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Love and Remembrance of Aunt Chu-Cha's Chicken and Rice

Today we meet, talk, and cook with Yolanda Lorge, who in 1987 with her American husband, moved from Mexico City to Springfield, Missouri, and will share some of the stories behind the table traditions of her youth. Yolanda was born in the northern city of Juarez. But at age 5 following the death of her father, with her pregnant mother and eight brothers and sisters, Yolanda moved to the city of Morelia in central Mexico.

“The northern part of Mexico, most of it is very dry,” says Yolanda Lorge. “The meals are basic, like meat and potatoes, and it's not as rich and varied and diverse as the central part in the southern part of Mexico. So many fruits, so many vegetables,” she said.

Yolanda and her nine brothers and sisters all had household chores, but with their mom at work, cooking was for the girls, and when Yolanda turned 13, and for the next four years, the task was hers.

Credit Yolanda Lorge
A family photo from 1989, with Yolanda Lorge, her mother and siblings.

“That meant not only cooking, but I also did the shopping,” says Yolanda Lorge. “You go to the market and buy everything fresh every day. There were street markets and they sell everything. But it's fresh and is directly from the farmers. And they give you everything to taste, especially fruits.  “Here, taste this, taste this,” they would say. 

“If you are in Mexico, it's very noisy, because every vendor in the morning they start yelling, “Tamales, Tamales”, or “Gelatinas”, when selling jello. You’ll hear “Comotes, Comotes,” for the sweet potatoes, and the milkman comes to the market every day, “La Leche, La Leche”.  So I mean, they sell everything, and every morning,” said Lorge.

Yolanda made it home from the market every morning early enough to make the family breakfast before heading off to school.

“Most people, they eat eggs every day,” said Yolanda Lorge.  “That's a main dish for breakfast every day, and so people will eat also beans most every day. And the bread, the sweet bread that you eat every morning for breakfast. It's fresh. Every neighborhood has a bakery shop. There’s no day-old bread in Mexico,” she said.

Also on school days, Yolanda would be home in time to prepare the family's main meal of the day.

“The main meals in Mexico are eaten around 2:00 or 3:00 p.m,” says Yolanda Lorge. “We don't have lunch, so after school is out, when I would start cooking, I did that until I was 17, from 13 to 17,” she said.

Which brings us to the dish and memories Yolanda Large has chosen to share with us today: Arroz Con Pollo, or chicken with rice, which she learned to prepare not from her mother because of extenuating circumstances, but from her aunts, and by extension, and oral tradition, her grandmother and great grandmother too.

“My mother's sister lived across the street. So I will go to her and ask her, how do you make this and how do you make that?” says Yolanda Lorge.  “And then I had an older aunt. Actually, I learned more from her than any of my aunts, from the oldest aunt, and she got those recipes from from my grandmother. So who knows how way bac those recipes are from. And so that's why cook the way my grandmother used to cook, because I got her from them,” said Lorge.

Yolanda's oldest aunt, Maria de Jesus, was known in the family as Aunt Chu Cha. And when Yolanda Large comes into a kitchen to cook, she says her dear aunt Chu Cha is always with her.

“Later, when she was a widow. She had a stroke. So by that time she was paralyzed, half of her body. So she would sit there and say, do this and no, that's too much. Look, get go get this, go get that.  Dear Aunt Chu Cha.  She's the one who taught me how to cook," says an emotional Yolanda Lorge.

On that early December day when Yolanda Large invited me in to her home, the first step of Arroz Con Pollo, was already out of the way. Eight chicken thighs, along with some potatoes and carrots, were cooked down to create a broth. Yolanda was then soon at work over a cutting board. “For the rice you have to have the onions, fresh tomatoes, and garlic. And you add the water, of course, to make the sauce,” she said.

“There is no kitchen in Mexico, even in rural areas where they don't have a blender. Every household in Mexico would have a blender,” said Lorge.

Credit Mike Smith / KSMU
"Every kitchen in Mexico will have a blender," says Yolanda Lorge. "Every kitchen will have a mortar and pestle, too."

The sauce Yolanda prepares also has cilantro and will be used for frying some onions with the already cooked chicken and making the jasmine rice, which is first cooked in hot oil to a golden brown color before draining and transferring to a covered sauce pan, and left alone for at least 20 minutes.

“Mexico City is high altitude, so everything takes longer,” says Yolanda Lorge. “So in Mexico City, when I make rice there, it takes 30 minutes. But here, this is not high altitude in Springfield, so it's 20 minutes. So while this is cooking, I’ll cook the chicken. Okay?”

“And not a lot of oil, just enough to fry up the onions and the chicken,’ Yolanda says.

As the chicken and onions, tomatoes and one chopped Jalapeno pepper get to temperature in the frying pan, Yolanda Large removes the lid from the pot of rice. It looks perfect. Fluffy golden grains of rice tinged with red from the tomato sauce.

“The rice has already absorbed the flavor from the broth, and from the vegetables. The next step is then you serve it. You add the potatoes if you want to, and the carrots and corn, fresh corn, of course. The potatoes are very flavorful also because they've been cooked in the chicken, in the vegetables there. And then when you mix them, that’s Arroz Con Pollo,” said Yolanda Lorge.

Credit Mike Smith / KSMU
Yolanda Lorge presents her Arroz Con Pollo, for The KSMU Sense Of Community Series, Table Traditions.

And of course, salt and pepper, along with other herbs and spices should be used according to taste. Yolanda Large is a founding member and president of Springfield based Groupo Latino Americano, a service organization since 1989, helping newcomers to the area integrate into the local society. For the KSMU, you sense of Community series. I'm Mike Smith.

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