Happy Birthday, New Mexico

2012 marks the 100th year since New Mexico joined the union and became our 47th state. New Mexico has had a variety of events and personalities that made the state unique in its 100 years.

During World War II, New Mexico became the site of the top-secret Manhattan Project, in which leading United States scientists raced to create the first atomic bomb, testing it near Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945.

Roswell, New Mexico became the subject of conversation about extraterrestrial life when a local rancher, by the name of Mac Brazel, discovered some unidentified rubris on his property. Many believed this debris was the remnants of an alien spacecraft that had crashed on the New Mexican desert one night in July, 1947. Curiosity continues today about what actually happened.

Native American groups have owned New Mexico territory for thousands of years. Through the state, evidence is revealed of their ancient existence by the discovery of abandoned cities along early trade corridors; cliff dwellings and pit houses; kivas, and symbols etched in rock. Today New Mexico counts as its residents 22 Indian tribes, which includes 19 Indian pueblos and three reservations.

Some of New Mexico's "famous people" range from outlaw William (Billy the Kid) Bonner; Army scout and trapper, Kit Carson; blues guitarist Bo Diddley; author Tony Hillerman; auto racers Al and Bob Unser, painter Georgia O'Keefe and actress Demi Moore.

All of this history is a notable part of New Mexico; however this author's fascination and love of food leads her to Alice Stevens Tipton, and The Original New Mexico Cookery (1916), and Emma Fergusson and her Mexican Cookbook (1934). Tipton and Ferguson demonstrated bold creativity and resourcefulness in retaining the local culinary customs in spite of food trends through the United States, which pointed in different directions. Tipton specifically, was insistent on using New Mexico ingredients and was probably ahead of her time.

Tipton's and Ferguson's cookbooks cave the initial comprehensive descriptions of how to fashion much-loved historic dishes. Some of these dishes included corn and flour tortillas, red- and green-chile sauces, red-chile cheese enchiladas, chiles rellenos, tamales, flan and many other dishes.

Shortly after Tipton's and Ferguson's cookbooks were published, four influential Hispanic ladies chronicled some of their own recipes in significant cookbooks. Worried that descendants of the colonial Spanish would soon relinquish being a major in the state, they looked for ways to encourage New Mexicans to guard their heritage relative to retaining culinary traditions. If you have read any of their books, enjoy cooking New Mexican fare, even eating it in restaurants, you are sure to have been influenced by their efforts.

In the research for this article, this author came across two memorable ladies who also contributed to New Mexico culinary history. Their names are Katy Griggs Camunez Meek and Edith Warner.

Located in the southern part of New Mexico is a town called Mesilla. In the town is a building called La Posta de Mesilla, which goes back to the earliest days of Mesilla when pioneers began moving there after the end of the war with Mexico. In 1848 the structure served as a major stop on the Butterfield Stage Line and the Corn Exchange Hotel, one of the finest lodges in the Southwest. Today the La Posta Compound is on the National Register of Historic Buildings

In 1939, Kathy Griggs, at the age of 19, opened La Posta as a tiny "chile hang-out." Her uncle sold a corner of the building to her for "one dollar, love, and affection." The place had just four tables on a dirt floor and, with her mother cooking in the back, Katy worked as an cheerful and jovial hostess, welcoming guests, taking orders, making tongue-in-cheek risqué remarks, and captivating all of her customers . The restaurant has grown in size as well as status, and a similar menu continues. Katy's grandniece, Jerean Camunez and her husband, here are the current owners-managers, using some of Katy's recipes in her La Posta Cook Book (1971).

Edith Warner, raised in Pennsylvania, moved to New Mexico in 1922. Her small adobe cottage overlooked the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. Her home stand next to the Otowi Bridge, a single-lane suspension bridge over the river on NM 502 which went through the San Ildefonso Pueblo and on up the foothills of the Jemez Mountains to Los Alamos. At this point in time the site for the future Manhattan Project was a boy's ranch school.

Edith supported herself by opening a teahouse in her parlor, serving an incidental traveler to happened to pass by. In 1943, after the United States government purchased Los Alamos for the Manhattan Project, Edith's patrons changed. Already famous for her chocolate cake, Edith's place became the off-duty hangout for the scientists and military personnel. As remembered by a Los Alamos resident, Edith, wearing the white leggings of the nearby Pueblo women, quietly served everyone without asking annoying questions.

Wanting to keep his research team happy and in high spirits, Robert Oppenheimer, project director for the Manhattan Project allowed Edith to obtain highly rationed food items, by providing her access to the commissary's stash of chocolate and butter.

Food and culture often goes hand-in-hand. New Mexico, in the past 100 years since statehood, would have been hard pressed to counter feeling the impact of American values ​​and customs. In almost all pursuits as well as education, business, even war, New Mexico is in accord with the other 49 states. Culturally, however, New Mexico remains a land apart. The majority of Pueblo, Navajo, and Hispanic residents is adamant in preserving their most cherished customs; and most of their Anglo neighbors welcome and value that commitment to nationality and tradition and look for opportunities to take part in its blessings.

Congratulations and Happy Birthday, New Mexico, Land of Enchantment