A last minute dinner guest, a lack of ingredients, and a group of resourceful nuns helped create one of Mexico’s most beloved meals
In the last edition, we brought you the story of Las Monjas Coronadas, the Crowned Nuns of Mexico. In addition to introducing you to the lives of young girls who were sent into religious service at a young age, it is important to mention their great contributions to Mexican gastronomy. In addition to praying, sewing beautiful embroidery, taking care of their orchards and growing their own food, nuns also made food which they sold to contribute to the maintenance of the convent.
Blending the culinary cultures of Spain and Mexico, Spanish sweets were recreated by combining European ingredients and Mexican fruit. Besides sweets, they also contributed to desserts, cakes, cookies, preserves, marmalades, as well as their famous eggnog made of milk, eggs, and alcohol, which is great alone or with a good gelatin or cookies. They also influenced chocolate, which originated in Mexico.
Not only did this mixture of ingredients contribute to the already extensive Mexican gastronomy, but it also made contributions to a variety of utensils and techniques used in cooking. Mole, perhaps the most famous plate in Mexico, was invented in a convent, as the word mole comes from the Spanish verb moler, meaning to grind.
As the story goes, when the Viceroy of New Spain was going to visit a convent in the city of Puebla on a whim, the nuns did not have enough ingredients to create a dish that would delight the important visitor. One nun had the idea to mix everything they had and cook it, so they toasted chiles, tortillas, dried fruits and seeds on a comal and then ground everything in a metate (a prehispanic cooking utensil which is infrequently used in today’s kitchens). They also ground in banana, chocolate, spices and an endless list of even more ingredients (it is said that a good mole has more than 50 ingredients) until a sauce or mole was formed and poured over pieces of chicken, a plate which impressed the important visitor.
If not for the crowned nuns, we may never have been introduced to many delicious dishes so commonly found throughout Mexico.