Keeping Tradition Alive

The pueblo people of the San Juan are people of tradition. Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo) is a community approximately twenty-five miles North of Santa Fe, and is a site where the history and practices of New Mexico are kept alive. Traditional ceremonies are held throughout the year to offer respect towards the earth and the community for the abundance they provide.

In visiting this indigenous region during a time of celebration, I was able to converse with some members of the tribe to better understand the culture and importance of tradition. Norma Naranjo, a member of the San Juan Pueblo tribe, practices such mores in her methods of cooking and baking. As the owner and founder of The Feasting Place, she strives to educate and feed the people of her community and the public through the experience of intimacy among food, culture, and practices.

The Feasting Place – Where Food Means More

The Feasting Place (TFP) is a local catering business in the Ohkay Owingeh region, which is devoted to practicing pueblo cooking styles and recipes, as well as educating the public through classes on the history that surrounds this culture. It was built on the idea that our food is much more than a source of nourishment; it’s a symbol of culture that brings the community together.

Blue corn grown by Hutch and Norma. Photo taken from The Feasting Place website:

Blue corn grown by Hutch and Norma. Photo credit:

Many of the agricultural practices, ceremonies and cooking methods that are used at TFP come from a dynamic blend of cultures that emerged from early colonization by the Spanish of the San Juan indigenous areas. Seeds are passed on for generations with sovereignty and are kept sacred as family inheritance. TFP grows and sells blue corn and chico corn, both of which come from seeds that have been passed on from their early ancestry. These are a popular commodity in Ohkay Owingeh and the surrounding area. They also grow other vegetables such as chile and squash, using farming techniques that were passed along with the seed. This includes the use of acequias, a communal water source for irrigation that was also brought by the Spanish colonizers. For many northern New Mexico farmers, this sharing of the water is vital and brings equality and value to their lives. The acequia community gathers every year to maintain the ditches so that the water can be properly distributed. This traditional way of sharing the water could offer solutions to parts of the world that face water scarcity, social inequity, or other resource exploitation (Sylvia Rodriguez).

Hornos used for The Feasting Place. Photo by: Higinio Martinez

Hornos used for The Feasting Place. Photo by: Higinio Martinez

Baking is also an important aspect to the cuisine at TFP. Norma has been practicing the art of horno baking since she was a young girl, learning from her mother and grandmother who were also raised in Ohkay Owinge. The horno is an adobe oven, often shaped like a beehive, and is a central tool for many dishes in the pueblo community. My favorite in particular is the pastelito, a dessert that consists of prune (or apple) filling with a thin, flaky crust. Prunes are traditionally used because plums were the most abundant fruit in the San Juan area during the cultivation of these dishes. The creation of the horno was intended for the community feasts that involved cooking and baking in high volumes with more efficiency. Observing this intimacy between the people and the land in Ohkay Owinge and The Feasting Place brings a sense of clarity and meaning to life without the distractions of material existence.

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-Posted by Higinio

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