Tor­tillas, Tiswin & T-bones: A Food History of the South­west

Gre­gory Mcnamee

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - SU­SAN WAG­GONER

Univer­sity of New Mex­ico Press (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $24.95 (240pp) 978-0-8263-5904-9 This food study for­wards a fas­ci­nat­ing hu­man history of a re­gion like no other.

Gre­gory Mcnamee’s fas­ci­nat­ing Tor­tillas, Tiswin

& T-bones: A Food History of the South­west is a won­der­fully ab­sorb­ing foodie saga that drills down to the heart of its cho­sen lo­cale.

Start­ing with the rise of mam­mals, the book fol­lows a chrono­log­i­cal pat­tern, adding layer upon layer as ge­og­ra­phy, cli­mate, hu­mans, and hunger col­lide on the South­west­ern fron­tier. A book that starts with indige­nous tribes fol­low­ing mam­moths ends with of­fice work­ers us­ing apps to find their fa­vorite lunchtime food trucks.

Aside from im­part­ing the plea­sure of learn­ing more about a dis­tinct cui­sine, this book is set apart by its care­ful ap­proaches. It takes the time to de­fine “South­west” in food terms. High Colorado and slices of ex­treme western Ok­la­homa and Kansas are in­cluded be­cause they share Mex­i­can and Texan food tra­di­tions, while Ne­vada and Utah are ex­cluded from the nar­ra­tive be­cause their food tra­di­tions are largely Mid­west­ern.

Here, South­west­ern cui­sine is equal parts His­panic, Na­tive Amer­i­can, and An­glo. This is an­other of the book’s strengths: it does not, as many food books do, start with the ar­rival of Euro­pean im­mi­grants, but be­gins with Na­tive Amer­i­can food cul­ture, a well-es­tab­lished cui­sine that re­lied solely on plants and an­i­mals avail­able in the re­gion. Nor does the book end with the ar­rival of Euro­peans—chap­ters also fo­cus on African Amer­i­cans who, post-civil War, brought South­ern cui­sine west of the Mississippi, and on the Asian in­flu­ences that ar­rived with Chi­nese rail­road builders and Ja­panese farm work­ers.

The nar­ra­tive pace can be a bit slow at times, but the de­tails un­earthed in the course of the work are worth the slog. There are nu­mer­ous recipes for South­west­ern dishes both an­cient and re­cent, rang­ing from the amaranth pasta of the Aztecs to to­day’s California rolls. Blackand-white pho­to­graphs tend to be small and in­di­vid­u­ally un­ex­cep­tional, but to­gether they build an ef­fec­tive vis­ual time line. The ref­er­ences con­sulted, given sep­a­rately for each of the book’s dozen chap­ters, bring many se­ri­ous and of­ten-over­looked food stud­ies to at­ten­tion.

Tor­tillas, Tiswin & T-bones is more than a food study, it’s also the fas­ci­nat­ing hu­man history of a re­gion like no other. Rus­tic and homey recipes em­pha­size sim­ple, slow prepa­ra­tions that coax the fullest fla­vors from fa­vorite lo­cal ingredients like ar­ti­chokes, rab­bit, radic­chio, bor­lotti beans, and even po­lenta.

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