May 16, 2012 at 1:10 PM

Tasting New Mexico

"James Beard Award-winning cookbook authors Bill and Cheryl Alters Jamison launch new cookbook about New Mexico..."

By Lynn Cline

Gourmet Girl

Lynn Cline is a former food editor and the author of two books – Romantic Days and Nights in Santa Fe and Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers' Colonies, 1915-1950. She also loves to cook, when not dining out.

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Cheryl and Bill Jamison may be the most decorated cookbook authors in the country, if not the world having won four James Beard Awards and a slew of other honors for their books devoted to Southwest and Mexico cuisine, American home cooking, breakfast, Southern food, grilled chicken, smoke cooking and other topics. And in a field dominated by celebrity chefs, food stars, bloggers and other food authorities, they stand among the country's leading authorities on grilling, barbecue and smoke cooking and are often called America's Outdoor Cooking Experts.

 The Jamisons may soon be adding to their award collection with the publication of their newest book, Tasting New Mexico: Recipes Celebrating 100 Years of Distinctive Home Cooking (Museum of New Press), which is devoted to the state's unique culinary traditions, history and recipes. The book is being published to coincide with New Mexico's statehood centennial, being celebrated this year. It includes 100 traditional recipes as well as essays about New Mexico's agricultural and ranching heritage and stories about noteworthy chefs, restaurants, ingredients and more.

The Jamisons launch their new book on Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. at the New Mexico Museum of History with a booksigning as well as food provided by The Shed. If you can't make it to the event, you can reserve an autographed copy by calling the museum gift shop at 476-5200.

 In a sense, writing Tasting New Mexico brought the couple back to their roots as cookbook authors. Their first book, The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook: The Traditional Cooking of New Mexico, celebrated the traditional New Mexico cooking served at the famous Chimayo restaurant, and it captured "the essence of New Mexico's culture and cuisine," said chef and author Mark Miller, founder of the legendary Coyote Café.

 "Writing this is like coming full circle," Cheryl says. "We started with Rancho de Chimayo as our first cookbook and thought it would be a one-time project. Who knew it would turn into our livelihood? We feel like we're coming home, back to New Mexico, with this new book."

As they started the project, the couple brainstormed, creating a list of all the recipes that had to be included in the book. "And then we worked from that to include some newer favorites, and some things that might be a surprise to some people," Cheryl says. "We also wanted to focus on vegetables, and even seafood. We had to cut in some places. You just have to go with your instinct on what's going to taste best, and what balances well with the other recipes."

The recipes "are based on longstanding culinary traditions in New Mexico," Bill says. "Even the contemporary dishes that are included use ingredients and culinary concepts that are based on the old traditions. It's not just the traditions of the Colonial Spanish but of course Indians and newer Anglo residents."

"We did feel that there was a gap in the information that was out there in the number of nice contemporary cookbooks. There's a history of how these things evolved and came together and how special they really are and how fortunate we are to have this cuisine. To have something that is so strongly identified with the heritage as well as with the earth. There aren't that many places in the country that still have this."

Cheryl, who is the contributing culinary editor for New Mexico Magazine with a monthly column and regular blog, has written extensively about New Mexico cuisine but even she was surprised by what their research uncovered working on this book.

"Foods like enchiladas, tacos and burritos were not among the oldest dishes of this area," she says. "They tended to be more like stews and other dishes that focused heavily on chile." The misconception, according to Bill, "arises from the fact that that's what New Mexican restaurants and home cooks primarily serve today. But it's really the meat and chile combination – carne adovada, carne con chile, chicharrones, even green chile cheeseburgers, all those were the first interest of the Spanish colonists, and they became historically the first dishes of the state. All the ingredients were there for enchiladas and tamales were probably being made, but they're just not mentioned in any of the literature until the 20th century."

Cheryl points out that people who did not grow up in New Mexico usually only encounter New Mexican food in restaurants, "where there are a limited number of dishes that are easy to serve. Meatballs or sopa a bread pudding, don't hold well in a restaurant, and we don't see them. But they're very common homes. There are a lot of things like that that are so good, and we wanted people to be able to see those things too."

This is the Jamison's fourteenth cookbook, following on the heels of books about breakfast, chicken on the grill, Southern food, outdoor cooking and entertaining, culinary adventures around the world and other diverse subjects. Having written so extensively about food, do the Jamisons hold the secret to an excellent cookbook?

"For us personally, we enjoy food most when it's placed in a context, about the culture and the origins and evolution of a dish, about the variations on it, the special techniques employed—just a broad context," says Bill.

For Cheryl, the writer's voice and perspective are key. "I think that's part of the voice that we bring to it. A cookbook without a strong voice and point of view isn't worth a whole lot. You can get a collection of recipes anywhere these days, even online. But there needs to be a voice behind it. We've always selected topics that we feel passionate about and when you are passionate about something it should come through in your writing.

For more information about Tasting New Mexico and the Jamisons' other projects, visit www.cookingwiththejamisons.com.

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