For many the holidays symbolize a time of togetherness, spreading warmth and cheer, and celebrating with family and friends. Sharing space with loved ones and gathering around good food to feel the joy of one another.
For Chef Susy Gonzalez, some of her fondest memories, and her passion for food are rooted in the warm heart of a loving grandfather.
Chef Gonzalez shares the story and memory of her abuelito with a family recipe.
“My grandfather was first generation. He was the definition of living the American dream,” Chef Gonzalez said.
In 1970, Thomas Ortiz Pena moved his family from Mexico City, Mexico to Chicago, Il. Pena had decided to follow his heart and moved to the United States in search of his version of the American Dream.
In Chicago, Thomas found work at the south Chicago steel mill and purchased his first American home. Shortly thereafter, Pena opened Thomas’ Barber Shop on the south side of Chicago. He ran the barber shop for years until he retired, spending each day making the people in his community look as good as he made them feel.
“He was such a positive person and never complained about anything,” Chef Gonzalez explained, “For as long as I can remember he was always working on something even long after retirement, like crafts and small Mexican desserts.”
“My love for cooking started with my grandfather. When he finally retired and closed his barbershop we all moved to Saint Louis. Even after retirement, he continued on with doing what he could to never stop working. He started focusing more on his Mexican sweets, such as lollipops, frozen pops, candied peanuts, a variety of fresh Mexican candies, and my personal favorite, his cinnamon gorditas.”
Pena quickly became very popular, taking his sweet treats to the Mexican restaurants and stores throughout St. Louis County.
“Before I knew it, anytime I would go to any restaurant they would ask how my grandfather was doing and when he was going to bring them more of his many Mexican treats.”
On November 24, 2022, Thanksgiving Day, Thomas Ortiz Pena passed away at the age of 86.
“I will never forget driving all around town with him,” Chef Gonzalez said. “Growing up he taught me to always work hard and never give up, my Abuelito was a very hard worker, even after retirement and up to his last day with us, he was operating his craft shop out of his house.”
“This recipe is in honor of my grandfather. Thank you for teaching me everything I know in the kitchen and for inspiring me to be my true self always. Your legacy will live on forever Abuelito!”
Thomas’ Cinnamon Gorditas
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cane sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 sticks of medicated butter
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup warm milk
Place a comal (griddle or cast-iron skillet) over medium heat and allow it to heat up. Once heated, drop the temperature to low.
In a bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Add the butter and combine until you have the consistency of small crumbs.
Add the egg, and vanilla extract and little by little add the warm milk and mix well with your hand. The mixture may be a little sticky.
Knead dough in the bowl until the dough is pliable and springy. Sprinkle with flour if the dough is too sticky.
Knead for 5 to 10 minutes.
Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Form 2- to 2½-inch dough balls.
Use a tortilla press when making these gorditas. Place a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over each end of the tortilla press. The ball of masa will sit between the two pieces of plastic wrap or wax paper during the pressing process. Place a ball of dough on one end of the tortilla press directly on the plastic wrap. Close the tortilla press and gently press down on the handle, flattening the dough and creating a gordita.
Open the press and place gordita on preheated comal to cook for approximately 2 to 3 minutes or until browned and slightly puffy. Turn gordita over to brown on the second side for approximately 2 to 3 minutes more.
Keep the gorditas warm in a tortilla warmer or under a clean dish towel while you make the rest.
Serve with flavored medicated butter spreads or drizzled with cajeta, dulce de leche, sweetened condensed milk, or topping of your choice.
Enjoy these warm, delicious gorditas with a cup of coffee like my abuelito and I would.
Susy Gonzalez is a classically trained chef with a passion for cannabis. She has used her passion and expertise to develop and create some of the cannabis industry’s most loved edibles and unique marijuana-infused products. Gonzalez shares her recipes with Patients in an effort to help educate about and destigmatize marijuana use. At A Joint Operation, a management group based in St. Louis, Gonzalez focuses on helping Missouri marijuana companies develop brands and products.