the city for afternoon drinks at my friend Richard's home which happened to be right next door to me. This is when things ahhh, will get very strange and quite delightful.

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