I’m currently reading Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table, written by food historian Dr. Massimo Montanari. Dr. Montanari, within the context of discussing the history of medieval food and cooking, notes that in contemporary times we try to “authenticate the present by recalling the past, to legitimize what we are making now by saying it used to be made long ago.” The problem with our desire to return to authenticity by trying to recreate and consume foods from generations past, according to Dr. Montanari, is that we face certain difficulties:
If the gastronomic culture of the past centuries, understood as some collective patrimony, can be studied and re-created with some measure of credibility, it is wholly unreliable on the level of personal experience (the sensation felt while eating). The object has changed, the products of today are no longer those of thousands of years ago, even if they carry the same name. More important, the subject has changed; the consumers are no longer the same, and their sensory education is vastly different. The situation is desperate, to say the least, for anyone who presumes to reach a “historically” plausible result (14).
The sensory education Dr. Montanari mentions in the passage above refers to the way people are taught how to make distinctions between flavors, what tastes pleasing and what does not, and so on. He points out that this evaluation of food and flavors is a function of the brain, which is the center of gastronomic pleasure, and that people of different eras and cultures learn to enjoy foods differently.
Another factor that prevents the authentic recreation of authentic dishes from the past, regardless of the ingredients used, is that the method of preparation changes throughout the ages. Just the fact that I combine ground blue corn and ground mesquite pods into a tortillas that I cook on an electric stove in an air-conditioned kitchen separates the food I produce from foods the indigenous people of Southwestern America, (such as the Hopi who ate both blue corn and mesquite flours) produced with these same ingredients. In fact, one traditional bread the Hopi people make from blue corn masa harina, piki bread, probably cannot be recreated by any people other than the Hopi. It’s a culturally important, fascinating process:
(video credit: Penn Museum, created by Victoria Spencer and Marlene Sekaquaptewa)
Keeping in mind these points about the difficulty of recreating authentic dishes from past cultures, I do think that if we can find some minimally processed ingredients that cultures used before the advent of highly processed foods and then incorporate them into dishes of our time and taste, we’ll create dishes and foods that are perhaps reminiscent of the past in their simplicity. What’s more simple than blending blue corn masa with a little mesquite flour, adding water, forming the mixture into tortilla perfection? Home-made tortillas are the epitome of simplicity. They require few ingredients and have no need for cellulose gum, propionic acid, benzoic acid, phosphoric acid, and guar gum added to commercial tortilla as binders and preservatives. Moreover, they are easy and quick to make.
Blue corn masa (a finer grind than corn meal) is an interesting food. It’s made from blue corn, also known as Hopi maize. The corn ranges in color from black to bluish gray. The color in the corn comes from anthocyanin, the same pigment that colors blueberries, raspberries, black rice, and other such deeply colored fruits and vegetables. Some studies indicate that anthocyanin reduces inflammation in the body, which makes adds to the nutritional value of this grain. Moreover, blue corn has more protein, less starch, and a lower glycemic index than other corn varieties.
I’ve written about the benefits and characteristics of mesquite flour before. The addition of mesquite flour to the blue corn flour for these tortillas enhances the nutritional value, as well as the flavor, of any foods made with this flour combination (think such foods as blue corn mesquite muffins, bread, and pancakes). Try it! You’ll like it!
Gluten-Free Blue Corn Mesquite Flour Tortillas
The sweetness of blue corn masa combined with the cinnamon, mocha-like flavor of mesquite flour make corn tortillas delicious enough to eat by themselves, but you'll want to try them with all sorts of savory fillings!
- 250 grams (8 oz) blue corn masa
- 2 tablespoons mesquite flour
- 1 1/4 warm water
In a bowl, whisk together the blue corn masa and mesquite flours.
Add 1 1/4 cups warm water to the flours. Using a spoon, stir the mixture until it forms lumps. Using your hands, finish mixing the mixture until it forms a smooth ball. If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, until it's the right consistency to form a smooth ball.
When the dough has rested, weigh the ball of dough on a digital scale. Divide the dough into ten pieces of equal weight.
Work with one piece of dough at a time; keep the remaining dough sections covered to prevent them from drying out.
Cut two sides of a plastic freezer storage bag so that it's connect by at the bottom of the bag only.
Open the bag and place one side on a tortilla press. Place a ball of tortilla dough on the plastic bag and cover with the other side of the bag so that it's between the two pieces of plastic bag.
Press the dough with the tortilla press. Remove the tortilla from the press and place it on a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook on both sides until it puffs up a bit and begins to turn brown.
Repeat with the rest of the sections of tortilla dough. Place each finished tortilla on a clean dish towel and cover with the other half of the dish towel. When all the tortillas are finished, keep them covered in the dish towel for a while. They will become softer from the steam they give off while covered with the dish towel.