Bertha Haffner-Ginger, Godmother of the Mexican Food Craze

by Gustavo Arellano
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From the LA Times

berthaLong before Rick Bayless, the Too Hot Tamales and even Diana Kennedy, there was another teacher and cookbook writer who introduced authentic Mexican food to a wider American audience. Though she is all but unknown today, at the turn of the 20th century a remarkable woman named Bertha Haffner-Ginger not only learned how to cook Mexican favorites but also packed lecture halls nationwide and published a cookbook sharing her knowledge, whetting the country's appetite for a cuisine that wouldn't travel outside of the borderlands in earnest until the 1950s.

And she got her start at the Los Angeles Times.

Haffner-Ginger was hired by the newspaper in 1912 to head the inaugural Times School of Domestic Science, an institute the paper devoted to the art of teaching the region how to cook via test kitchens, classrooms and hands-on training. She lectured weekly on subjects ranging from French techniques to baking, dairy to poultry, in an auditorium in the Times' then-new office building. From there, she took her show on the road, touring the country teaching.

Among her most popular topics: Mexican cooking. "An announcement that my lesson for the day would be Spanish dishes invariably brought record-breaking crowds in any city in the United States," she claimed in the introduction to her "California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book," published in 1914.

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