treasured secret flavors
Josephine “Fina” Santa Maria Carrasco
My mother, Josephine “Fina” Santa Maria Carrasco, was born in Hayden, Arizona on September 10, 1927 to Jesus Salas Santa Maria and Josefa Bravo Santa Maria. She had four brothers and three sisters, whom she loved dearly. She graduated from Hayden High School and accepted her first job at a jewelry store in Winkelman, Arizona. From there she went on to work at Hayden Home Supply. She had many memories growing up in a large family and often shared stories about her mother’s cooking.
She married Arturo Morales Garcia and relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where they had three children: Carmen Cynthia, Arturo Morales Garcia Jr., and Maria Antonietta. It was extremely difficult for us when they divorced. Soon after the divorce my father had a stroke that left one side of his body paralyzed. He needed help, so my brother and sister went to live with him.
For years it was just the two of us. Mom worked hard to provide financially for the family. She sold Avon, managed a hotel, prepared income taxes, and worked as an escrow officer. We would make tamales during the weekend so that we could sell them to pay the bills. I sold tamales door to door and mom filled orders she took from work. Our bond was stronger than ever. She never complained about our situation. It was her strength and hard work that contributed to my great work ethic and love of cooking. Even with my mom’s passing, I still feel close to her with every meal I make.
Years later, mom married Frank “Daddy” Cuevas Carrasco and gave me a younger sister, Rosanne, who was a blessing for all of us. Daddy was a great addition to the family. He loved us as his own and we loved him. Many of my memories of him are from the ranch. He was a great rancher and provider. Mom loved spending time with him at the ranch and we enjoyed spending time with both of them.
My mother was one of the most giving people I knew. She took great joy in helping others and was always willing to open up her home to others. She had two foreign exchange students from San Luis de La Paz, Guanajuato, Mexico. Upon graduating high school, one joined the Marines and the other joined the Air Force to proudly serve our country. Once they fulfilled their commitment to the military, they returned to live with my mom and attended the University of Arizona. Both graduated with their Bachelor’s degrees.
Mom was an exceptional cook. She would come home after a long day at work, and like nothing she would whip up a batch of tortillas and sometimes tamales for dinner. She was amazing! She loved cooking and would often call me at work and ask me to go have dinner with her. Even when I was completely exhausted from work, I would make my way over to have dinner with her. While she enjoyed cooking for me, I know she just wanted to see me. Seeing her on the weekends was not enough. What I would give for one more dinner with her.
Mom and I were close and supported each other throughout our lives. We weren’t just mother and daughter; we were the best of friends and confidants.
When my mom asked me if I wanted to write anything about my nana, I said absolutely! Then I started thinking about what I would write. Would it be about her generosity, her work ethic, her intelligence, her love of food…? Then I started to think back on all the memories I have of her. She was a feisty woman!
She was smart and quick at the mouth. She had a nickname for everyone, whether they liked it or not. And, although I thought what I learned most from her was cooking, I realize now it is my work ethic.
Nana was a perfectionist when it came to cooking. I have memories of going to the ranch on the weekends and during the summer. She was not above pulling over to the side of the road and making us pick apples or watermelons. I remember one abandoned watermelon field that we used to stop at. She would pick up a watermelon and drop it so that she could scoop out the heart and eat it. Her eyes would smile and she would get a huge grin on her face as she went in for the kill. That was her reaction anytime she was around great food. She loved to eat! But, most of all, she enjoyed cooking for others and seeing the pleasure it would bring them. The more they ate, the happier she was.
It was not unusual for people to coincidentally show up at her house around lunch or dinner time. And if they showed up too early, they made sure to visit until it was time to eat. I recall people calling from out of town to put in their orders for my nana to cook for them while they were in town. That brought her joy. Great food has a way of bringing people together from all walks of life. She was a perfect example of that.
Not all of our family are great cooks. My mom was the one who benefited most and I’m not too bad either. Most of my memories are from the ranch. Nana was very particular about her ingredients. We would drive to the different towns around the ranch to buy ingredients for dishes such as calabacitas and tamales. When we would go get the corn, she would inspect it to make sure it was just right. Same thing with the chile, the farmers would have to show her the plant and answer all her questions before she would buy it. Boy did it pay off! I can still taste the calabacitas with the fresh corn and chile. Her green corn tamales were unbelievable. They would melt in your mouth. My mouth is watering just thinking about them! And who can forget the fresh tortillas on the wood stove outside. We would eat them just as fast as she would make them. We didn’t know what carbs were back then, so we ate them to our hearts content and that brought her joy.
Nana never cut corners and she didn’t let us either. Whether it was picking corn, cleaning it or grinding it, we did it all by hand. Everyone had a job to do and no one was allowed to cheat. She taught us that working hard produces great rewards. To this day, we don’t use mixers when we whip the lard for the masa; we do it by hand. Although it is easier to use a mixer, I swear you can taste the difference. The work ethic she instilled in me is evident in every aspect of my life. She was a woman of great integrity and I couldn’t be prouder to call her my nana.