Curator’s Corner: Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert – NM Foodways Pioneer

by Amanda Mather, Curator of Collections

Today for my book “report”” as it may be I would like to do something a bit unusual, emphasize just one author. Her name was Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert, she lived almost 100 years and was one of the great advocates for New Mexico’s rural people and it’s traditional food ways.

Born and raised in Las Vegas, NM, Fabiola was educated at New Mexico Normal College (which would later become Highlands University) and later earned a second Bachelors’ Degree in Home Economics at NMSU in Las Cruces.

She then went on to teach rural women all over the state how to make the most out of what ingredients they had. Fabiola introduced them to modern farming and home technologies that helped to greatly improve their lives.

Fabiola also founded the La Sociedad de Folklorico in Santa Fe to help preserve traditional Hispanic folkways in New Mexico. She spoke Spanish, English, Tewa and Tiwa and invented the u-shaped hard taco shell — she was amazin! In the midst of all this she also managed to write several books, each of which have their own merits.

Historic Cookery: This is probably the first New Mexican cookbook ever written and published. Written in 1931, this book helped spread the good word of chile to American households everywhere. Recipes collected from her family as well as from her work with rural New Mexico housekeepers, the book is full of traditional New Mexican techniques and foods. I love pouring over this book; it’s like a great little window back in time and has helped preserve New Mexican foodways into our future.

The Good LifeThe Good Life: New Mexico Traditions and Foods: Published in 1949, this book not only has great recipes but they are in the context of an average rural New Mexican household. The book is broken down into seasons and as the family goes through the year the recipes and lifeways of that particular time of year are revealed. This book is small but mighty and helps one get perspective on how daily life worked here at the turn of the century with the added bonus of some great recipes.





We Fed Them Cactus: The title of this book is in reference to an autobiographical event in Cabeza de Baca Gilbert’s life on a ranch in rural New Mexico, when the family, having fallen on hard times, had to feed their cattle cactus to keep them alive. This book is a tale of life from the perspective of the camp chef. An autobiographical narrative, Fabiola wanted to show Americans what Hispano life looked like and preserve traditional lifeways for future New Mexicans.

Hope you enjoy reading about Fabiola’s New Mexico — and let us know if you give any of her recipes a try!