For 13 years, this daughter of New Mexico served up memories with her meals, infusing both with rich “Southwest Flavor.”
Adela Amador penned the “Southwest Flavor” column from its 1993 inception until 2006. The column wove recipes with stories of growing up in an earlier time, and became one of New Mexico Magazine’s most popular features.
She grew up on a farm in the northern mountain town of La Madera, the fourth of 12 children. When her father was asked if they were all living, he said, “Unos vivos, y unos tontos; pero todos comen.” (Some are bright and some are dull, but they all eat.”) He often bartered apples from his orchard for pinto beans grown in the Estancia Valley. Although the family stove once blew up while Adela and her mother were roasting chiles, that did not discourage her from a lifelong love of cooking.
Amador began writing the column at an age when most folks are retiring. In fact, she commented in one column that the only use she had for the word retiring was when going to bed. Her recipes reflected simple New Mexican home cooking and relied on seasonal ingredients—succulent peaches, freshly roasted chiles, new-crop pinto beans—when available. Along with other cooks of her era, she pragmatically featured canned salmon, pineapple tidbits, and Jell-O instant pudding in her magazine recipes. Like most of us who write about seasonal food in publications with long lead times, she expressed frustration over having to test asparagus recipes months before asparagus season, or tomatoes well past their time in the garden. In the magazine’s pages, she laid out her concern that growers needed to return to more sustainable agriculture, with less dependence on chemicals, and she promoted the values of composting to improve the soil.
When Adela passed away in May 2012, at age 89, she left behind a son, Armando; his partner, Cammy Kinstedt; and a worldwide collection of friends and admirers. New York resident Netty Gaultier, a New Mexico Magazine subscriber for most of her adult life, was touched by some of Adela’s early columns and wrote her a fan letter of sorts. To Gaultier’s surprise and delight, Adela responded almost immediately, beginning years of running correspondence and face-to-face visits. The two shared passions for cooking and quilting, and camaraderie about deeper aspects of their lives. Gaultier recently told me that she lost much more than a friend with Adela’s passing. I can imagine many other New Mexico Magazine readers felt similarly.
Amador also left behind a truly lovely body of work. I never had the honor of meeting her, but through her honest, forthright writing, I can tell I would have liked her immensely. I came across this little nugget in an ad for one of Adela Amador’s books. Escribe con el corazón en el punto de la pluma. (She writes with her heart on the point of her pen.) As I dug into her work and talked with people who knew her, how true I found it to be.
Former associate publisher Jon Bowman was responsible for Adela’s appearance in the pages of New Mexico Magazine. Back in the 1960s, Jon was an Albuquerque Academy student of English instructor Harry Willson. Willson was a lauded and prolific author, and a generous mentor to many young, aspiring writers, Jon included. The two kept up a long friendship. Eventually, Harry wooed and wed Adela. Harry and Adela went on to found Amador Publishers, publishing mostly humanist titles, but the press put together two small collections of Adela’s recipes and reminiscences, Twelve Gifts and More Gifts. Reviewing the books, Bowman discovered that Adela’s prose was as delicious as her enchiladas, and brought her work to the attention of other magazine staff. Adela’s career as a columnist kicked off in 1993.
Former New Mexico Magazine editor-in-chief Emily Drabanski remarked that Adela “was truly a progressive thinker, a graduate of the University of New Mexico with degrees in Spanish and philosophy, a single mother who had her own successful drapery business, a woman who kept her name when she remarried, an international traveler who climbed Machu Picchu to celebrate her 80th birthday. Adela and Harry embraced the computer age early, seeing the value of a website and submitting articles via the Internet, back when people half their age were still in the dark about technology.” She was like a beloved grandmother to the editorial team, and often dropped off baked goodies for the magazine staff.
I’ll leave you with this story from her collaborating illustrator and calligrapher, Claiborne O’Connor, who first worked with Amador on Twelve Gifts, based on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Claiborne figured she’d be drawing “nine flour tortillas” as nine similar rounds. Adela advised Claiborne that tortillas had personalities, and that she needed to go buy a dozen and really look at them. Well, those nine tortillas on the book jacket have loads of variations, and do indeed look quite real. The lady who knew about the personalities of tortillas had a memorably outsized one herself.
Cheryl Alters Jamison is New Mexico Magazine’s contributing culinary editor. Read her blog at nmmagazine.com/tastingnm. See Douglas Merriam’s work at douglasmerriam.com.
Posole al Estilo Adela
A recipe with a tasty history.
Yield Serves 12
½ package frozen posole (32-ounce bag)
2 quarts water
2½–3 pounds pork, cut in bite-size chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
8–10 roasted, peeled (seeds removed) green chile (probably from the freezer), chopped1 or 2 16-ounce cans stewed tomatoes (depending on how hot the chile is, how one likes it)
salt to taste
. . . One day [my mother] sent me across the village with a pitcher of posole for a neighbor. The day was hot and as I wandered away, barefoot, I looked for a shady spot to while away the time and rest. I stopped beside the Presbyterian Church, under a weeping willow tree, and put my feet in the cool ditch water that was gurgling by. I carefully placed the pitcher so it wouldn’t spill and removed the top to see what it looked like inside. It reminded me of popcorn. I took a kernel and ate it and found it good. I took some more. Soon I found a piece of meat (rare in those days), and the eating became more interesting. I must have been hungry, because I ate my fill and found it very good. But I knew I had done the wrong thing. I continued to the neighbor’s and when she discovered the dish, she scolded me for having stuck my fingers in the food. I handed her the pitcher and took off running, not wanting to hear her, feeling guilty and knowing the story would get back to my mother anyway. But I learned to like posole!
Boil posole about 2 hours, until it pops. Add pork, onion and garlic. Boil until meat is cooked, about 1 hour, on medium heat. Add chile and tomatoes, season with salt to taste.
Note from Adela: The tomatoes cut the “hotness” of the chile (acid neutralizes the base), and give a tangy flavor. Chicken also makes a good posole and is often used in place of pork.
Note from Cheryl: Pork butt, trimmed of surface fat, is the perfect cut of meat for posole. Chicken will be ready in less than half the time needed for pork; use boneless thighs. Canned stewed tomatoes can be rather sweet, so start with just one can, then add more if you wish. Or, switch out the stewed tomatoes for one 15-ounce can of diced, fire-roasted tomatoes in juice, such as Muir Glen brand. If you can’t locate frozen posole, canned hominy is a reasonable substitute (use two 29-ounce cans of golden or white hominy, or a combination) and will save you the two hours of boiling the corn. The dish won’t have quite as much texture, but you’ll have a decent approximation in much less time.
A bowl of Adela Amador's posole was the first New Mexico Magazine photo assignment for Douglas Merriman.
Yield Serves 6 or More
1 tablespoon bacon drippings or vegetable oil
1½ cups stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch or 2 of dried ground New Mexico red chile or cayenne pepper
3 large eggs
1½ cups buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
A bowl of Adela Amador’s posole was the first New Mexico Magazine photo assignment for Douglas Merriam, who still shoots most of our food photography 20 years later. In another twist of fate, Fabian West, our art director, tore the recipe from a magazine while visiting New Mexico in 1993. In 1997, she and her husband relocated here, and she still has the well-worn clipping in her recipe box. That photo was styled with a chunk of cornbread beside the posole, still a good accompaniment today.
Preheat oven to 400˚ F. After all ingredients are assembled, place drippings in a 9–10-inch cast-iron skillet; put skillet in oven.
Stir together in large bowl cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and red chile. In another smaller bowl, whisk eggs together, then mix in buttermilk. Pour liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until barely combined, with a few dry streaks remaining. Pour in butter, then mix to just incorporate. Take hot skillet from oven and spoon batter into it. You should get a good sizzle when batter hits skillet. Smooth batter and return skillet to oven. Bake about 18 minutes, until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
High-Altitude Instructions: At 7,000 feet, the approximate elevation of Santa Fe, reduce baking soda by ¼ teaspoon and baking powder by a pinch. Increase buttermilk by 2 tablespoons.
Adapted from American Home Cooking © 1999 by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison.