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Eating the Past: 19th Century Mexican & Jewish Cuisine

This guide supports the occasional series Eating the Past, a collaboration between USU Libraries Special Collections & Archives and Arts & Humanities faculty members using the historic cookbook collections to examine foodways of the past.

February 16, 2021 Event

Sopa de Tortilla (modernized and reduced by Jamie Sanders) from La Cocina en el bolsillo (ca. 1890-1913)


10-15 corn tortillas
1 pound lard or corn oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, smashed
4 tomatoes, cut into quarters
5-6 cups chicken broth
1-2 stalks of epazote
4-6 pasilla chiles, deseeded but left whole

Optional Additions for Serving:

1 avacado, sliced
Cotija cheese
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
Sour cream


  1. Add a little lard (or corn oil) into a soup pot. Over medium heat, sauté the tomatoes and onions until lightly browned. Add two of the garlic cloves and cook for one minute. 
  2. Add the chicken broth to the pot and bring to a simmer. Add the whole epazote stalks. Simmer 10-20 minutes while you complete the next steps. Salt to taste.
  3. In a large pan, preferably cast-iron, heat a little more oil and fry the pasilla chiles (you can make a slit down one side to take the seeds out before frying). Fry for 30 seconds or so until they brown and soften a little. 
  4. Cut 10-15 tortillas into thin strips, depending on how many you want for serving.
  5. In the same pan, melt enough lard or add enough oil so that you have at least an inch of oil in the pan (preferably more). Throw in the to remaining garlic cloves. Heat the oil so when you add a tortilla strip it sizzles. Add a bunch of tortilla strips and fry until golden. Remove and let dry on a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat as necessary. Toss the garlic cloves. 
  6. Meanwhile, remove the epazote stalks from the soup. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth. (Or, carefully transfer the soup in batches to a blender.) 
  7. Fill a soup bowl 3/4 full with tortilla strips. Ladle soup over the strips. 
  8. Top the soup with a pasilla chile (you can also cut it into strips) and plenty of fried tortilla strips.
  9. Optional: Top with avacado slices. Add cotija cheese, shredded chicken, and/or sour cream, if desired. 

Nut Cake (adapted by Eliza Rosenberg) from Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1878)


3 c. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1/2 c. plant butter
3/4 c. almond milk
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. pumpkin or banana puree
1 1/2 c. slivered almonds
1/2 c. chopped pecans
2 T. poppy seeds


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9"x5"x4" loaf pan, or line with baking parchment.
  2. Lightly sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
  3. Chop the plant butter stick and microwave for 15 seconds. Cream with the almond milk and sugar. Beat in purée. Mix in dry ingredients until you have a thick, somewhat stiff batter. 
  4. Stir in the nuts and poppy seeds. 
  5. Pour into the pan and bake 45 minutes or until the top is just starting to turn gold. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan and 1 hour on a plate or rack. 

Cooks note:

This recipe accommodates many substitutions. Substitute seeds (lotus, sunflower, or pumpkin) for nuts or dairy milk for almond; adjust the amounts of nuts or sugar; etc. 

La Cocina en el Bolsillo

Jamie Sanders, Professor of History, prepared Sopa de Tortilla using a USU Special Collections & Archives copy of La Cocina en el bolsillo (ASL 641.59 V288 no. 2 1907). 

Jennie June's American Cookery Book (1878)

Eliza Rosenberg, Assistant Professor in the USU History Department, prepared Hickory Nut Cake using the USU Special Collections & Archives copy of Jennie June's American Cookery Book (FOLK COLL 17 No. 14). This item is also available via the HathiTrust.