Dinorah Peters of Lowman, NY came to the Southern Tier from Tamaulipas, Mexico in the 1980s. A fabulous cook who began learning how to cook traditional Mexican dishes at the age of eight, Dinorah has been an ambassador for Mexican foodways and the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos in our region for a number of years.
“I was born in Xicotencatl (Xico), Tamaulipas, Mexico, and live in Lowman, NY. I have five brothers and four sisters. My childhood was beautiful in all the memories I shared with my family and community. Some of my fondest memories centered in the kitchen or around the family dinner table.
From the early age of 8 I practiced cooking. My parents gave me a small kitchen and cookware set. It was a game to cook. They would show me and I would mimic what I saw. So began my love of cooking. I loved watching my mom cook. I paid close attention to the ingredients and spices she used and do the same with my toy cookware. I practiced and practiced. Little by little I perfected what I saw. One day I presented my mom my first dish made in my little clay pot, a simple savory rice dish. She loved it. From then on she had me help her in the kitchen. At times I thought showing her I had learned to cook was a bad idea, but that was when I wanted to be outside playing.
I loved learning the basics because I could experience all the aromas, flavors, and colors of the food. My mom was the queen of the kitchen. If she saw something that intrigued her, she made it. The dish I remember most vividly is orange duck. I admire my mother and all she taught me. I miss her every day, and her memory is passed on in every dish I cook.
Famous chefs, like Bobby Flay, dedicate themselves to learning about Mexican food and bring that knowledge to millions on television. There is history behind each dish. They may contain the same basic spices but adding just one ingredient changes the dish. Many Latin countries have the same dishes but they differ in name and flavor. For example, Mexican empanadas are essentially tortillas stuffed with different various food combinations. If you go to Puerto Rico, empanadas are pastelillos (cakes) filled with ground meat. I have learned the differences from the people I welcome into my house: Colombians, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, Peruvians, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. Through them I have learned that food is a universal language.”
In her work with The Rockwell Museum, Dinorah has educated many people to the significance of making sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto at the museum’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration.
“Making sugar skulls and pan de muerto, allows me to share my culture with the community. I appreciate showing that the passing of a life although sad can also be celebrated. Each year we come together as a family to honor and remember those we have lost. On Dia de los Muertos we cook the favorite foods of passed loved ones. As a family we go to the cemetery to clean their resting place, share a meal with them, and tell their stories to the next generation, keeping their memories alive.
To me, there is nothing more wonderful and beautiful than sharing a meal. It is a time when a family can come together to share the day’s events, memories, and hopes for the future. It’s a time to laugh, cry, and create lasting memories. Food is not only a good meal to fill one’s belly,it also allows us to share great company and conversation, soothe the soul, and fill ourselves with happiness.”