Alburquerque by Rudolfo Anaya

Those of you who know me know of my deep and abiding love for the books of Rudolfo Anaya. For those of you who may not have heard of him, he is a well-known New Mexico writer who wrote what many consider the seminal work of Chicano literature – Bless Me, Ultima. His work tends to focus on the lives of his fellow New Mexicans, and he has made forays into children’s literature as well. He’s written poems, essays, short stories, and plays, but it is his fictional novels that reveal his heart and soul, as well as the intense love he has for his home state and in particular, for the city where we both reside, Albuquerque.

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His novel Alburquerque – yes, you read that correctly with the extra “R” – is a love story and homage to this unique character of a city. It tells the story of Ben Chavez, a writer and professor and his connection with a young boxer named Abrán Gonzalez, but that is only part of the tale. The story takes place against the backdrop of a nasty mayoral race, and incorporates a beautiful love story between Abrán and Lucinda, an adopted boy’s search for his birth father, the spiritual beliefs and mingled faith of the Catholics of Northern New Mexico, and the unique politics of Albuquerque.

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I love this book so very much, not just because I love Rudolfo Anaya, but because it so perfectly describes my city. From the stunningly blue springtime skies to the cottonwood trees along the bosque trails that frame the Rio Grande River, from the tall buildings of Downtown to the seasonal matanzas, from the mountains of the many small towns of Northern New Mexico to the gorgeous homes of Albuquerque’s North Valley, Anaya not only knows Albuquerque inside and out, he clearly adores this city.

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The story takes place right around Easter, and rereading it, I was struck by the beautiful description of the traditional Good Friday trek to El Santuario de Chimayó. Chimayó is a tiny town about an hour and a half north of Albuquerque, and is world-famous for its church and for its holy dirt, which pilgrims take with them as a blessing. The dirt is believed to have healing powers and people come from around the world to see it. On Good Friday, devout Catholics trek on foot from surrounding towns, sometimes walking over 100 miles to show their faith and devotion. This year, due to the ongoing coronavirus emergency, the trek was cancelled. Though I am not a practicing Catholic, I understand the importance of this annual pilgrimage to the faithful, as well as the cultural identity we New Mexicans have with Chimayó. I pray that next year we can renew this wonderful tradition.

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Then, of course, there is the New Mexican food that is described in luscious detail by Anaya. Red chile enchiladas, tortillas, the scent of fresh green chile roasting, the tart zing of a margarita, and then there is this passage, describing the smells of food cooking as Abrán walks into the house where his mother Sara is cooking.

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Sara was up when he got home. The house was warm and welcomed him with the smell of tortillas on the comal and fresh coffee brewing. She called from the kitchen, where she was making Lenten food for Good Friday: tortillas, tortas de huevo, spinach mixed with beans and a pod of red chile, and natillas for dessert.

New Mexican Catholics have a traditional Lenten meal that we eat on Good Friday. It’s meatless, and almost always comprises salmon patties, torta de huevo with red chile,  (tortas de huevo are savory little egg cakes),  quelites (wilted spinach greens) mixed with cooked pinto beans, tortillas, and for dessert, natillas. Natillas is a delicious vanilla custard dusted with cinnamon and is very central to any New Mexican’s Lenten meal. So that’s what I made, using my own Nana Jean’s tried-and-true method. She used to make the Good Friday dinner every year, and my sister and I took up the tradition after she died. This year, sadly, we are all social distancing so no point in making all that food when we can’t be together to share it. But natillas are so delicious that I decided a bowl of them would be a good distraction from everything going on right now.

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INGREDIENTS
2 cups whole milk
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
3 heaping tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 eggs, separated
3 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

METHOD
Mix together the whole milk, condensed milk, cornstarch and sugar over medium heat, stirring very frequently. The sugar burns easily so don’t leave it.

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Separate the egg yolks from the whites and add the yolks to the milk mixture. Set aside the egg whites.

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Whisk the mixture for the first couple of minutes, so the cornstarch is better incorporated, then stir with a wooden spoon.

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Add the vanilla and cook, stirring often, until the mixture thickens into a custard. Remove from the heat.

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Whisk the egg whites on high until they form stiff peaks.

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Fold the whipped egg whites into the custard mixture in a large bowl.

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Sprinkle with cinnamon and chill overnight.

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Heavenly to taste, light and sweet but not overly so, and just completely the taste of New Mexico Eastertime!

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33 thoughts on “Alburquerque by Rudolfo Anaya

  1. Thanks for sharing about your town and traditions. I hope next year your family can all be together to make the full Easter meal. It all sounds amazing. And I do love custard so will make sure to try your traditional version. Glad you are safe and well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much. Yes I hope next year our family can celebrate together once again. And if you make the custard please let me know how it turns out. I think you will really enjoy it. It’s very light and delicious.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just dropping a note to say that I did make your custard and it came out light and delicious, just as you said it would! I have a photo to document the event, but can’t upload it here… Anyway the entire bowl of pudding only lasted a couple of days in my house. My only problem is that my son liked it so much he’s already asked me twice when I can make it again! Thanks again for the recipe.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You don’t know how happy that makes me to hear that! I am so thrilled you made it and that it came out well and even more happy your family enjoyed it so much! Grazie!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so glad I stopped by today to discover your blog. This dessert sounds delicious and reminds me of a tapioca dessert my husband’s mother used to make for us. I can wait to give your recipe a try.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! This is a classic in my family and it’s very simple. I still remember the very first time I made it and I didn’t realize I had to stand and stir it because of the amount of sugar so the first batch burned. Talk about a quick way to learn a lesson! Have a wonderful Easter and if you do make this dessert, let me know how it turns out for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I guess on these days of forced quarantine. we had to do with whatever we have available in our pantry, however we could enjoy vicariously your natillas. And a good book.

    Thank you, keep safe. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yes this is definitely an old favorite. Making vanilla custard from scratch is really very simple and something you could do during the quarantine. I hope you are staying well and safe. Have a very happy Easter.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That looks amazing!! I love anything curtardy and pudding like! I was just talking about tEaster w my son and his f/f. I said I could cook and we could sit outside on the lawn six feet apart!!

    Byt still, even in NM, there are the salmon patties lol!!

    Take care!!

    Mollie

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I am biased in favor of Albuquerque, so yes, I think it’s quite beautiful. It has its issues, of course, as any large city does. But it’s home and it’s such a unique place. The dessert is very traditional in New Mexico during Holy Week. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Stay well and safe, and have a happy Easter.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok, Albuquerque NM is going on my bucket list along with New Orleans, Seattle, Portland, Colorado, oh the Grand Canyon…Maine in the summer! Looks like I need a vacation and a raise!

    That all sounds amazing and that looks like homemade vanilla!

    Liked by 2 people

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