If you think fusion food was something California chefs cooked up in the 1980s, you’re off by a couple of centuries.
Gardens of New Spain opens
in 1492, the year Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand kicked the
Moors out of Spain. The Moors fled, but they had already left an
indelible mark on Iberian cuisine: The soldiers who had settled in
Spain in the 8th century brought lemons, sugarcane, durum wheat and
rice from Syria, Persia and the lands beyond — and many of
those foods headed across the Atlantic with Columbus.
Meanwhile, in the desert Southwest, native cuisine was undergoing
its own kind of fusion as American Indians began adapting the
corns-beans-and-squash diet from Mexico to their own harsh
environment. In one nearly miraculous transformation, the Hopi
turned corn — a Mexican native originally grown where 30
inches of rain fall each year — into a desert survivor that
could thrive on six inches of rain a year by driving its main root
eight feet into the ground to reach moisture. After the Spanish
touched down in the Caribbean and pushed their way into the
Southwest, what Dunmire calls a "cultural sublimation" took place.
Old World onions found a place in native dishes, wheat could be
substituted for corn in tortillas, and the chile, which the
Spaniards packed along as they made their way up from Mexico,
became the symbol of the Southwest.
introductions added diversity, and dramatically increased
productivity in native gardens by adding winter crops to the
growing cycle: "Cold-hardy Mediterranean plants such as wheat,
garlic, onions, lettuce, and peas could be sown in late fall or
winter, then harvested long before corn or beans were ready to
pick, in effect nearly doubling the season for fresh produce."
Gardens of New Spain covers so much
territory that it’s sometimes difficult to digest everything,
but the book is certain to make you look at your next meal
Gardens of New Spain: How
Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America
William W. Dunmire, 392 pages, hardcover, $65.00, softcover,
$24.95: University of Texas Press, 2004.
A tasty history of the Southwest
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