Never in my wildest dreams growing up in a predominately agricultural area, the San Joaquin Valley where the humble burrito was a staple of our daily life, did I ever think, burritos would be the rage one day!
Also, on a side note, what I grew up knowing as s burrito, in Texas it is a taco.
Anything to do with crops; my family did. Several family members were labor contractors. My Uncle Manuel hired my Mama annually to cook and keep the “fiyukas” stocked. It was my family’s livelihood. My Mama became ill one summer; she required surgery. She asked me to help her fulfill her seasonal contract. She had been doing this for years, without us. I reluctantly agreed. It was one of the most difficult things I had ever done. I use to feel my Mama’s pain, and wonder how does she do this? She had one other helper occasionally. But, for the amount of work required and the time constraints We could have had a staff of three more and it still wouldn’t have been enough. I was only too happy it was only seasonal work. Due to lack of sleep, we were short with each other, at times. But, in retrospect, out of something so difficult, it was one of the most rewarding bonding experiences I had with my Mama. We had always been close. But, this drew us closer.
My Mama’s thinking was that this was her time to make money. There were many months when she didn’t have an income. So, she lived on her seasonal savings. It’s a way of life in the Valley, for many.
Before my Mama my Aunt Irene and Uncle Jimmy did this for a living. I’m not sure what the job title is except they ran lunch wagons. And before that they ran boarding camps.
I was a child, and we were picking cotton. My Aunt Irene and Uncle Jimmy had a “fiyuka” out in the field, that appeared homemade but very innovative. I’m sure many were modeled from his design. Something similar to a gypsy caravan (bottom picture) but the door was different more like a counter. They had a limited menu, chile beans and chile beans, coffee and sodas. With a stove in the middle
and a big pot of the best chile beans I’ve ever tasted. They served them in those white heavy paper bowl/cups and served with three small packages of Saltine crackers. On a cold morning they were soothing to the soul, to enable you to return to work. As time went on they too expanded. I think my Mama had helped my Aunt Irene and had learned the ropes from her.
The “old school” lunch wagon trucks were called “fiyukas.” The one shown in picture (top picture) is a fancy one.
My Uncle Manuel also owned two “fiyukas” which were more functional, than pretty.
They were stocked with cupcakes in one shelf and chips in another shelf. In the lower compartment below the cupcake shelf were chilled sodas and juices on ice. We kept the burritos heated in back, but ours had a different layout than this one in picture. Your choices were egg and corizo, egg and bacon, chile verde and chile colorado. We would change them out daily with chorizo and papas, beans and chicharrones or nopales with carne de puerco, too. My Mama made beautiful burritos too, no skimping or using too much filler, the people would near riot out in the fields. She was a very
In fact my Mama was not just a conscientious cooker, she had a beautiful heart. She cared for all people. And, it was very important to her that the workers enjoy her food. The tomato pickers had a punch card, and their charges were reflected on the punch card, and were deducted weekly from their wages. Although, some workers paid cash.
In addition, we also made approximately 100-200 submarine sandwiches.
During summer, we would cook all night, stock up very early in the morning, typically by 5 a.m. go buy ice and drive out to the fields. very slowly to not stir up too much dust! And provide the workers with breakfast before their morning break about 7 a.m.
From there I drove to Costco in Fresno or Visalia to buy rolls and 60 to 80 packages of flour tortillas, our estimated orders depended on how many crews were working the next day. Then on to the meat market, I did this every two days. Unless we ran out of something.
An average order was 600 burritos, 200 submarine sandwiches, In addition to the usual chips, cupcakes, sodas and juices six days a week. I slept all day Sunday.
We cubed the pork, cooked, diced onions and garlic, cooked huge pots of beans and rice. Made sandwiches. The submarine rolls only had luncheon meat and cheese.
It was very back-breaking work; my Mama and I usually slept 3 hours during the day, if we were lucky. But, my pay was good, no complaints.
And, now we have “surfer burritos” at Venice Beach, they have elevated to a designer gourmet status.
I have also seen burritos as big as my arm, folks bigger is not necessarily better!
The basic recipe of the traditional burritos my family made is still the same. They just use more filler of rice, beans and/or lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and cheese. The list could go on! And charge $8. to $10. More Mula! You gotta love it!
I forget what my Mama was paid per burrito, but it was not enough.
Once they arrived in the fields they raised the price to $1.50 or $2. I forget now, it was so long ago.
I recall thinking if I never see another burrito in my life it will be too soon. But, I couldn’t resist.