By Fatima Ortiz
Illustrations René Tapia
This article is part of our Issue 1: The Languages of Food publication.
It was a clay jar
in the middle of the table,
sitting there at all times
full of a water so fresh
that any conversation could flow right after tasting it.
This was no ordinary water
the flavor was the whole earth in one sip,
a tranquil reminder of the countryside
where my grandmother grew up.
It tasted like grass and shade,
like the smell of the land right after it rains,
a gentle hug given by someone who had no money but was so rich.
In some ways
this humble jar
was the bridge between the outside world
and the house full of plants,
stories and family gatherings.
The stove had a window
above overlooking a smaller patio
also filled with buckets of plants,
flowers and a few dreams.
This is where I learned
that food is love.
With a little wooden stool
I was tall enough to see the infinite bubbles
in the special pot of beans.
To this day no one can make them just like that.
Some say it’s the amount she made,
others the old beaten clay pot.
I just think it was her way of saying
‘I care for you’ since she never came across
as a tender kind of woman.
Everything had the right amount of fire.
The burnt skin of the roasted tomatoes
for the spicy salsa,
or the cloudy milk
that had to be skimmed
to make orange peel sweet bread.
Fire can both burn and provide the soul
warmth, she said to me.
It can be the center of a home
or the spark that burns the forest.
Care for it.
We knew where our food was coming from.
Every Wednesday the white-skinned man
would ring the doorbell around 1pm.
In the back of his old truck
the milk metal tins would be,
waiting for Grandma’s containers.
He brought all dairy fresh
just because he took pride
in producing the best he could
with his animals.
Most fruit came from the backyard
where a feisty rooster lived
and my siblings and I would sometimes
go give him a hard time just for fun.
Then we had to collect the eggs
and that’s where he got us back
giving us a wild ride,
along with some laughs
for the acrobatic moves needed
to accomplish the task.
Everything from bananas to avocados
grew on one of those trees.
It was almost like a hidden oasis
inside the house,
capable of such plump beauty
enjoyed and shared at the table.
Nothing was ever wasted.
Bread and coffee to share the life
that was breathing through us.
This was the idea.
From the elders to the newborns,
everyone had a place to talk
The emotions cooking
in this old Mexican kitchen
were nothing short of bursting surprises.
Our culture allows this.
We are half real
and half the paradise
of colors and imagination.
Our ideas merge with flavor
just like every seed and spice in mole.
We are not collected and eloquent
most of the time.
We need the breeze of love
manifested in a bowl of warm soup
or the passion of a salsa almost too hot to eat.
The kitchen is the center of our home
and the sanctuary of our nostalgia.
The safe place where we want to go,
the sip of water that reminds us
to stay forever renewed.