FOOD: Transforming the American Table

Tortillas at the Supermarket

The traditional corn tortilla and the increasingly popular flour tortilla became significant components in everyday American meals after 1950. Companies tapped into the growing Latino market by mass-producing Mexican as well as Central American and other Caribbean foods. They produced taco shells, tortilla chips, and frozen burritos, which became staples in grocery chains and convenience stores. By the 1990s, salsa challenged ketchup for condiment supremacy in America.

Tortilla production, 1992

Tortilla production, 1992

Courtesy of Art Velasquez

Machine-made corn tortillas can be produced at the rate of 3,000 dozen per hour.

Chicago entrepreneur Art Velasquez founded Azteca Foods in 1970, which sold Mexican and Central American foods in supermarkets across the country. Azteca extended the shelf life of its flour and corn tortillas by adding a preservative into the masa, dough. The mold was used in restaurants to bake taco salad shells.  

Flour tortilla packaging, 1970

Flour tortilla packaging, 1970

Loan from Art Velasquez

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Gift of Art Velasquez

Flour tortilla shell mold, 1987

Gift of Art Velasquez

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The Mexican Kitchen

In the 1980s, Nordic Ware, a cookware company in Minnesota best known for its specialty Bundt cake pan, became one of a number of firms producing tools and utensils for “Mexican-style” foods at home. The “Authentic Mexican Cookware Set” includes a cast-aluminum tortilla press, taco fryer, tostada (chalupa) mold, and cookbook.

Mexican cookware set, 1980s

Gift of Nordic Ware, through H. David Dalquist

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I hung out with my grandmother and I helped her to prepare our meals and I helped her to gather all the different ingredients. So I love making tortillas.

Amelia Ceja

Amelia Ceja, a California winery owner, received this handmade tortilla press as a wedding present from her aunt, “tía Tona,” in Mexico. She used the press to make tortillas in her home and in cooking classes where she paired regional Mexican recipes with her wines.

Tortilla press

Gift of Amelia Ceja

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