Mexican cuisine through Benito Juárez's diary of expenses

As a result of the subtlety of President Benito Juárez's cook in recording part of the expenses of the kitchen of the provisional presidential residence in the city of Veracruz, we can learn about some of the practices of Mexican gastronomy that developed in the mid-nineteenth century.

Mexican cuisine through Benito Juárez's diary of expenses
Illustration of a market stall in the 19th century. Text and images: AGN, Felipe Teixidor collection, image no. 85.

Thanks to the subtlety of President Benito Juárez's cook in recording part of the expenses of the kitchen of the provisional presidential residence in the city of Veracruz, we can learn about some of the practices of Mexican gastronomy that developed in the mid-19th century.

An outstanding character in Mexican history is, without a doubt, Benito Juárez, who upon assuming the position of Executive Power defended the constitutional process of 1857, consolidated transcendental reforms for the State, and safeguarded the sovereignty and freedom of the Mexican people. Despite the busy public administration he had to organize and manage, he was a person who found time for his private affairs, such as his food.

From a document entitled Diario del gasto de la Casa del Señor Presidente de la República don Benito Juárez ("Diary of the Household Expenses of the President of the Republic Benito Juárez"), kept in the General Archive of the Nation, we can know exactly what was consumed between May and June 1860 inside the presidential house, which by that time had been established in Veracruz, a state that had become a bastion of the Constitutionalist forces, which for those months were able to enjoy a period of peace after having resisted the bloody cannonade of March ordered by Miguel Miramón over the city of Veracruz.

The food of the president and his family consisted of proteins, cereals, vegetables, fruits, and the occasional dessert. Among the variety of meat that was served was beef, pork, and chicken, sometimes rabbit, fish, and venison were bought. Dishes were also prepared with kidneys, brains, tasajo, sausage, ham, cheese, and eggs.

Beans, lentils, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and corn were the tubers, legumes, and cereals that accompanied the main dishes, with their respective portions of vegetables and fruits such as turnips, lettuce, eggplant, peas, corn, cabbage, chayote, chard, pumpkins, nopales, and tomatoes, among other products.

As a dessert, they tasted some typical dishes from Benito Juarez's homeland such as the famous Oaxacan regañadas, Oaxacan chocolate, and Oaxacan yolk bread, the president also had a great taste for the Chiapas bread called capricho. Other desserts that were highly appreciated during the hot weather were ice creams and ice creams. Sometimes a healthier dessert was preferred, such as a Dominican banana, a mango, or a good slice of pineapple.

What could not be missing from the table of Mr. President, and of every Mexican family, were the indispensable corn tortillas. In addition, there were occasions when corn husks were purchased, an element that was probably used to prepare tamales or other types of wraps.

Charcoal and lard were used to cook all these foods, while products such as salt, cinnamon, sesame seeds, vinegar, and a variety of chili peppers such as ancho and green, among other spices, were used to season the food.

The beverages that were served to the president were diverse, always keeping in mind that the water from the cistern was used for consumption, while for other necessities the water from the fountain was used. Coffee, chocolate, and milk were other beverages that could not be missed for breakfast and dinner. For food, other types of elixirs were preferred, such as wine, sherry, and pulque, the latter being one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in nineteenth-century Mexico before the commercial development of national breweries.

This gastronomic panorama taken from the Diario del Gasto de la cocina de la Casa del Señor Presidente de la República don Benito Juárez ("Diary of the kitchen of the House of the President of the Republic Benito Juárez") shows the high degree of miscegenation that nineteenth-century Mexican cuisine had acquired. Thus, the food of that period could be composed of: foods of pre-Hispanic origin such as corn, beans, chili, and the great diversity of vegetables and fruits found in this land; foods from the Spanish gastronomy that introduced a diversity of animal proteins and cereals such as wheat; as well as foods from the Arab and Asian diet that were spreading throughout the Mediterranean area, such as olives, lentils, chickpeas, and rice.

Below, is the cover page the document that shows all the products that were purchased for the kitchen of the presidential residence during May and June 1860, a year that was decisive for the liberal constitutionalist forces, who managed to defeat the conservative side and regain power in the capital of the country on December 25, 1860.

Diario del gasto de la Casa del Señor Presidente de la República don Benito Juárez ("Diary of the Household Expenses of the President of the Republic Benito Juárez")
Diario del gasto de la Casa del Señor Presidente de la República don Benito Juárez ("Diary of the Household Expenses of the President of the Republic Benito Juárez")