When city-building Spaniards came to the New World, they required skilled craftsmen willing to make a drastic life change and relocate to the other side of the globe. Ceramic tile was a popular staple for builders in Spain, so talented artisans who took the risk were ceramics workers from the internationally renowned city of Talavera de la Reina.
In modern Puebla, colonial buildings with ornate tile facades and inviting courtyards line the streets, and colorful ceramic accents abound. But one of the best places to see exceptional Talavera Poblano tile work is the beautifully preserved kitchen of the former Convent of Santa Rosa.
This marvelous 18th century concina is a tourist twofer: one of Puebla’s finest examples of Talavera tile as well as the legendary home of mole, Mexico’s signature sauce.
In 1740 even local Talavera tile wasn’t cheap, and covering the walls and vaulted ceilings in a humble convent seems quite an extravagance, but a couple of bishops and a few church officials donated the 400 pesos to complete the construction.
Today, the sparsely-furnished kitchen is part of a quiet, off-the-beaten-path ceramics museum, but in its heyday it would have been bustling with activity and delicious smells. In addition to two ovens and a kneading space for bread, it had a chocolatero. Ahh, to go back to the good ol’ days when every kitchen had a dedicated space for making chocolate.
Which brings us to the mole part of the story. According to legend, the convent received word of a surprise visit from the Bishop, and the resourceful nuns cobbled together a sauce from an odd assortment of on-hand ingredients: chili peppers, nuts, sesame seeds, cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, and chocolate. And voila!, they served mole sauce with the unfortunate turkey they were able chase down.
Like most people, our kitchen is the heart of our home. And whether taking a Christmas home tour, or visiting a historical property or museum, we’re always fascinated to get a look at other peoples’ kitchens. And this kitchen was perfect because the nuns weren’t home, so we could poke around all we wanted.
A visit to the Santa Rosa Convent kitchen is a good idea for a couple of reasons: first, you’ll see an outstanding example of Talavera tile work, and second, it just might inspire you to go in search of a delightful mole dinner. ¡Buen provecho!
P.S. The entrance to the kitchen is a little tricky to find. When you’re at the front entrance to the church, look down the side and you’ll see this elegant doorway. That’s where you need to go.