New Grant Seeks to Preserve 'Cuisine of Encinal'

A new project funded by the Texas Council for the Humanities (TCH) hopes to collect, preserve and demonstrate the food ways of Encinal.

Dubbed "The Cuisine of Encinal" project, the initiative was awarded to Hecho En Encinal, a non-profit arts and cultural organization in Encinal, and provides four public cooking demonstrations, along with a discussion of the featured cuisine.

Dr. Jaclyn Jeffrey, Texas A&M International University assistant professor of anthropology and project co-chair with Dr. Karen Henderson, TAMIU adjunct professor of psychology, said that "The Cuisine of Encinal" will make an important contribution to the national cuisine.

"When we titled our project, 'The Cuisine of Encinal.' people laughed because it sounded so high-brow, but the truth is that the food ways of most any community in South Texas represent an important contribution to the national cuisine and pays tribute to the culture of a vast number of Americans," said Dr. Jeffrey.

Dr. Henderson said each of the four demonstrations coincide with seasonal ingredient readiness and relevant seasonal celebrations. Admission to each is free of charge and open to the public.

""Our first will feature dishes traditionally associated with Lent in South Texas: nopalitos, capirotada, and salmon patties and will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 12 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Hall.

"Two local cooks, Linda Mancha and Queta Valles, will demonstrate the food preparation while food expert Dr. Wesley Dean of Texas A&M University will lead a discussion of the concept of forbidden and allowed foods , such as those eaten and avoided during Lent.

"In June, St. John's Day barbeque and aguas techniques will be presented and South Texas summer traditions discussed. In September, it will be cactus pear jelly making and a discussion on nutritional indigenous foods. In November, there will be a tamale-making workshop and discussion of South Texas Christmas foods," Dr. Henderson explained.

Along with each demonstration, Henderson and Jeffrey will conduct field research on how traditional foods are obtained, prepared, served, eaten, and stored. The end result will be a cookbook of recipes, photographs, stories, and traditions gleaned from the field research on local dishes.

Henderson said that they are particularly interested in talking with cooks in Encinal and collecting their oral histories.

"So many of the recipes for traditional dishes are not written down and the younger generation is not learning how to cook them. We feel that it is really important to document these traditions before they die out," she said.

Henderson and Jeffrey said in addition to the support provided by the TCH, they have been happy with the community support that has mobilized for the project.

For example, La India Packing Company, Ruiz Custom Meats, and Variety Meats are providing supplies for each demonstration.

This is the second project Hecho En Encinal project that Jeffrey directs. "The Childhood Memories of Encinal: Stories of South Texas" a photographic exhibition, was also funded by the TCH, TAMIU and the Stockmen's Bank in Cotulla and focused on preserving citizens' memories.

For additional information, contact Henderson at 729-8583, Jeffrey at 326-2630, or Hecho en Encinal at 948-7228.

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