Mesoamerican Cooking Experience

Introduction/Background: Christina Warinner from the University of Oklahoma uses this interactive cooking activity to expose students to traditional Mesoamerican foods. Students will understand how much labor was necessary to craft these foods during their cultural exploration. 
 
 
 
Goal/s: The goal of the activity was for students to learn more about traditional Mesoamerican foods and how they are made. Part of the goal was for students to experience how much physical labor went into food preparation and to appreciate how much skill is required to make tasty food using traditional tools and methods. Another goal was for students to make and think about foods at opposite ends of the ancient socioeconomic spectrum: tortillas of the commoners and chocolate of the elites.
 
Class: Foreign Cultures 34: Ancient Mesoamerican Civilizations

Procedure:
  1. First, before taking on the task, students were assigned readings on ancient Mesoamerican cuisine and cooking.
  2. The instructor explains the activity (students are also given a handout, attached) at the board then divides the students into groups of five.
  3. Instructor then distributes the materials needed to make the tortillas and chocolatey atole.
  4. Following the instructions, the students made tortillas and hot chocolate using traditional Mesoamerican ingredients and utensils.
Follow-up: They ate the results of their labors. The students shared the food they made and compared the results. Some groups made more tasty food and this led to cooperation and discussion about how to improve the results. The students really enjoyed the activity and it was hard to get them to stop at the end of class.

Comments: It's a lot of fun and the students really enjoyed it. Students were surprised by how hard it is to grind maize into masa, and that helped put into perspective the gendered labor of ancient Mesoamerica, in which women were expected to grind maize for many hours every day. It also helped them better appreciate and understand references to food in ancient Mesoamerican texts and their cultural and economic context.
In terms of enhancing the experience, the activity works best if you soak the maize in cal the day before so they are already soft at the beginning of the class. Also, make sure you have several electric griddles - at least one burner for each group.


Materials/Resources: 

Equipment: Stone mano, stone metate, stone molcajete, portable electric burner, small aluminum pots, comal or electric griddle, small knife, cutting board, cups, plates, bowls, molinillo

Ingredients: Maize kernels, slaked lime (cal), roasted cacao nibs, achiote, vanilla bean, serrano chiles, honey

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