Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Oregano memories

Luz has been working on hir film and incorporating many fragments from the old blog into the narration. That’s got me thinking about our queer rancho blog, which (like many a blog) was eaten by facebook.

I’m inspired to write today about oregano. My good friend Gabriela posted that chimichurri sauce made her rethink her aversion to oregano.

Aversion to oregano? that’s one I can’t get my head around.

Oregano has at times been my only spice. When we were little, my Grandma Lupe would make menudo, and my favorite part was that your bowl was like your witches cauldron, and you got to put in all the stuff you liked best: oregano, cebolla, cilantro, lime, chile pequín... In fact, I think mi abuela used to set aside for me a pot of white broth instead of red, because my little girl mouth was too tender for chile. menudo was served with warm corn tortillas with salt.

So crushing the oregano in my hands was like magic to me. It still is.

In northern New Mexico, in the 1980s, Esperanza Córdoba Weber showed me how to recognize oregano's purple flowers growing on the hillside. Like other hierbas, she said, it was best to gather it on El Día de la Virgen.

In the 1990s, the first two dishes I really learned to cook for myself were green chile stew and pozole. (by then I was vegetarian and needed fill the niche previously filled by menudo). Oregano was the handful of magic that made it work.

My dad Alfonso, sent us a big spray of dried oregano in the mail. He always provides these raro but amazing tastes of New Mexico for us here in the Bay Area. Like the time he sent us the fresh Hatch chile so hot it “knocks your block off.” That New Mexican oregano was the stuff you use to call back the ancestors! So good.

Here in our barrio rancho, the heart of the garden is Luz’s herb spiral. Everything else has grown out from there. And in hir research on traditional foods, zie found that most of oregano seed is for Italian or Greek oregano. It’s very good, but it doesn’t smell like a memory. Luz was determined and found a source for Mexican oregano, which struggled the first year, but has come back hardy. The smell for me acts like white smoke from sage: cleansing, purifying, beyond the realm of mere food.

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