Imagine yourself in the kitchen of a wisdom keeper willing to demonstrate ancient cooking techniques and sharing family recipes passed down from generations. Meet Norma Naranjo, our guide for an afternoon adventure called “Hands-On-Horno Baking in a Puebloan Home from Santa Fe” located in the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, formerly known as the San Juan Pueblo and said to be the original capital of New Mexico. Following a ride from downtown Santa Fe through the Sangre de Cristo mountains complete with startling views of sandstone formations, my companions and I were warmly greeted by our hosts, Norma and Hutch.
What we were about to embark on was no ordinary class hosted by the chef-of-the-moment at a public venue using tweezers and torches, this was an intimate, traditional hands-on experience in Norma and Hutch’s home. They graciously open their doors to those interested in stepping back in time and learning a cooking style that feels like a natural extension of the timeless landscape that surrounds their home. This was just one of the many tours offered by Heritage Inspirations who curate guided tours highlighting “the incredible people, cultural sites and traditions, magnificent landscapes and natural wonders” of New Mexico.
With three life-loving friends, we were seated around a large table in their screened-in portal with a birds-eye view and easy access to the star “appliance” of the day – the Horno. Following a relaxing cup of tea, we were ready and positioned to create the dishes Norma would guide us through while Hutch kept the primitive looking Horno stoked with firewood.
What’s a Horno?
Spanish for “furnace” or “oven,” a Horno is a beehive-shaped structure made of adobe bricks that was used by Native Americans and early settlers of North America and still used in parts of New Mexico and Arizona. Just yards from Norma’s kitchen sit the mud ovens built and tended to by Hutch. And, out of that oven emerged a crostini-like Indian bread, Indian pizza and fruit-filled empanadas, the two latter dishes made by the visiting crew – us – privy to an inextricable combination of Norma’s cooking instructions and history lesson.
While rolling out small circles of dough and filling them with berries, apples, and dried plums, we learned about Feast Days where Native and Spanish cultures converge. There were no measuring cups or spoons used in our culinary creations. Flour, shortening, and liquids were measured exclusively by feel. Besides the Horno items, we made Indian Fry Bread on the traditional cook stove in Norma’s indoor kitchen. Almost like watching the process of doughnuts floating to the top of bubbling oil, the fry bread emerged in miraculous puffs and pouches perfect for the beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes that would transform them into Indian Pizza. While we gobbled up the tacos and Indian pizza, what we couldn’t finish of our dessert empanadas we took home for snacking later.
With our new knowledge of a time-honored culinary treasure and bellies filled with yummy delicacies, Norma made her cookbook available to us for purchase. I can’t think of a better subtitle for “Four Sisters” than “Keeping Family Traditions Alive.” It was indeed a privilege to indulge in these traditions and take away maybe a little bit of the wisdom imparted by the amazing Norma Naranjo.
Our day did not end there but rather continued for a docent-guided visit, a few miles north, to a historical site that borders the renowned Rio Grande River. Los Luceros was once home to indigenous peoples, then the Luceros and Ortiz families in the eighteenth century.
Fast forward to the 1900s when a socialite turned farmer became owner. With a view of the Jemez Mountains, on a vast property of fruit orchards and Cottonwood tree groves, Mary Cabot Wheelwright hosted notable and colorful people of the time. After mostly sitting at our previous venue, it felt wonderful to stretch our legs and walk this breathtaking property, making stops in various historical buildings, including a chapel dating back to 1886.
By the time we headed to the van to be returned to Santa Fe, all four of us were filled to the brim with culture, history and delicious food. Heritage Inspirations crafted a perfect recipe for a truly satisfying day.
Cover photo Amanda Powell and Heritage Inspirations.
Kim Weiss has worked as a PR Professional for decades, most notably heading up the publicity department from 1994-2019 for the major book publisher, HCI Books, best known for launching the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series. While at HCI, she helped put several authors on The NY Times Bestseller list. Prior to entering the book business, Kim ran her own PR firm in Boca Raton, FL. Currently, she runs Kim Weiss Publishing Services and freelances as a publicist for numerous authors. Her website is helpmewithmybook.com. Kim has contributed to the hugely popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series and The Ultimate Bird Lover with “America’s Vet” Marty Becker. You can also find Kim’s stories in Arielle Ford’s acclaimed book Hot Chocolate for the Mystical Soul. Kim is also the author of her own book, Sunrise Sunset: 52 Weeks of Awe & Gratitude (HCI – 2012). Currently, in her spare time, Kim sings with the Zia Singers, manages a book club and is assisting with the Santa Fe International Literary Fest. She lives with her husband John, and cats Sachi and Anabelle in Santa Fe, NM.