To accompany the Mesoamerican section of episode 3 of the History of Food, we’re making authentic ancient tamales in the earth oven, just like would have been done in pre-urban Mexico and Guatemala.
These tamales are a little plain, and lack the fat and leavening agents that help make modern tamales so delicious. We’re making ours with only the ingredients the ancient Mesoamericans had, that is with corn, lime, and water.
But that’s okay, we’ve got some other authentic ingredients to help the flavor along. Black beans for filling, and chili sauce for garnish, and roasted squash as a side are going to give us flavor and depth, even if the tamale itself is bare bones.
Sweetcorn or Popcorn won’t work. You need plain field corn for this, which in some areas can be hard to come by. You can find it in many Mexican markets, almost any tortilleria, or if you’re truly lucky, a farmer.
For the tamales:
400g Plain Field corn (NOT sweet or popcorn)
6g Cal (pickling lime)
5 cups water
Dried corn husks for wrapping the tamales
For the Black bean filling:
3/4 cup dry black beans 5 cups water 1 fresh chile 1 medium onion
For the Chili sauce: 6-7 fresh chiles Seeds from 1 squash or pumpkin water
Just what it sounds like. Today I made bread in the ashes of the fire.
This has become known as kind of an Australian food. But that’s because European colonists copied the Aboriginal peoples who had been doing it for thousands of years.
Many modern people with nomadic traditions, such as the Berbers of North Africa, still cook bread this way, but the roots go deep back into prehistory. Evidence for this practice can be found in ancient cultures all over the world from the Americas, to aboriginal Australia, and most famously in the middle east.
Short of mashing our food or cooking it over an open fire, the Earth Oven is the oldest cooking method known to humankind. Evidence of their use goes back tens of thousands of years, and they can be found all over the world across nearly all cultures.
The exact construction can vary, but the basic design is the same. Dig a pit in the ground, line it with stones, get those stones blazing hot, then put some food in and bury it! This method can bake, smoke, or steam food. It’s not as much work as it seems, and it makes for a exciting cooking experience that’s great for parties and summer barbecues especially.
Not only is it fun, it imparts a unique flavor to the food that’s cooked inside one that can only be described as “earthy” and makes any other food I’ve heard called “earthy” before this seem like a lie. Soil infused? This stuff tastes like it was cooked inside the earth, because it was!
If you’re interested in new and interesting ways to cook your food, you cannot beat an Earth Oven.