Culinary-minded visitors and residents of New Mexico are likely to be familiar with San Pasqual, a 16th-century shepherd who has become ubiquitous as the patron saint of cooks and kitchens. Kitchens across the state are adorned with his likeness, often in the form of colorful folk art, painted wooden slabs, or stamped metal.
It is said that San Pasqual, known to be devoutly religious and humble, had powers that would entice any cook. Some say he summoned angels to help him prepare meals, while others claim his cupboards were never bare, miraculously filling themselves in times of need. It is with this in mind that we pay homage to the saint of cooks and kitchen as we start planning our holiday meals.
San Pasqual was born on May 24, 1540 in Zaragosa, Aragón, in what is now Spain. When he died in 1592 at the age of 51, it is reported his body did not decompose, a sign to many that he was in fact a saint. If nothing else, all historical accounts lay claim to him being a man who found divine purpose in the kitchen.
A peasant with a tireless desire to learn how to read and fine-tune his worship, San Pasqual was assigned to the kitchen in his monastic cloister. It was hard work, yet he accepted the role as his duty and eventually found the practice of cooking to be spiritual and meditative.
Historians claim that San Pasqual was never actually canonized by the Roman Catholic Church but, rather, by a French pope in Avignon, France, earning him the title of a folk saint. His legacy, while never fully embraced and hallowed in Europe, lives on today in various pockets around the New World, particularly in Latin America and New Mexico.
If we take a longer look at San Pasqual’s personal life, perhaps his modern-day popularity is not such a big surprise. San Pasqual was deeply devoted to the poor, often preparing and handing out meals when nothing more than leftover broth was available. New Mexico may be one of the poorest states in the U.S., but nobody can argue this has had any affect on the state’s rich cultural heritage or passion for food, particularly surrounding the holidays.
This year, keep San Pasqual in mind as you dig up seasonal recipes, plan your family gatherings, and look forward to wonderful holiday meals with loved ones. You will find a variety of holiday recipes sprinkled throughout this inaugural issue of Focus on the Holidays.
We leave you with a quote from New Mexico chef Rocky Durham:
“Perhaps you’re not a great cook-that’s OK! Let’s take a lesson form the young shepherd and transcend our own kitchen skills. Perhaps you’re not a Catholic? That’s OK, too! No law prevents you from adorning your kitchen with the image of a great 16th-century chef, or from lighting a candle in his memory. Perhaps you’re not a New Mexican? Well, nobody’s perfect!”
All kidding aside, it is safe to say that New Mexicans have a deep appreciation of fresh ingredients, bold flavors, and well-prepared meals. It is our hope that this article sheds a little light on cooks, kitchens, and saints of the past and provides inspiration as you plan that perfect holiday meal. Rest assured this writer will continue delivering appreciative nods to the various images of San Pasqual adorning his kitchen.