tausworthe winter holiday Celebration

People throughout the world honor holiday traditions, and my family is certainly no exception. One such celebration observed during the hibernal season is the Tausworthe Winter Holiday Celebration (TWHC*) tradition. It has only two regular observances:

  • • Rabbit sausage for family breakfasts during Christmas week, and
  • • Posole with friends at a convenient date in the season.

The former dates back to high school times in Elida, NM, where it commemorated our pioneer ancestors, and the latter from college days in Las Cruces, NM, where posole was routine holiday fare in the communities along the Rio Grande River. In recent years, a New Orleans gumbo sometimes replaces posole, as will be explained. These traditions are time-honored, reverent observances.

The latter celebration, held in our home, originally consisted of a simple, one-dish spicy New Mexico meal that warms the heart as well as the tummy. Several of the recipes that have served this tradition may be found among these pages. They were developed over several years of testing on family, ex-family (out-laws), extended family, friends, neighbors, kith, kin, and other invited ilk. They are mostly prepared ahead of time so that the hosts may convene with their guests, rather than with their condiments in the kitchen.

the posole tradition

The winter holiday ritual I observed back in my early college days always included a steaming bowl of posole, a spicy corn stew that is held to be the ritual dish for celebrating life’s blessings. It is a meal steeped in Native American history, where corn was and is the primary food plant, as well as a significant religious object.

When eaten at Christmas time it commemorates the joy of the season and remembrance of the Nativity. At New Year’s time it promises happiness and good luck for the coming year.

To many, it is part of Noche Buena, or Parrandas, an Hispanic festival based in religious doctrine that incorporates worship, reflection, visits, song, dance, and generally having a good time.

It is also part of the Posada, the recreation of Mary and Joseph looking for a room at the inn, wherein enactors roam from house to house being rejected along the way, looking for someone to take them in. It is a reminder that you never know what fortune lies at your doorstep. Open it and share the joy, and, often, a hot bowl of posole. At Christmas time throughout New Mexico, there is a tradition of placing small lamps (farolitos, aka luminarias) along the walkways to homes, in order to welcome and light the way for the wandering holy family.

Variations among posoles are many. The classic recipe calls only for posole corn, meat, and chile. The European influence added onions, garlic, herbs, and spices. Some make it with chicken rather than pork; some prefer to use vegetable protein rather than meat. Hominy is regularly used as a substitute for posole corn, which is harder to find.

There are three general varieties, each with many adaptations. White posole is colored mainly by the corn, and is made without chile. Posole Verde is made using green chiles and a number of spices and seasonings. Posole Rojo substitutes red chiles for green, darkening the color, and deepening the flavor.

first, there was posole mio

The TWHC began in California with my first recorded posole recipe, which was simply called Posole Mio; you may find it transcribed here . At that time, usually only family members celebrated the event; but there was at least one occasion that expanded to include outlaws and friends.

then, the holy molé frijole posole tradition

Those of you who have celebrated with us in the past have, we hope, enjoyed “Holy Molé Frijole Posole,” (HMFP) which is our version of “verde” and is only served during holidays (hence, the “holy”). If served at any other time of year, it cannot be thus entitled, but is referred to as “Wholly Molé Frijole Posole,”, or WMFP. The rest of the title describes its principal ingredients.

The two preparations are sometimes confused, as their recipes are the same. HMFP became the cornerstone of the TWHC at the Taus Mahal in Carlsbad, CA. WMFP was, so far, only been served at my wife Camilla’s 75th birthday parties.

the ho! ho! rojo frijole posole variation

After a number of years of serving HMFP at the TWHC, a change of fare seemed in order. To this end, the Ho! Ho! Rojo Frijole Posole recipe became the fare of another festive posole jubilation, in “rojo.”

the caldillo posole variation

The Winter Solstice is one of the oldest observances, dating from antiquity. Some believe it is evidence of diversity of belief within our common humanity, and that it inspires people to lead more ethical lives. In pre-historic times, people feared that the waning winter Sun would eventually disappear and leave them in permanent darkness and extreme cold. After the winter solstice, they would celebrate as they saw the Sun rising and strengthening once more. The concept of birth and rebirth became associated with the winter solstice.

The TWHC one year was advertised as the Winter Solstice Feast and Posole Tradition. It served posole in a new guise, called Caldillo Posole. Caldillo in Spanish literally means “thin broth,” but in New Mexico it is far from that. There, it is a chunky green chile stew. Caldillo-Posole, then, became a marriage of the two traditional New Mexico winter stews.

guisado de chile en colores de la navidad

It became necessary one year to observe the tradition in a more relaxed and peaceful time, after the rush and tumble of the Christ-Hannu-Kwanza season was past.

The event was advertised as the Peaceful Post-Posadas Prandial Party, for which the meal consisted of “Guisado Verde y Rojo de Chile en Colores de la Navidad,” which combines red and green cultivars in holiday fashion, and translated into English means “Christmas Green and Red Chile Stew.”

then came zydegumbo

For many years, the TWHC had a Southwestern theme, because that’s where I spent my years prior to coming to California. However, I realized in 2010 that my better half deserved to have her heritage celebrated as well. Her father and mother both hailed from New Orleans before coming to California to seek their fortunes.

We have visited the family* that remains there regularly since the 1984 Worlds Fair and Expo, which, as explained earlier, was my first exposure to Cajun and Creole cuisines. So the 2010 TWHC tradition thus turned to New Orleans for its theme. I combined the cognomen of its theme music (zydeco) and its signature dish, gumbo, into a one-dish meal: zydegumbo.

The San Antonio Connection

When preparations for the TWHC 2015 began, I knew what I wanted for the main course well in advance. I had deemed that our TWHC 2014 main course, Chile Verde con Salchicha, to be a less-than-adequate successor to its antecedents for the simple reason that it was not ladle-stable, not an equal opportunity meal. By that I mean that its consistency was such that the earlier guests who dipped into the pot were able to scoop out a greater portion of the meat and vegetables than could those who were further back in line. My wife and I, naturally last in line, got only what seemed to be a relatively thin soup as compared to those who were first in line and thereby received a rich meat and vegetable stew. The taste in our meal was still very good, but those latter servings were just too thin and inconsistent. I was very disappointed, despite guests claiming great satisfaction in the meal. Previous years’ main courses had not suffered in this respect, so it was completely unexpected. I vowed then and there that the next year’s main course would correct this issue.

True to my word, I decided that TWHC 2015 would serve Green Chile Cheeseburger Posole, a thicker and uniformly ladle-stable recipe that I adapted from another, similar recipe.

As I relate later on, the small village of San Antonio, NM, played a significant role in my development of this dish, which, by the way, was greeted with rave reviews from almost all in attendance. The acceptance was so overwhelming in fact that I surmised that I would have to serve it again the next year, unless I could devise something even better.

The Gap Years ✠

Sadly, the TWHCs for 2017 and 2018 were not held. My brother Bill passed away in late December, 2016, and mourning extended into the new year. The fall of 2017 found Camilla in hospital and rehab for an extended period of time, with therapy continuing into the new year. Both Camilla and I were ill during the Hannukah-Christmas-Kwanza holidays, and just did not have the energy to convene the TWHC in 2018.

In September, 2018, I became bionic, with the implantation of a cardiac pacemaker. Due to my exercise regimen, my heart was strong, but had developed weakened electrical distribution. We decided to suspend the TWHC for a while, so it was not held in 2019.