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Mexican Food

When were tacos first made?

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2011-09-14 10:15:11

In northern Mexico and much of the United States, tortilla means

the flour version. Flour tortillas are the foundation of Mexican

border cooking and a relatively recent import. Their popularity was

driven by the low cost of inferior grades of flour provided to

border markets and by their ability to keep and ship well.

3000 B.C. - Excavations in the valley of "Valle de Tehuacán", in

the state of Puebla, revealed the use, for more than seven thousand

years, of the basic cereal by excellence of the Mesoamerican diet,

a little wild cob that along with roots and fruit was a complement

for hunting. According to Agustín Gaytán, chef and Mexican cuisine

historian, in a Greeley Tribune newspaper article:

Sometime about 3000 B.C., people of the Sierra Madre mountains

in Mexico hybridized wild grasses to produce large, nutritious

kernels we know as corn. Mexican anthropologist and maize historian

Arturo Warman credits the development of corn with the rise of

Mesoamerican civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs, which

were advanced in art, architecture, math and astronomy. The

significance of corn was not lost on indigenous cultures that

viewed it as a foundation of humanity. It is revered as the seed of

life. According to legend, human beings were made of corn by the


By the time Spaniards reached the shores of what is now Mexico

in the 1400s, indigenous Mesoamericans had a sophisticated and

flavorful cuisine based on native fruits, game, cultivated beans

and corn and domesticated turkeys.

1519 - When Hernán Cortés (1485-1547), also known as Hernando

Cortez, and his conquistadores arrived in the New World on April

22, 1519, they discovered that the inhabitants (Aztecs Mexicas)

made flat corn breads. The native Nahuatl name for these was

tlaxcalli. The Spanish gave them the name tortilla. In Cortés' 1920

second letter to King Charles V of Spain, he describes the public

markets and the selling of maize or Indian corn:

This city has many public squares, in which are situated the

markets and other places for buying and selling. . . where are

daily assembled more than sixty thousand souls, engaged in buying

and selling; and where are found all kinds of merchandise that the

world affords, embracing the necessaries of life, as for instance

articles of food. . . maize or Indian corn, in the grain and in the

form of bread, preferred in the grain for its flavor to that of the

other islands and terra-firma.

1529 - In the monumental manuscript books, General History of

the Things of New Spain (Historia general de las cosas de Nueva

Espana), by the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagun (1450-1590),

it is known that the Aztec diet was based on corn and tortillas,

tamales and plenty of chilies in many varieties. Considered one of

the fathers of culinary history. He compiled and translated

testimonies of his culinary informants from the native language

Nahuatl into Spanish. His work is the most complete record of Aztec

foods and eating habits.

Sahagun was sent to New Spain (Mexico) to compile, in the Aztec

language, a compendium of all things relating to the native history

and custom that might be useful in the labor of Christianizing the

Indians. The work thus undertaken occupied some seven years, in

collaboration with the best native authorities, and was expanded

into a history and description of the Aztec people and civilization

in twelve manuscript books, together with a grammar (Arte)

and dictionary of the language.

1940s - In the 1940s and '50s, one of the first widespread uses

of small scale gas engines and electric motors was to power wet

grain grinders for making masa. A hand press or hand patting

were used to form the masa into tortillas.

1960s - Early tortillas took hours to make but by the 1960s,

small-scale tortilla-making machines could churn out hot, steaming

tortillas every two seconds.

1520 -Bernal Diaz del Castillo (1496-1584), a Spanish soldier

who came with Hernán Cortés to the New World, wrote an intriguing

and detailed chronicles called A True History of the Conquest of

New Spain. He also chronicled the lavish feasts that were held.

From the article by Sophie Avernin called Tackling the taco: A

guide to the art of taco eating:

The first "taco bash" in the history of New Spain was documented

by none other than Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Hernan Cortes

organized this memorable banquet in Coyoacan for his captains, with

pigs brought all the way from Cuba. It would, however, be a mistake

to think that Cortes invented the taco, since anthropologists have

discovered evidence that inhabitants of the lake region of the

Valley of Mexico ate tacos filled with small fish, such as

acosiles and charales. The fish were replaced by

small live insects and ants in the states of Morelos and Guerrero,

while locusts and snails were favorite fillings in Puebla and


1914 - The first-known English-language taco recipes appeared in

California cookbooks beginning in 1914. Bertha Haffner-Ginger, in

her cookbook California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book said tacos


"made by putting chopped cooked beef and chili sauce in a

tortilla made of meal and flour; folded, edges sealed together with

egg; fried in deep fat, Chile sauce served over it."

1929 - Pauline Wiley-Kleemann in here cookbook Ramona's

Spanish-Mexican Cookery, featured six taco and tacquito recipes.

These included recipes for Gorditos that came from Santa Nita or

Xochimilco, Pork Tacos composed of snout, ears, jowls, kidneys, and

liver, Cream Cheese Tacos, Egg Tacos, Mexican Tacos, and


Taqueria or taco trucks are found throught the West and

Southwest of the United States. There are two kinds of taco trucks;

traveling trucks that cruise around neighborhoods and business

areas, and non-cruising trucks parked permanently in lots.

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