Turcos in Corpus Christi, TX
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I truly came to appreciate turcos, the tiny turnovers my grandma labors over every holiday season stuffed with thrice-cooked pork, raisins, and nuts. As cinnamon and anise waft through that sweltering South Texas kitchen, my mom, her sisters and cousins still try to sneak a fresh turc (as they lovingly call these pockets) straight off the sheet pan. “Only eat the ugly ones!” my grandma always yells. See, she stashes all of her perfectly roped empanadas for the big parties, a far cry from how they were originally eaten.
She says that back in the day ranchers would pocket turcos in their saddlebags to sustain themselves as they headed out into fields of the Texas valley for a workday. While turcos are served as a party food in South Texas, the history of these tiny pockets in relation to our family runs deep.
My grandma can proudly list our ancestors dating all the way back to 1608. Through extensive research on our family history and during her time as president of the Spanish American Genealogical Association in Corpus Christi, or SAGA, she learned that our ancestors were not all Catholic-- because of the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834), which was started as a way to detect and “control” the Jewish population. Jews were seen as a threat to the Catholic religion and the Spanish monarchy. Many converted to Catholicism, known as conversos, but practiced Judaism in secret. The triple-cooked preparation of the pork loin for the turcos, which was a mystery to my grandma until she learned about our heritage, finally made sense. Cooking the impurities out of the pork was a way to blend into the Catholic community for fear of being persecuted, and to purify the pork, which was far from kosher.
You can find my grandma's recipe here.
If you want to read more about Judaism in Mexico and the Crypto-Jews in Southwestern America, check out more below:
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency-The Secret Jews of the Southwest
- How Stuff Works-How the Spanish Inquisition Worked
- Wikipedia-Judaism in Mexico
- Jewish Telegraphic Agency-So You Think You’re A Crypto-Jew?
- Mexconnect-Jews in Mexico, a struggle for survival: Part One
- Mexconnect-Jews in Mexico, a struggle for survival: Part Two
- Jewish Boston-Sephardic DNA Shared by Mexicans and Jews
- The Jerusalem Post-The Jewish Palate: The Jews of Mexico