On this date in 1907 Jesús García Corona, a Mexican railroad brakeman, died while preventing a train loaded with dynamite from exploding near Nacozari, Sonora, in 1907. As el héroe de Nacozari he is revered as a national hero and many streets, plazas, and schools across Mexico are named for him.
García was born in Hermosillo, Sonora. At the age of 17 got a job with Moctezuma Copper Company, but due to his age, he could work initially only as a waterboy, but was subsequently promoted to switchman, then to brakeman. García ended up as the railroad brakeman for the train that covered the line between Nacozari, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona. On 7 November 1907 the train was stopped in the town of Nacozari and, as he was resting, García saw that some hay on the roof of a car containing dynamite had caught fire. The locomotive’s firebox was failing and sparks were venting from the smokestack. The wind blew them into the hay and the fire spread into the dynamite cars. García sounded the alarm, cleared the train of people, and drove the train in reverse downhill at full-steam six kilometers out of the town before the dynamite exploded, killing him and sparing the population of the mining town.
In his honor a statue was raised in the town and its name was changed to Nacozari de García. He was also declared a Hero of Humanity by the American Red Cross. Many streets in Mexico bear his name, and the Estadio Héroe de Nacozari sports stadium in Hermosillo is also named after him. García’s sacrifice is remembered in the corrido “Máquina 501” sung by Pancho “el Charro” Avitia, and in the ballad, “Jesus Garcia” sung by Arizona State’s official balladeer, Dolan Ellis.
Mexican railroad workers commemorate 7 November every year as the Día del Ferrocarrilero (Railroader’s Day).
Sonoran cooking is reasonably well known in the U.S. because Sonora borders Arizona, and both the cultures and cuisines of southern Arizona and northern Sonora share many attributes. The region is well known for beef and for flour tortillas (more common than corn tortillas), which come together to make the classic burrito. I’ve discussed burritos several times in previous posts:
There I focused on New Mexico and California. Now I’ll turn my attention to Sonora/Arizona, where García’s train ran, and talk about machaca. Machaca was originally prepared most commonly from dried, spiced beef or pork, then rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. The reconstituted meat would then be used to prepare any number of dishes. While drying meat is one of the oldest forms of preservation, the drying of beef with chiles and other native spices was developed by the ranchers and cowboys of northern Mexico. After the arrival of refrigeration, dehydration was no longer needed for preservation but it continued to be produced because it has a distinctive flavor and is convenient. Most dried beef is sold in the U.S. as jerky, and in Mexico, it is still sold for cooking as well as snacking, mostly in the north in small-scale operations. Most formerly machaca dishes now are made from beef that has been well-cooked, shredded then cooked in its juices until the desired consistency is achieved, which in Phoenix can be soupy, dry or medio. In Tucson and south, the preparation is almost always dry, and approximates more closely the taste and texture of the original dish prepared from dried meat. Machaca is also called carne seca in Arizona and Sonora.
For me the most enjoyable way to serve machaca is with scrambled eggs, salsa, and flour tortillas – making an informal burrito. By the way “burrito” is the Spanish diminutive of “burro” (donkey) whose etymology is a little obscure. A burrito may resemble the rolled packs that donkeys sometimes carried. Your difficult task will be getting hold of genuine machaca. Most recipes nowadays call from long-simmered brisket in spices for the meat, but nothing beats original machaca. To rehydrate the meat:
Cut the machaca into strips. Place the strips in a large bowl, with cold water and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, place the strips in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Allow to boil 1 ½ hours, changing the water halfway through boiling to remove excess salt and further tenderize meat.
Let the meat cool in the water, drain, and shred.
You can make all manner of dishes with the rehydrated meat. To make machaca and eggs, scramble the eggs in the usual way and add the shredded machaca towards the end to warm through. Serve with salsa and flour tortillas.