The highlight of our recent trip to New Mexico was taking a baking class at The Feasting Place to learn about horno ovens … pronounced Orno, the ‘h’ is silent.
Located in Ohkay Owingeh, one of the Eight Northern Pueblos, Norma and Hutch Naranjo welcomed us into their lovely home … a short 45 minute drive north of Santa Fe, and 50 minutes southwest of Taos.
This was an exciting afternoon of baking and making new friends. Norma and Hutch are kind, patient teachers who feel honored to carry on the centuries old traditions of their ancestors and sharing with their students. Classes are a flurry of activity combined with history lessons … and of course, feasting!
Norma grew up in Ohkay Owingeh, the first capital of New Mexico before Santa Fe. When she retired from her job as a social worker, people began to request her foods for events so she began a catering business using recipes of her traditional dishes. One job of note was for the Governor’s mansion in Santa Fe. Later she expanded to include classes that became The Feasting Place.
Ohkay Owingeh was established around 1200 AD, then taken over in 1598 by Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Onate who changed the name to San Juan Pueblo after John the Baptist. Each June 24th they have a feast in honor of Saint Juan. In November of 2005 the pueblo returned to its original name Ohkay Owingeh (meaning Place of the Strong People). The feasting tradition continues every summer, and in Norma and Hutch’s family the party comes to their house where they have two horno ovens in the back yard.
(Hutch stoking the fire that’s been heating up the horno for a couple hours.)
When we asked “what are they made of, how are they constructed?” … he pulled a stack of photos from his shirt pocket of an horno he built for an Abiquiu bed-n-breakfast.
His photos as follows …
Hutch laying the foundation of adobe bricks and mortar.
River rocks placed in the center. When the fire is built inside the oven, these stones heat up to bake the food.
Covered with adobe for an even baking surface.
Carefully, he creates the beehive shape by gradually tilting the bricks inward.
Here the oven is completely shaped …
… the surrounding hearth is put in place …
… and the beehive is smoothed and finished with adobe mud and straw. Notice the hole in back for ventilation.
Hutch explained that during the year, the finish erodes. In cold weather the adobe won’t adhere properly so repairs and maintenance are made when temperatures rise in the spring and summer.
Coating them with modern day plaster would create a disaster because adobe breathes and a coating like that would turn the inner adobe material to mush and crumble, leaving only a shell of plaster.
Our class was in February, in the chilly high desert. Hutch said that he was ready for spring to come when he’d cover and smooth it with another thick layer of adobe.
Juniper wood was also used.
At this point the stones below the baking surface had reached upwards of 700 degrees. The oven was ready … now onto cooking lessons with our gracious hostess …
We shaped yeast bread into pans and set them aside to rise. Norma had also prepared a few loaves in advance for our feast.
Then came the empanadas lesson!
A mixture of flour, crisco shortening, water and vinegar. She combined it with her hands and added water according to touch, not measuring, until it became a coarse meal.
The dough was rolled to 1/8 of an inch. On her wooden cutting board that meant ‘just until you see the wood grain through the dough.’
Perfect round cutting tool? Use the lid from the crisco jar. (Although if you are using a butter-based recipe and don’t have a lid, then a 4-5-inch round cookie cutter will do.)
About 2 tablespoons of filling spooned into the center. We made cherry, apple and prune that Norma had prepared in advance.
Moistened the edges with water to act as glue, we folded them over and crimped with a fork. Then a small slit was made in the top to allow steam to escape so they wouldn’t burst while baking. Finished with a sprinkle of sugar – cinnamon.
We also make little tartlets. Norma called this one her Pueblo Galette.
Stew and posole with chiles were simmering on the kitchen stove as we pushed pizza dough onto a well-loved baking sheet that had seen many feasts. It was placed on a long wooden paddle and into the horno. Within two to three minutes the crust bubbled up and turned brown.
Back to the kitchen …
… fresh zucchini and corn from their own garden spread onto a pan to roast for the stew.
We loaded the pizza with fresh tomato, green chiles from their garden, mozzarella, crumbled sausage and fresh basil leaves.
Around this time, Norma’s sister Toma stopped by to say hello. We were delighted to meet her and learn about her work with the pueblo’s housing authority where they are completely restoring the original adobe buildings. A huge undertaking. We mentioned that the day before we had driven by the main pueblo and remarked that many of the structures looked brand new and well maintained. We didn’t drive into the main plaza or take photos because families still live there and it would be like driving onto someone’s front lawn and snapping pictures. Tours can be schedule here.
For more information on the transformation here is their link … and there is more info at the bottom of this post including their Ted Talk.
Had we been roasting meats the fire would have been left burning inside the horno oven. For baking, the fire and embers are removed to bring the temperature down to about 450 degrees for our breads, empanadas and pizza. No need for a thermometer … Norma inserted a piece of newspaper into the center of the horno and knew exactly when to retrieve it to inspect how brown it was. The first paper (this one) was too dark, so she waited a bit and the second try produced the light tan color she’d been looking for.
Time to bake!
Hornos take half the time of a standard kitchen oven. The empanadas were brown and bubbly within ten minutes.
Hutch made this gorgeous willow bread basket, as well as many other baskets throughout their home.
The roasted vegetables were added to the stew … ready to serve … feasting time had arrived!
Norma had also prepared red chile pork tamales for us. We ate: pizza, a salad of kale and brussels sprouts, posole with chicken and red chile, vegetarian green chile stew …
… and more bread than we should admit … plus we took loaves home with us!
It was an honor learning these traditions of food preparation that had been handed down for generations … as Norma’s mother and grandmother taught her, she was teaching us to respect how the food was grown, and preparing the meal with love as it is nourishment and a time to enjoy family and community.
We all sat together at their huge dining table, shared the meal, and were grateful for all we had learned that day.
As the sun began to set on a beautiful New Mexico evening, they filled our arms with stew, posole and most of the empanadas. Our drive home was all talk about when we could take their class again, and how we were going to heat everything up for breakfast the next morning. Which is exactly what we did … it was deeeee-vine!
If you have plans to visit Taos or Santa Fe, this is an amazing experience.
Here is the link with contact information: http://www.thefeastingplace.com/
Many thanks to Norma and Hutch, our new friends … we can’t wait to see you again!
Amy and Mr.D
Information on the Owe’neh Bupingeh Rehabilitation Project:
Schedule a Tour, here’s the link.
This Ted Talk is six minutes long and addresses the project as well as the intricacies of working with families who “feel the breath of their ancestors within the walls of their homes.” At the time of this talk, their project was in need of 7 million dollars to complete the restoration. When we spoke with Toma last week the figure was a little over 2 million. (Toma, if that number is incorrect, please email me, thank you!)
They are still passionately fundraising … here is the link.
Follows is contribution information, and they are serious when they say ‘all amounts are welcome.’ They recieve $5, $10 and $20 donations as well … it all adds up. They plan to complete the project within the next 5 – 7 years …
CONTRIBUTIONS – of all amounts welcome, recognized by sacred mementos of our tribe:
$10,000 + Cornmeal (Spiritual):Khan buwa
$1,000 + Eagle Feather: T’say whan
$250 + Evergreens: T’say
$50 + Turtle Shell: T’sa da m’u
CONTACT – For more information or to contribute by phone, contact:
Or, mail your tax deductible contribution to
Ohkay Owingeh Housing Authority
PO Box 1059
Ohkay Owingeh, NM 87566
Attn: Owe’neh Bupingeh Restoration Project