Cocinemos, Let's Cook! was the second of three cooking classes that occurred in the Sprout kitchen over the months of April, May, and June. Maria G Ruiz led the cooking class with chef Matt Mason that had over forty people in the kitchen making tortillas, flautas, and salsa. While forty people cooking in the kitchen was a bit challenging space-wise, the sounds of dough being slapped on tortilla presses and conversations around the room confirmed to the organizers that everyone was having a good time. This was the second time I had met Maria, the first time being when she invited me into her dining room. I had stopped by her house in Long Prairie, Minnesota to make a quick plan of the menu and ingredients needed for the class, but when I stepped into the house, Maria’s kitchen was in full swing. There were two kinds of soups on the stove along with a simmering red salsa. She had chicken enchiladas and flautas, ensalada, rice and beans. And of course, she told me to sit and eat.
The evening turned late before we knew it and Maria, her two sons, and I had talked non-stop. Some of it was about the class, but most of it was about each other. Maria showed me the molcajetes she used to prepare tomatillo salsa and the wooden tortilla presses, some of which she brought with her from Mexico. She talked of her upbringing and her family, how she landed in Minnesota, her children and grandchildren. I was reminded of my own mother, although much in their past is different, they share a determination to be self-sufficient, a drive to learn, a hospitality that manifests around sharing food and story.
After the class in May, a couple with their two children lingered to chat with Maria. And when they went to leave, I noticed them carrying one of Maria’s wooden tortilla presses. Asking Maria about it, she responded simply that the family made lots of tortillas at home, but did not have a press of their own. Maria gave them one of her presses, the newer one, she said, not the one she has had with her for years. I wonder how many tortillas have been made on that older press and how many more will be made by that family.
A few days later, Sprout’s Executive Director received a call from Michelle, the woman who received the tortilla press from Maria. Michelle and her family are members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and this cooking class was the first time they had been to a Sprout event. Michelle called to talk about her experience and the cultural exchange between her four year-old daughter, Waaseya, and Maria. She wanted Maria's address to send her wild rice, maple syrup, and a picture that Waaseya drew for Maria. She joked that she would like to send her their home canned deer meat, but wasn’t decided. She indicated that they have used the tortilla press numerous times, and that Waaseya (whose name means ‘early morning light’ in Ojibwe) has made the tortillas herself. They have family style meals as often as possible, and make a point to have a meal made entirely from-scratch every Wednesday. That night, they would be using the tortilla press and that they add beans to their tortillas. They grow as much of their food as possible and she said after her phone call that she and Waaseya were headed out to the garden.