My Grandma, she always had a pot of beans going. If one pot got towards the bottom, she had another one started. Marcella Abeyta
Marcella Abeyta has rolled out fresh tortillas for most of her life. In fact, some of her first memories are in the kitchen working with her sister, where their duties started much earlier than most due to their mother's illness. "Let me tell you, I can remember standing on a stool, because I couldn't reach the stove without it," she says.
It doesn't seem that long ago that she stood in my own kitchen, patiently passing on this wonderful heritage to me, her daughter-in-law. I can recall the experience like it was today.
"Mi hijita, see? You do it like this." Her hands deftly curl the small mounds of dough into perfect balls. She takes a small bolillo reminiscent of the French rolling pin and flattens one. With quick, deft motions, she rolls and flips. Rolls and flips again. Within seconds, the ball is transformed into a perfect circle.
I try to follow suit-and then share a laugh as we decide which state in the union most closely resembles my feeble attempt.
Then she drops the perfect circle onto a piping hot comal, a cast iron skillet with no sides. As the tortilla puffs slightly, she uses her fingers to flip it over for another minute or so. Lifting the fresh tortilla from the comal, she offers me the first taste, tearing off a small piece. It is nothing like the ones from the store.
This tradition has been several generations in the making and a strong part of her three sons' heritage. I remember one family dinner when she decided to serve a roast. All of her sons expressed their disappointment; they simply hungered for the dishes that reminded them of home, of their roots-her Carne Adovada, Papas Fritas con Carne, Sopaipillas, Natillas and her spicy red chile.
I've been part of the family for almost twenty years now. While I've mastered the tortillas, I'm still working on my red chile. But she's patient. We have a few years. Besides, now there's a new generation ready to learn. And Marcella is up to the challenge.
Married to Robert Sr. for over 45 years, the couple now have seven grandchildren and two great-grand children. Their cozy home on Albuquerque's westside is often crowded with relatives for weddings, reunions and holidays. With a strong musical heritage that runs deep, their home, like their parents' homes before them, is often filled with song as great-uncles join grandkids on the guitar, piano and even the accordion, and old Mariachi favorites fill the air. The ladies often relax on the patio, sharing tales of their youth, and calling the youngest ones over to see how much they've grown. Robert, who came from a family of fourteen children, and Marcella, with three siblings of her own, have both stayed close with their extended families.
At these family gatherings-always noisy occasions full of laughter and conversation-Robert is more often than not helping Marcella in the kitchen. Her sons crowd into the kitchen as well, not to help, but to steal an early taste of Mom's cooking. Shooing them away, she turns to my son, Jonathon, now thirteen. "Hijito, here-like this," she says, bustling around. My son, Jonathon, 13, watches intently before lifting his own bolillo to roll out a tortilla. "Come look at your hijito," she calls to me. "Look what he can do. Pretty good, no?"
It's more than pretty good. It's downright wonderful.
When someone new to Albuquerque asks me where I go for good New Mexican food, I always say--my mother's. Lawrence Abeyta