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Making Mexican Hot Chocolate

A possible Maya lord sits before an individual with a container of frothed chocolate. Time noted as “many thousand years ago.”
Mayan civilization, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A possible Maya lord sits before an individual with a container of frothed chocolate. Time noted as “many thousand years ago.”

Hi, I am Holly Mercer, Library Director at the Dodge City Community College. I had the joy of reading "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquirel. Even though the book was published over 30 years ago, I wasn't aware of this book until being introduced to it through the Spring 2023 Radio Reader's book list. Originally written in Spanish and set in Mexico, "Como Agua Para Chocolate," is full of passion for cooking, celebration of the Mexican culture, misfortune, and love.

Each chapter in the book begins with a recipe and the reader is taken through the process of making the item. Recipes that were in the book included, Ox-Tail soup, Three King's Day Bread, and Turkey mole with almonds and sesame seeds. Also included are home remedies. For instance, the remedy for bad smells is "a spoon containing a chunk of burning charcoal and a pinch of sugar."

I read this book at a time when I was holiday baking and my home was filled with the scents of decadent desserts. This helped me connect to the book's message of the power of food. Through her cooking the main character, Tita, expressed herself and her emotions. Throughout the book her cooking influences the lives of her family members, sometimes leading to tragedy and at other times leading to personal enlightenment.

Tita was born with a predetermined purpose to her life, to care for her mother and never marry. Tita fought against this fate and poured her emotion into cooking, especially after falling in love with Pedro. They were not able to express their love publicly and Tita's passion for Pedro often spilled over into the food she was making. Her dinner guests were often overcome with love, grief, or longing, depending on Tita's mood when she cooked the food. The most striking instance of this happening is when at Pedro's wedding to Tita's sister the guests are overcome with grief and then stomach sickness.

Ancient Mexican Drinking Cups
Unknown author. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ancient Mexican Drinking Cups

Though set in the time period of the Mexican war in the early 1900s, this book parallels the complications of relationships in today's world. Mothers and daughters argue, there are family secrets, and children fight against traditional roles imposed upon them. The relationship between Tita and her love, Pedro winds throughout the story with unexpected twists, much like a telenovela. Pedro marries Tita's sister, Tita almost marries a different man, one of Tita's sisters run away, and the other sister loses a baby. As an aside, if you are looking for a captivating American telenolva, I recommend the show Jane the Virgin.

The title of the book ties into the method for making Mexican hot chocolate. The water for the drink must be very hot, but not boiling over before adding the cocoa. Water is boiled three times, made frothy, and chocolate is added. The Mexican saying, "Como agua para chocolate," or "Like water for chocolate," refers to not letting one's emotions boil over. I believe the author chose this title because of the healing properties of chocolate. A frothy cup of traditional hot chocolate can remove the chill from one's bones and soul.

In many ways, reading this book was similar to enjoying one of my favorite meals, chicken enchiladas. It was warm, full of spice, and stirred emotions. It is a book that I would happily enjoy again, maybe next time with a cup of hot chocolate.

I'm Holly Mercer for HPPR Radio Readers book club.

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