Historic Cookery


Cover of Historic Cookery

Cover of Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert’s Historic Cookery

As October is Hispanic Heritage Month and American Archives Month, the staff of Archives & Special Collections (ASC) decided to select a recipe from Historic Cookery, a groundbreaking New Mexico cookbook held by ASC, and prepare some of its traditional dishes.  In 1931, Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert published the cookbook, Historic Cookery, as part of her work as a New Mexico Agricultural Extension Agent.  The publication documented for the first time the exact measurements in Nuevo Mexicano cuisine, and introduced the country to cooking with chiles.  Over 100,000 copies were sold over the course of its several printings and editions.  You can learn more about Fabiola by reading Teddie Moreno’s post on this New Mexican educator, nutritionist, activist, and writer.

ASC staff reviewed the digital version of Historic Cookery and each selected a dish to create – and amazingly ended up cooking a full meal, with soup, rolls, an entrée, side dish, and desert.  We hope once the pandemic subsides to be able to get together for a meal and share our newfound skills.  Below, we offer our thoughts and experiences in following Fabiola’s recipes along with images of the process and results.  Buen provecho!

Special thanks to our colleagues at NMSU Library (Erin Wahl, Kate Terpis, and Dennis Daily) for suggesting this cook-off, as well as to the librarians at the University of Minnesota’s Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine for providing inspiration for this endeavor.  To try the recipes yourself, be sure to click on the links provided below and navigate to the appropriate page.


Teddie Moreno, Library Specialist

Sopa de Verduras and Bolillos (Vegetable Soup and Rolls)

Historic Cookery, page 27

The soup had six main ingredients. The secret ingredient was a dried red chile pod. It added a unique mild spicy flavor to the broth and added just a hint of color too. For having so little ingredients, this soup was delicious. I used squash from my parent’s garden, onion, and green beans from the local Taylor Hood farms. I plucked the secret ingredient right off the ristra that hangs on my patio. I substituted short ribs instead of a soup bone (Albertsons did not have any). The rolls took all day to make with rising time. It was a simple recipe, and I even cheated using my electric mixer, but it still took too long. Bowie Bakery is right down the road; if I feel like eating Bolillos again, I surely will not be making them! Even though they tasted fine, they were heavy and dense and put me to sleep about a half-hour after dinner.

I can see why Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert included these two recipes in her cookbook. Both were filling, and nutritious. Most importantly, they incorporated easily accessible (and familiar) ingredients to the Hispanic and pueblo villages, where she taught her home economic skills. Her extension work at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, now NMSU, gave these rural homemakers a means to feed their families and preserve the foods they grew or raised. Almost 75 years later, she taught me to never make soup again without the secret ingredient.


Dylan McDonald, Political Collections Archivist & Special Collections Librarian

Pan de Papas (Potato Loaf)

Historic Cookery, page 23

No one would confuse me for a chef.  Ever.  So, for this experiment I decided it best to pick a recipe that I could handle and retain some dignity.  Being an Idaho native, I naturally fell for the simplicity of the potato loaf dish – only 8 ingredients that most kitchens readily have on hand.  I received assistance from my regular Sunday night cooking companion Nora – but in truth, I played more the role of sous chef. Although to be clear, all errors in the cooking process are exclusively my own.  How hard is it to mess up potatoes?  Well, I’ll get to that in a bit.

After washing the potatoes, Nora diced them, retaining their skins, while I cracked the eggs and separated the yolks from the egg whites.  Into a pot went the potatoes to boil.  We decided to set the oven to 350 since the recipe did not stipulate a temperature but thought that sounded right.  Those using Historic Cookery, likely in the rural areas of New Mexico, probably cooked with a wood-burning stove or brick oven or did not have an oven (cast iron or modern electric/gas) with a temperature setting.  Nora then used an electric hand mixer on the egg whites – imagine having to hand beat the whites until stiff! – while I mixed the yolks with a fork in a separate bowl and then used my hands to break into small bits the bacon she had previously cooked.  I next greased the loaf pan with butter and began to measure out the salt and pepper.  Into the mixing bowl with the whites went the seasoning, milk, yolks, bacon, potatoes, and a clove of garlic, crushed in a press. I folded and folded as the recipe dictated.  It looked very soupy to me, but Nora reassured that it would set up as it cooked.

After checking the pan in the oven at regular intervals, looking to see if the egg mixture had solidified, the loaf appeared finished after about 30 minutes.  We eagerly pulled it out of my gas oven and checked the center of the dish, happy to find it had baked through.  Just as described, we could cut slices of the loaf and it held together well when plating our pièce de résistance.  I chose to add some four cheese Mexican blend and a healthy squirt of ketchup to my helping and readily took the first bite.  The texture was great but, WOW, was it salty.  Hmm, I dumbly thought, perhaps back in the day they salted this dish heavily because they may not have had access to refrigeration.  Nora looked at the printed recipe and asked me, how much salt did you put in?  Two tablespoons, I replied, like the recipe calls for.  In her very polite way, she asked if I had noticed that was a small “t” not a big “T”?  Gulp, that’s a big salt discrepancy!

Still, we managed to clean our plates and have a second helping.  Over the next two days, I ate the leftover potato loaf for dinner, even imagining how I might alter the recipe for my next attempt.  I would add some green chile along with another vegetable or two to give it if further flavor and texture – likely some peas or squash.  Thanks to Fabiola for opening up new possibilities!


Dennis Daily, Archives and Special Collections Department Head

Carne Adovada and Chile Sauce (Cured Pork in Red Chile Sauce)

Historic Cookery, pages 3 and 9

When I browsed Fabiola’s cookbook of historic New Mexican dishes, I jumped immediately to the “meats” section to see if my all-time favorite New Mexican dish, carne adovada, was included. It was! I moved to New Mexico in 1988, settling in the town of Grants, on old Route 66 about halfway between Albuquerque and Gallup. It was an eye-opening, and mind-opening, experience for someone who had spent most of his life split between suburban Los Angeles and the Ozark Mountains of northwest Arkansas. What I found in Grants were the deep, historic, cultural roots of an America that I was unaware of – both Native American and Hispanic New Mexican. As part of learning about the cultures of my new home, the “exotic” New Mexican food, in particular dishes made with green and red chile, made its way from my palette to my soul.

The dish I simply could not get enough of was carne adovada – chunks of pork cooked in an indescribable red chile sauce. It became my favorite nourishment. While I love the food of southern New Mexico, the border region, and Mexico, I’ve found that the northern New Mexican version of carne adovada has no equal. There was a little restaurant I found way, way off the beaten path in Bibo, New Mexico, on the edge of the Laguna reservation, that served the best ever “back in the day.” Today, my favorite place for this dish is Teresita’s in Santa Fe. Knowing Fabiola was from the northern part of the state inspired me to choose this dish, which I have never attempted to make before.

It turned out to be a two-step, and two-day, process. First, I had to make the red chile sauce on page 3 of Fabiola’s cookbook. Every New Mexican should know how to make a great red chile and this recipe is classic. The dried New Mexico red chile pods are soaked in boiling water to soften, then blended and strained with garlic, salt and oregano. Zen simplicity. Then I cut up the pork and left it to marinate in the chile sauce for 24 hours. Final step was the easiest, cook the pork on the stovetop, bathed in the red chile. I made my wife’s incredible Mexican rice recipe to accompany and it was ready to serve. My wife and kids were surprised by my success and declared the dish “sabrosisimo.” My teenage daughter told me, “Dad, you have to give me this recipe,” and my son went back for seconds, then thirds! And they generally don’t go for chile dishes. It certainly has the northern New Mexican sabor. I’m so happy that Fabiola has shown me that I can make my very favorite New Mexican recipe!


Elizabeth Villa, Archives Specialist

Empanadas de Fruta (Apricot Turnovers)

Historic Cookery, page 32

The ingredients in this recipe are simple and easy to come by. The dough is a basic pie crust recipe, without the chilling time. I’ve always used butter because I never have shortening around, but I happened to have some handy thanks to my husband’s early pandemic grocery hoarding. The dough comes together easily. I ended up making two batches. The first was too dry and crumbly and I didn’t roll it out thin enough. The second, I added more water and it came together nicely and was easier to work with. Cooking the dried fruit—I used apricots—took the most time. The fruit spent about an hour on the stove rehydrating. I cooked two cups of chopped apricots in one and half cups of water and half a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. My house smelled like Christmas after adding the cinnamon and clove to the fruit. Using canned fruit, like apple pie filling, would be much faster. Maybe I’ll make pumpkin empanadas for Thanksgiving this year.

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