Monday, February 08, 2021

Yankeedom and El Norte


Within days of setting foot in Santa Fe for the first time in 1992 we knew this was where we were meant to be. And not just for that particular day.

However, had we first read Colin Woodard’s "American Nations" we might have cancelled our New Mexico plans and just driven straight to Cape Cod instead. We obviously are glad that we didn’t. But why?

The book identifies eleven distinct cultures within the U.S. and Canada – and “makes the provocative claim that our culture wars are inevitable. North America was settled by groups with distinct political and religious values – and we haven’t had a moment’s peace since."

Two in particular who should not get along are Yankeedom and El Norte – the “nations” that apply to us. We both grew up in the former and lived there for seventy-four years. Then, after vacationing in the second of the two for twenty-five years, we relocated there. Shouldn’t we have experienced at least a culture skirmish, if not a full blown conflict?

Our former homeland was begun by the Puritans in New England and spread across upper New York, the northern parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, into the eastern Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Canadian Maritime.

As a whole the people of the region value education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and citizen participation in government – are comfortable with government regulation – and have a "Utopian streak" believing in the ultimate perfectibility of man, guided by the right types of reforms of course. The area was settled by radical Calvinists – Puritans who believed it was their mission from God to “propagate His will on a corrupt and sinful world [and that] personal wealth was expected to be reinvested in one’s good works. Yankeedom has, since the outset, put great emphasis on perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders.”

Except for that evangelical zealotry part – we say amen! We definitely could comfortably live there. In fact…

El Norte is home to the oldest European subculture in the United States. Started by Catholic Spanish settlers in the 16th century, and later augmented by Anglo-Americans from the Deep South and Greater Appalacia, it includes south and west Texas, southern California and its Imperial Valley, southern Arizona, New Mexico, parts of Colorado, and several Mexican states.
Spain’s colonization of the land was driven by a desire for gold and the compulsion to convert every living soul to Catholicism. The latter idea really irritated the Protestant countries – and lead to “the lasting hatred of the English, Scots, and Dutch who regarded [the Spanish] as the decadent, unthinking tools of the Vatican’s conspiracy to enslave the world. This virulent anti-Hispanic feeling became deeply engrained in the cultures of Yankeedom, Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Deep South.” And was one of the reasons New Mexico was denied statehood for so many years.

Spain sent lots of men, but not nearly enough women, leading to intermarriage with the local Natives and an ethnically mixed “mestizo” populace. Partially because of their widespread proselytization efforts the Spanish spread themselves too thin and were not able to watch over their charges very closely. Thus the people here became exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. Hispanic culture dominates in El Norte – making it "a place apart" from the rest of North America, as well as "a hotbed of democratic reform and revolutionary sentiment.”

We like to think of ourselves as relatively independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work (or now on our avocations.)  But revolutionaries?  One of us prefers not to wear gold – but likes turquoise and silver. The other was raised Catholic.  We both are drawn to New Mexican architecture and folk art – with a special affinity for depictions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, whether on persons, places or things. And we seem to be missing that deeply engrained “virulent anti-Hispanic” Yankeedom gene.

Were we unknowing El Norteños for three quarters of a century?  Real ones in some prior incarnation?

Or is it that Santa Fe is enough of a “City Different,” to allow us to retain our thoroughly instilled Yankee sensibilities – while at the same time letting us immerse ourselves in our new culture’s way of life. After all we were not the first ones from our homeland to come here and stay – among them the “Ladies of the Canyons,” as documented by Leslie Poling-Kempes.

“Educated, restless, and inquisitive, Natalie Curtis, Carol Stanley, Alice Klauber, and Mary Cabot Wheelwright were plucky, intrepid women whose lives were transformed in the first decades of the twentieth century by the people and country of the American Southwest. Within the wild, raw beauty of the high desert and mountain landscape these ladies imagined and created a new home territory, a new society, and a new identity for themselves and for the [men and] women who would follow them.”

Curtis was an ethnomusicologist who transcribed the songs of hundreds of Native American tribes – and published them in 1905 as ‘The Indians’ Book: Songs and Legends of the American Indians.” She also brought her friend President Theodore Roosevelt to see his first (perhaps only) Hopi Snake Dance. Stanley was a brilliant pianist and educator who founded Ghost Ranch – without which Georgia O’Keeffe might not have discovered the abstract landscapes of New Mexico. (Wanting to see the source of Ms O’K’s nonrepresentational visions was one of our primary reasons for first coming out here. On that trip we realized that they were actually pretty realistic.) Klauber was a painter from San Diego who helped start up the NM Museum of Art in 1917. And Wheelwright founded the Museum of the American Indian in 1937 to preserve and showcase Navajo culture and religion.

Along with other “immigrants” the Ladies of the Canyon used their newfound independence to construct a unique refuge of cultural diversity. A “City Different” in this “place apart” – all set in a gorgeous landscape where the air is clean and the weather usually bright, sunny and dry, but not too warm. (Although a little rain now and then would be nice.)

El Norte culture in its native form is however still alive and well throughout New Mexico. There are religious aspects – and other parts of the Norteño lifestyle that are almost as sacrosanct out here.

After winning its independence from Spain in the early 19th century Mexico ousted all of the Spanish missionaries from its provinces, but failed to replace them with enough of their own clergy. As a result many secluded Nuevo Méxican villages could expect only a once-yearly visit from a parish priest. Hardly enough for people falling in love, having babies, raising children, dying, etc. The men in those communities came together as “Los Penitentes” and dedicated themselves to providing mutual aid, community charity – and to memorializing the spirit of the penance and the Passion of Christ (including their own self-flagellation practices.)  Almost expelled from, then reconciled with the Catholic Church, the brotherhood continues to perform a modified form of its religious rituals, and to pursue its commitment to acts of community charity.

In what most New Mexicans consider their sacred right – the state has some of the least restrictive firearms laws in the country, with around one-half of the state population owning guns. It allows the open carrying of loaded weapons without a specific permit. A special license is required to secretly pack a shooting iron however.

Sheriffs are locally elected, and regularly decline to enforce (or sometimes even obey) state laws. In February Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a red-flag gun bill that allows state district courts to order the temporary surrender of firearms if a gun owner displays dangerous or threatening behavior. And she urged (not commanded or compelled) sheriffs to resign if they refused to enforce it. Likewise masks. (And we naively thought that a stylish bandanna was an integral part of southwestern cowboy fashion. I guess when somebody tells you that you HAVE TO do something…)

Some of that Yankee "sacrifice for the common good" ideal seems to be catching on however.   As our country’s thirty-fifth president might have put it – “mask not what your country can do for you – mask what you can do for your country.”  Face-coverings are becoming a more common sight, and NM’s Covid numbers have returned to yellow or green on most maps. 

Less contentiously the land of Enchantment’s independence and self-sufficiency can also be seen on a day-to-day basis in many of its 200 unincorporated communities (aka Census Designated Places or CDPs.)

Twenty minutes to our south is the dirt-street, mud-house town of Los Cerrillos – a CDP with 110 adobe homes and a population of 230. Settled in 1879 – within a few years over 3,000 full-time prospectors were extracting gold, silver, lead, zinc, and turquoise from the surrounding mountains, and in their leisure time supporting twenty-one saloons, five brothels, four hotels, several newspapers and an opera house in the city.  For a time Los Cerrillos was seriously considered as a new site for the capital of New Mexico. Today it is officially a “ghost town.”

A little further down the road is Madrid (MAD-rid, not Ma-DRID) – similarly categorized, even though this small village of about 400 residents is bustling during the (normal) summer months with shops, restaurants, and galleries catering to its many visitors. Madrid was a booming coal mining community in the early 20th century – the Cerrillos Coal & Iron Co. developed all the housing, mines, and facilities – until natural gas came on the scene in the late 1940s. By 1954 most residents had moved away, and an ad in the Wall Street Journal listed the entire town for sale at a price of $250,000 (2.4 million 2020 dollars.) There were no takers. Today artists, craftsmen, and other individuals wanting to make their homes in the mountains live in what once was company provided housing.

Closer to us is the village of Agua Fría – in their own words “an obscure community five miles southwest of the Santa Fe Plaza [founded by] humble and poor farmers, who spoke only Spanish, watching the world go by on the El Camino Real de Adentro [Royal Road of the Interior Land.]” Realtors describe the town as a “Traditional Historic Community” with a “sparse suburban feel.” But the 2,000 people in their 720 adobe houses quietly demur – and insist that Agua Fría is simply a state of mind.

At a younger point in our lives we might have considered settling in one of these three places. But what we really wish is that we had had the opportunity to hang out with those early 20th century Utopian-minded newcomers who socially engineered Santa Fe into the City Different. As our radical Calvinist forerunners would tell us, it is after all the type of thing that expatriates from Yankeedom, are predestined to do.

A Little Old-time Religion


Northern New Mexico is overwhelmingly Catholic. But we don’t mean religiously. The Spanish, who came to the New World in the 16th century for “glory, gold and God,” are no longer attempting to forcibly convert everyone to the Catholic religion. But their “primitive” attempts to recreate the religious iconography of their home country have established themselves as THE art of the region.

“Santos” – 2-D “retablos” and 3-D “bultos” portray the Church’s saints. “Ex Voto” paintings tell the stories of their interventions in the lives of everyday people. Crosses made of straw (in lieu of gold), tin (not silver) or hand-carved from wood decorate the walls of both believers and non. A visitor might be hard-pressed to know whether they were in the home of a devoted Catholic, a museum, a chapel or an art collector’s casita.

Catholic churches are the focal points of most northern New Mexico villages. Some are simple buildings maintained for centuries by parishioners, townspeople and historic preservationists – organic-looking structures sculpted from adobe with old-world charm. Religious folk art adorns the walls and altars.

Roadside crosses (descansos) mark the spot on earth where loved ones took their last breath. Calvario crosses of the Penitentes appear randomly on hills – and by design in the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe.

Hispanics in northern New Mexico still maintain strong family and Catholic ties, and continue to honor traditions associated with both. On holidays there may be religious processions – most notably the pilgrimage to the Santuario de Chimayo, an hour's drive north of Santa Fe. Constructed in 1816, the sanctuary has long been a worshiping site for Catholics who attribute miraculous healing powers to the earth found in the chapel's anteroom. Several days before Easter, fervent believers begin walking the highway headed to Chimayo, some carrying large crosses – others nothing but small bottles of water – most praying for a miracle.

But our recent talk with new Santa Fe friends L & J reminded us that Catholicism is not the only system of faith and worship in our new home state. In fact religion has always been a central, defining element in New Mexico’s history ­beginning with the Pueblo people.

In his novel “Alburquerque,” Rudolfo Anaya has one of his main characters explain the spiritual roots of Santuario de Chimayo. “Before there was the raza [hispanics] here, the Indians used to come to this place. Chimayo is an Indian word; you see, they had named their universe and the sacred places. They used the earth for healing. The Mexicano who built the first chapel saw a saint standing over this spot. The earth is sacred.”

Within the Puebloan cosmos all living creatures are mutually dependent and every relationship, whether with a person, an animal, or a plant, has spiritual significance. A hunter prays before killing a deer, asking the creature to sacrifice itself to the tribe. The harvesting of plants requires prayer, thanks, and ritual.

The Puebloans believe that their ancestors originally lived under the ground – the source of all life. The first people, encouraged by burrowing animals, entered the world of humans – the "fourth" world – through a hole, a sipapu. Rituals and deities vary from tribe to tribe, but most believe this world is enclosed by four sacred mountains, where the sacred colors – coral, black, turquoise, and yellow or white ­– predominate. 

Not surprisingly given the co-mingling of Native religion and Catholicism exemplified by Santuario de Chimayo, many Pueblo Natives will tell you that they practice BOTH their tribal religion AND Catholicism. 

Our research has turned up some (we think) interesting history on three of the other denominations here in New Mexico: United Methodist, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Presbyterian – the subject of our discussion with L and J.

An Area of Degradation and Ignorance

In her historical novel “Not Ordered by Men, the first 100 years of History of First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe,” T.D. Allen tells the church’s beginning from viewpoint of Jennie St. John Mitchell, wife of the General Robert B. Mitchell, New Mexico’s Territorial Governor from 1866 to 1869. In the novel Mrs. Mitchell writes to the Presbyterian Church’s Board of Domestic Missions imploring them to send a minister to Santa Fe.

“I want above all else to see my church come into this area of degradation and ignorance. It is well known that Presbyterians have ever gone into this country’s frontiers, fostering hand-in-hand both faith and truth, carrying the Bible in one hand and readers and spellers in the other, building...both churches and schools.” 

An actual 1866 letter written by Mrs. Isabella Graham in 1866 paints a more detailed picture. “Children and dogs run the streets all day long, splashing in the odorous puddles where swill collects. There are no schools as you know them, and none but Catholic churches. The Catholics are building a great church...but the saloon keepers have out built everybody. The poor men of Protestant persuasion who are stationed here in the Army are left with no worthwhile diversion...The town is a living example of the filth and degradation to which human beings can sink when they are not enlightened and are left without the uplifting influences of the Church.”

While Mrs. Mitchell’s letter may be fictional, Church records show that she was one of the original members of First Presbyterian Church, and invited the congregation to have its first worship service in the Council Chamber of the governor’s residence. 

Sent by the Board of Domestic Missions, the Rev. David F. McFarland stepped off the stage in Santa Fe on November 22, 1866. He called on Mrs. Mitchell the next day. The first worship service was held two days later with forty persons present, many of them Army wives in their late twenties. Sabbath School was held that afternoon. With a petition signed by twelve persons, McFarland officially organized the church in the Palace of the Governors on January 6, 1867 – at the time the only Protestant church in New Mexico.  In March of that year, the ruins of an unsuccessful Baptist Church were purchased for $5,100. The church remains in that same location, 208 Grant Avenue, today. 

The new parish struggled in its early years. All original trustees were gone – three had moved and two had been murdered. The only person on the rolls in 1874 was the postmaster. By 1881, however the old adobe structure was replaced with a new red brick building and a Victorian style manse was built nearby.  The following photo shows the sanctuary in 1955.

In 1908, Rev. Hugh A. Cooper, a Presbyterian pastor in Albuquerque, founded the Southwest Presbyterian Sanatorium, a facility for the hundreds of indigent tuberculosis victims he often visited since he himself moved from Iowa to ABQ in 1903 as a TB patient. In 1950, with tuberculosis under control, the “San” evolved into The Presbyterian Hospital Center. Today Presbyterian Healthcare Services owns and operates eight hospitals in seven New Mexico communities (one in our part of Santa Fe) as well as the Presbyterian Health Plan. 

The church also operates Ghost Ranch, a 21,000-acre retreat and education center located near the village of Abiquiú in north central New Mexico – former site of the home and studio of Georgia O'Keeffe, as well as the subject of many of her paintings. Originally won in a poker game in 1928 by Roy Pfaffle, it was so-named by his wife Carol Stanley (the legal owner of the property) who constructed guest quarters and created an exclusive dude ranch that was visited by many of the wealthy and creative people of the time – the “Mother of American Modernism” among them. Many of Stanley’s friends moved to New Mexico for its peaceful atmosphere. In 1935 she sold the ranch to one of them, Arthur Newton Pack, writer and editor of Nature Magazine. Pack and his wife Phoebe gave the ranch to the Presbyterian Church in 1955 where it is now open to the public for “the spiritual health and well being of all mankind.”

Hello. My name is Elder Hamblin...”

Along I-25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque stands The Mormon Battalion Monument – an historic obelisk built in honor of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who served in the United States Army's Mormon Battalion during the Mexican-American War of 1846 -1848, and traversed New Mexico from its northeast to its southwest corner in 1846.

Significant LDS contact in the territory did not occur however until 1876 when Jacob Hamblin and James S. Brown, two members of a group of missionaries assigned to Mexico, found some success proselytizing among the Zuni and Navajo in the western of the territory. That year Mormon missionaries founded the settlement of Savoia, about twenty miles east of the Zuni village, and were joined by LDS converts from the southern states. In 1882 they relocated a few miles south to a village they named Ramah, which continues today as a predominantly LDS community – and was a major focus in a landmark 1941 interdisciplinary Harvard study of the village’s five cultures: 500 Navajo, 40 Spanish-Americans, 300 Mormons, 130 Texans (aka “El Morro People”) and 30 “Southwestern Anglos.” (Today there are 470 residents.) 

“Unlike their brethren in other parts of the Southwest whose ideology and colonization techniques brought relatively good relations with the Navajos, the Ramah Mormons never succeeded to any degree in overcoming the [passive Navajo hostility]… and only a few of the Indians would work for or learn from the Mormon settlers.” An influx of Texas cattle ranchers followed by Anglo farmers eventually took over much of the land. The Indian Service Administration moved the Natives to the south and decreed the sending of their children to Indian Boarding Schools leading to more resentment. Spanish-Americans, mainly sheep herders, moved in and became the dominant group. They were followed and displaced both in numbers and power by more Texans who also overruled the Mormons. By the time of the study, “virtually no Ramah Mormons had nay but bitter word for the “Administration...and any small success against ‘Washington’ was greeted happily.”

Latter-day Saints also settled in northwestern New Mexico along the San Juan River at Fruitland, Kirtland, Waterflow and Bluewater. (For a time Brigham Young, Jr. maintained one of his residences at Fruitland.) Additional LDS congregations were established in western New Mexico at Pleasanton, Socorro County (1882) – and at Virden, Hidalgo County (1915), which was settled by Mormon refugees from south of the border dislodged by the Mexican Revolution. In the first third of the 20th century, congregations were organized at Albuquerque, Gallup, Taos, Silver City, Clovis, Tres Piedras, Pagosa Springs, and Thoreau. In 2000 the first temple in New Mexico was dedicated in Albuquerque. By 2010 there were 67,637 New Mexican Mormons.

The Snowshoe Itinerant

Following the example set by its founder John Wesley in England a century earlier to take the message to where the people were instead of waiting for the people to come to them, hundreds of dedicated circuit riders like “Father” John L Dyer (aka “The Snowshoe Itinerant”) spread Methodism throughout the frontier areas of the United States. (The title was not conferred by the Methodist Church but was bestowed the people as a sign of respect and endearment. The “snowshoes” were actually nine to eleven foot Norwegian skis made of pine or spruce.) Dyer’s itinerant ministry included much of present-day Colorado and New Mexico and lasted almost four decades. It was a difficult life with minimal financial compensation. And preaching often took place in very informal, frequently quite seedy, settings.

Dyer was present when Colonel and Pastor John Chivington, the presiding elder, said of Native Americans, “I am fully satisfied, gentlemen, that to kill them is the only way we will ever have peace and quiet.” Chivington later led a regiment of Colorado Volunteers to the Sand Creek reservation where, true to his word, he slaughtered 200 Cheyenne including women and children – the “Sand Creek Massacre.”

As Dyer began to travel into New Mexico, he noted of the Apache, “If sighted by them it was necessary to outrun them, kill them, or get scalped.” Later he declared it, was “impossible to tame and educate an Indian until he is subdued...We can but desire the Navajo tribe to become enlightened and as perfect in religion as their squaws were in weaving blankets.”

In 1882 W. W. Welsh, the presiding elder of the MEC,S (Methodist Episcopal Church, South) in Colorado, said of the 10,000 Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, saying, “They are feeble in intellect, unable to originate, but can imitate like monkeys.” (An 1844 dispute over the ownership of two slaves by an MEC Bishop led Methodists in the South to break off and form a separate denomination.)

The Women’s Home Missionary Society of the church established schools among the Jicarilla Apache in Dulce and on the Navajo Reservation in the 1880s. In 1891 they helped create the Navajo Mission School, which like other Indian boarding schools operated on the principle of “kill the Indian, save the man.” “Not provided were the love and care you would get from a parent,” recalled one former student. Another was told by his father, “What have you done. You are a Navajo. And your Navajo religion is over here.’”

Methodism came to in Santa Fe in 1850 with the arrival of Reverend E.G. Nicholson. Nineteen years later “Father” Dyer visited to convey his support for a permanent parish. Shortly thereafter an adobe structure with a short steeple was built on San Francisco Street to house the St John’s Methodist-Episcopal Church. Now known as St. John’s United Methodist Church the parish is located on Old Pecos Trail near Museum Hill. 

And we must mention...

In recent years, New Mexico has become known (and ridiculed) for its New Age pilgrims and practitioners – and their alternative churches, healing centers, and healing schools.  "A spiritual mini-mecca for a semi-godless age,” per the New York Times.  The roots of the movement are hard to trace. But many alternative believers seem to have been drawn by the spirituality, beliefs and deeply-felt connection to the land of the Pueblo people.

While others may laugh, we think that the Natives might be grateful to finally have someone who likes them just the way they are.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Red or Green? Golden or Amber?

New Mexico is famous for its tear-inducing red and green chile peppers, and the stew-like dishes made from the them. (That was not a typo, the Spanish who came here in the 1500's converted the Central Mexican Nahuatl (Aztec) name, chilli, to chile – the spelling used today by most New Mexicans.) 
The de jure “Official State Question” (not a typo either, we really do have one) is “red or green?” – asked every day by every wait-person on pretty much every restaurant order. 
“None of the above” is not on the menu. “Christmas,” meaning both, is always an unadvertised option. 

In response to your answer the chef will eagerly smother your enchiladas, chile rellenos or really, anything you can think of in a blanket of your chosen color(s). Including a gyro plate from a Greek restaurant. 
Sometimes they don’t ask. Imagine the surprise at biting into your benign looking tuna Florentine expecting comfort food creaminess only to discover… As a result of such experiences, and following advice we were given on our first trip out here, when asked THE QUESTION we tell our server, “whichever is milder. And on the side please.”

Recently J, a dear friend from Connecticut, emailed this tip for those of us trying to trust the science. “Chili peppers may help you live longer. Scientists have linked consumption of chili peppers to a reduced chance of early death due to such things as cancer or heart disease, according to an American Heart Association study... comparing the longevity of those who ate chili peppers on a regular basis with those who ate them very little or never, finding that those who did had a 26% less chance of dying of cardiovascular problems and a 23% less chance of dying of cancer.”

We thanked him for the info – but mentioned that (1) like many other things in life that are now thought to be good for us it is probably too late for us to start, and (2) when someone expresses surprise at our reluctance to bury our otherwise wonderful meal under a coating of throat-numbing, sweat-inducing “flavoring” we tell them, “we’re from New England. Our idea of spicy food is maple syrup.”

In early-to-mid-March when temperatures drop below freezing at night and rise to the forties during the day the maple sap starts to flow. Sugar, black, red and silver maples tapped with old school metal buckets, or higher tech vacuum-pumped brightly colored tubing appear on the landscape. 
Sugarhouses large and small boil the collected sap, evaporating the water out and sending clouds of sweet maple scented steam billowing from their cupolas and steam stacks. As the water evaporates, the sap thickens. At the 219 degrees F the syrup is drawn off, filtered, and graded for flavor and color – golden, amber, dark or very dark – New England’s de-facto, but unaccredited, official food colors.

Just as the running of the sap heralds the coming of spring in New England, the sounds and scents of roasting chiles signal harvest time in New Mexico. Hand-turned black wire cages with spinning peppers heated by propane flames appear at grocery stores, farmers markets and roadside stands throughout the state. The sound of gushing gas and the snap, crackle, and pop of roasting chiles provides the musical background to the smoky, sweet, pungent perfume that wafts through the fall air.

It is almost enough to make even the most hard-core New Englander throw caution to the wind and… Almost. But no, not us anyway.

Maple trees are few and far between out here, only growing in a small number of cool mountainous places – and on our placita thanks to a previous owner. A NMSU professor has developed the “Mesa Glow” hybrid specifically for the state’s warm and dry desert climate – but not a syrup producing one. “I was inspired...because of its fall color.”

So what are those of us who prefer our food preferences measured in Percent Sucrose Equivalents rather than Scoville Heat Units to do?  For many the answer is sweet sorghum, a flowering grass that has been a source of saccharine satisfaction to people around the world for over 10,000 years.  Back in CT we may have heard the name – and, if so, probably thought it was some kind of silage for cattle (it is), or perhaps the surname of a Dogpatch resident in the comic strip L’il Abner (it isn’t.)

But we really knew nothing about sorghum until we began volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. And did not actually taste any till about a month ago.

So here is some of what we have learned.

Things apparently were not that sweet in the New World until Columbus brought sugar cane to Hispaniola on his second voyage in December 1493. Thirty years later it was introduced into Mexico by Hernán Cortés. Until then sorghum had followed much the same Africa-to-Europe path as sugar cane – however, it is unclear when it made its way into the Spanish New World.

We do know however it did not become a commercially viable crop in the United States until just prior to the Civil War. And, as much as New Mexicans hate to give Texans credit for anything, it was extensively cultivated there in the mid-19th century and most likely made its way westward from there to the Land of Enchantment.

Prior to that, Nuevo Méxicanos did their sweetening with mashed or pressed fruit, honey (when available) and processed sugar from lower Mexico and, after the 1821 opening of the Santa Fe Trail, the United States.  Attempts to grow sugar cane here were stymied by altitude and climate. Sorghum cane,  however, adapted well. “Corn guzzles water. Sorghum sips it.” (americansorghum.rom)

At las Golondrinas living museum we grow enough of the crop to be used for demo purposes at our annual fall “Harvest Festival.”

The ranch has three sorghum processing devices (“melaseras”) – two mortar-and-pestle presses (a hollowed log with pounding stick, and a fulcrum-and-lever model) plus a roller mill.  Syrup is made from the green juice, which is extracted from the crushed stalks and then heated to steam off the excess water.

The mortar-and-pestles presses were people-powered, while the roller mill was turned by a horse or burro, hitched to the wooden bar. We have at the moment two of the small donkeys on the ranch. (Marsha has become quite good at rolling her Rs, pronouncing “boorowe.” Jim not so much – “bo͝orō”.)

Such mills were relatively expensive, so like the small Spanish grist mills mentioned in our last email, a single sorghum mill would serve an entire community. And, as with wheat, processing fees were bartered. The sorghum growers brought their crops in at harvest time and took back home with them a portion of the resultant molasses (“miel.”) And like trips to the grist mill, sorghum milling was also an occasion for communal feasting, dancing and catching up on local gossip.

The roller mill at las Golondrinas has a Sears, Roebuck and Company label with the date 1895. It was not original to the ranch. Like most of the buildings and display objects it was moved here from other parts of the state when the museum was being created.

Our first taste of sweet sorghum syrup however was provided to us by SF friends and neighbors L and J, whose delicious gift of corn bread and the accompanying topping was the inspiration for this article.

So, how does it compare to maple syrup? We don’t think we can do better than this description from the North Carolina website

“It's got a whang to it, initial, intense note of sweet, followed by a sharp sour and the faintest twinge of bitter, although not brackish like blackstrap molasses. Sorghum's flavor contains a buttery depth, which I like to call Appalachian umami.”

But truth be told we have not been totally without our beloved real maple syrup out here in Santa Fe. There is LL Bean and Trader Joe’s. And local restaurants serve it with entrees such as French toast, waffles and our new breakfast fave “blue corn pancakes.” And not that stuff made with corn syrup and artificial maple extract like some Connecticut eateries did.

Disappointingly however the waitpersons do not ask, “golden or amber?”