Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America

Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America

Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America

Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America


When the Spanish began colonizing the Americas in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, they brought with them the plants and foods of their homeland-wheat, melons, grapes, vegetables, and every kind of Mediterranean fruit. Missionaries and colonists introduced these plants to the native peoples of Mexico and the American Southwest, where they became staple crops alongside the corn, beans, and squash that had traditionally sustained the original Americans. This intermingling of Old and New World plants and foods was one of the most significant fusions in the history of international cuisine and gave rise to many of the foods that we so enjoy today.

Gardens of New Spaintells the fascinating story of the diffusion of plants, gardens, agriculture, and cuisine from late medieval Spain to the colonial frontier of Hispanic America. Beginning in the Old World, William Dunmire describes how Spain came to adopt plants and their foods from the Fertile Crescent, Asia, and Africa. Crossing the Atlantic, he first examines the agricultural scene of Pre-Columbian Mexico and the Southwest. Then he traces the spread of plants and foods introduced from the Mediterranean to Spain's settlements in Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California. In lively prose, Dunmire tells stories of the settlers, missionaries, and natives who blended their growing and eating practices into regional plantways and cuisines that live on today in every corner of America.


The concept for this book evolved from my collaboration with Gail Tierney over the years in exploring the topic of wild plants and their uses by native peoples of the Southwest. It had long been Gail's vision to address themes involving the entry and spread of Old World cultivated plants into our region; indeed, the title, Gardens of New Spain, was hers from the beginning. We jointly laid the research groundwork—library, field, and consolidation of our own extensive files. Then, sadly, before writing started, family and health circumstances forced Gail to withdraw from major participation, though she never severed interest and has continued to be involved in an advisory and lesser research capacity, especially handling most of the translations needed from publications in Spanish. In spirit, she remains a full partner in this book; I thus inscribe it to her.

The business of tracing migration of food and other useful plants, livestock, and agricultural technology, to say nothing of people and their cuisine, from pre-Columbian Spain to the Caribbean, Mexico, and its corridors to North America turned out to be far more ambitious than either of us had ever imagined. Few official documents or journals of important men who lived during Spanish colonial times speak to the lives of simple gardeners and farmers. A plant focus, when one exists, is invariably on cash crops—wheat, sugarcane, and the like. Most men and women on the colonial frontier were illiterate and so kept no diary or journal; nor was intimate journal-keeping befitting the Spanish temperament of the time.

With a few exceptions, archaeology has yielded little information on the introduction of European crops during the early colonial period. Except for seeds and fruiting body fragments, most plant parts do not preserve well; lesser cultigens rarely show up in analyzed material.

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