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Oremos, Oremos: The Fruitful Life of Isabel Salazar, an Amazing Cook
Oremos, oremos de los cielos, venemos.
Si no nos den Oremos.
Puertas y ventanas que braremos!
We pray, we pray.
From the heavens, we come.
Doors and Windows will not stop us!
“Here in Lyden, we had Oremos,” says Isabel Salazar. “Daddy would make two luminarias with peach wood. He said they were for bringing the Holy Spirit. When it got dark on Christmas Eve, he would light them, and we kids would go outside and hold hands around the fire. We would jump around while he would pray for the Ánimas, the dearly departed. And while Dad would go on and on and on, we kids were jumpy because we knew the Oremos were coming.
“After the prayer, we would go inside, and Daddy and Mother would wait for the local men and those from the pueblo, who would come to the house dressed in capes and masks made of cowhide, like the Abuelo from Matachines. As the Oremos chanted, they would use their chicotes (whips) to beat the outer walls and windows of the house, hard and loud! We kids would go hide, until they found us and made us pray.”
Isabel Sánchez Salazar was born and raised in Lyden, New Mexico. She is of a special generation, fortunate to witness the kind of everyday life throughout the Santa Cruz de la Cañada Parish in which spiritual messengers and heavenly saints marked special and urgent occasions.
“For Christmas, Mother would make enchiladas, but not the kind we eat nowadays. Enchiladas, in this case, refers to jerky, also known as carne seca or cesinas, made from strips of fresh pork, not beef, dipped in a chile caribe mixture. The strips of carne adobada are hung to dry, or you can use a dehydrator. Mother would take the special jerky out of the flour sack, where it was kept, and roast it in the oven. We would eat the succulent pieces, along with other special foods, at Christmastime. All foods have their time. We don’t cook these foods every day.
“After the Oremos would leave, we could taste the special hot chocolate called champurrado. To make champurrado, combine one gallon of water with two cinnamon sticks; boil for 10 minutes. Combine one-half cup of sugar with 6 Tbsp of flour and 1 Tbsp of cocoa powder; mix into one can of evaporated milk; add to the boiling water. Simmer for five minutes. For a thicker, richer champurrado, add a little more flour and cocoa powder.
“A very special event was called Velorio de los Santos. The santos from the morada and from as far away as the Santuario in Chimayó would be sent to the sponsoring family, who would place the santos on a special, temporary altar in their home. For two days and nights, there would be continual prayer for special favors. One year, I remember praying for the safe return of one of the neighbors’ sons from the war. People would come by throughout the day to assist in the prayer. At night, the Hermanos would arrive with their faroles—their lanterns—and pray the rosary. To prepare, the family would cook for three days before the Velorio.”
Isabel has retained many of the traditional foods of her village childhood. Her secret chile ingredient: the “hearts” of the red chile pod, which she and her husband Reyes remove, ideally, when the pods are fresh. “Place the fresh chile hearts in a clean zip-lock and freeze.”
A special Velorio food is called gallos (roosters). “Brown one Tbsp of flour in lard. Add a few chile hearts, depending on how hot you like it. Fry for five minutes. Add water and salt to make a broth, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the hearts and prepare the atole: Mix 5 Tbsp of blue corn atole flour to one-half cup of water. Add to four cups of simmering water. Stir until cooked down to a thick state. Salt to taste. Serve one ladleful of beans onto the plate. Add a scoop of atole, and top with the gallos.”
Salazar Catering has fed up to 200 people at a time. Isabel has taught herself some valuable shortcuts. One of those is pre-browned flour, used to make sauces and broths: “Lightly brown 10 Tbsp of flour in one-half cup of lard. Cool. Keep in a Ball jar in the refrigerator. Use as needed.”
Isabel was recently asked to cater a funeral that took place during Lent. “I knew they wanted a meat-free meal, so I cooked a fresh pot of beans with chicos. The family had already been through a lot, so we wanted to treat them special. One of the foods enjoyed during Lent is rueditas (little wheels). Slice the extra squash of summer, one-half-inch wide. Dehydrate and store in glass jars until the following spring. Soak two cups of dried squash in water. Drain and chop. Fry with corn. Add salt and powdered chile to taste.”
Salazar Catering believes in treating its customers to a heartfelt experience, including those who come to Isabel to learn. “I had these two girls, and they wanted to make empanadas with meat, so we made 300. One of their husbands brought the turkey deep-fryer. It took us two days.”
An extra special treat is Isabel’s Red Gourmet Chile with Tomatoes. “Remove the stem from fresh, red, whole chile pods. Boil the pods for 10 minutes. Freeze in packs of 10. Brown 4 Tbsp of flour, or use pre-browned flour, in some fat. Add one quart of chopped tomatoes with juice to the flour. Add a quart of water, one package of the frozen chile, garlic and salt. Eat the chile by hand, and suck out the juicy insides.
“We have our traditions here in Lyden, and I try to teach my kids those traditions, so they can live by them,” Isabel says.
A closing tip from Isabel and Salazar Catering: “Don’t mix your chiles!”
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