The History of Tortillas Has Surprising Beginning
By Jill Draper
The humble flour tortilla that wraps around the filling of your favorite burrito has a surprising history that links Jews expelled during the Spanish Inquisition with indigenous Americans. Gene T. Chavez explores this connection at the Mid-Continent Public Library’s Red Bridge branch at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25. This culinary journey for adults and teens begins with a PowerPoint show and ends with a cooking lesson and fresh-off-the-griddle tortilla sampling.
Beginning in the late 1400s, Jews in Spain and Portugal were exiled and resettled in other areas of the Mediterranean as well as northern Africa and the Americas, explains Chavez. Those who moved to northern Mexico (New Spain) were familiar with eating tortillitas, the name they gave to little cakes or flatbread made with wheat flour and ground chickpeas in their home country.
Although corn tortillas were a staple in their new land, the Jews rejected the idea of eating corn. They considered it non-kosher since it was fed to pigs, and eventually the flour tortilla became a staple in the region.
When Chavez was growing up in Denver and Los Angeles, his mother often made a big stack of flour tortillas for supper with enough extras for breakfast and lunch the following day. A longtime educator, he became curious about the flour tortilla’s popularity in northern Mexico and Texas, and has recently been sharing its history in a series of library talks. He notes that corn and flour tortilla sales in the United States now outpace sliced white bread, according to the Tortilla International Association.
Gene T. Chavez made tortillas for Fox 4 News in September. He’ll talk about the history of the tortilla and do a similar demonstration on Oct. 25 at the Red Bridge Library.