I’m a simple man: stews, breads, meats, beer, and sandwiches. Lentil soup and sourdough bread. Brisket and a bock. Pan con pollo and a lager. Pozole and pork.
That last one is sacred, in that we prepared pozole on select holidays, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. But not more than once a year.
To us, Thanksgiving was just a day when everyone prepared big dinners; my mom, an immigrant, and my sister and I, new ‘Americans,’ didn’t care about its cultural or historical aspects. Thus, we carried on our history amidst another history.
Pozole pre-dates colonialism and was innovated by Mexicas, between 1325 and 1524, for special occasions. Rumor is that the stew was first prepared with human meat until Spaniards outlawed its use. Pork, introduced by Spaniards in the 1500s, then became the main ingredient since it allegedly resembles human meat the most. Gruesome? Perhaps. But we’re talking about Thanksgiving.
Seriously, research suggests cannibalism wasn’t as stereotypically prevalent in Mesoamerica as once thought since protein could be easily acquired elsewhere. What is known is that cacahuazintle, or hominy (one of the key ingredients in pozole), had meanings in Mesoamerican society, such as its whiteness reflecting the sky’s first light at dawn. A beginning after an end.
To this day, pozole is enjoyed mostly during holidays. Every bowl of pozole we consumed was our way of holding onto our roots by planting little white seeds in our bellies. A memory older than the country we are in.
Making pozole was a long process, not counting the shopping and hours worked to accrue the funds to buy fresh ingredients. We arose early to chop onions, ajos, cabbage, rábanos, limes, jalapeños, etc., the chopping board resembling a painter’s palette. I studied my mother cutting the pearl-white fat off the ruby-red pork. Later, I would take my mom’s place as the cold meat irritated her arthritic fingers.
We opened fat cans of hominy and drained them of their hazy water. We placed nearly everything in a heavy pot marked with burns and dents and low-boiled them for hours with peppercorns, salt, thyme, etc. Occasionally, you had to spoon out the espuma, clouds of impurities that burbled at the top of the broth’s shivering surface. There are more steps, but then this wouldn’t be a family’s recipe anymore.
At dinner, we served bowls of broth, hunks of pork, and mounds of hominy. At the center of the table were limes, cabbage, rábanos, chili powder, diced onion, diced jalapeños, thyme, and more. The pozole was the base, everything else was personal.
Customization was a process that took years to perfect. I’d experiment on every serving with different flavor combinations, which is to say that each bowl of pozole in my life was a different stew eaten by a different person. For days thereafter, we’d eat enough pozole to become bored of its flavor. I remember the frozen, week-old broth, pork, and hominy plopping into a bowl and crackling in the microwave.
As a boy, this was a fact of a poor life. As a man, this is a lesson about giving something enough distance for you to meditate on its absence.
I like simple things because I know a great deal of work goes into doing something well. Once, I ordered a green pozole that cost $10; the way it rolled off the spoon reminded me of the week-old servings. Another time, I ordered a red pozole that cost $17; its wateriness meant there was not enough pork. I understood then that I was tainted by memory. But remembering takes generations and forgetting only takes one.
It’s why I make pozole every so often, the latest about two or three Thanksgivings ago. The pozole was delicious, but I knew that the best it ever tasted happened years ago when I made it with wonder.
Now, the pozole is complicated by my familiarity, that it is now as much part of me as my griefs and joys. I might make it next year. Our history within a history. But really, it’s a recipe I’m waiting to pass on to my child one fateful Thanksgiving morning when I wake them up to separate fat from flesh. To make it all new.