Holidays, Family & Food Traditions: An Interview with Ricardo Cruz of El Cruz Ranch

Ricardo Cruz has worked with food since he was a boy. He grew up on a farm, one of eleven children, and it was his mother and grandmother who taught him “how to feed a lot of hungry mouths”. At El Cruz Ranch, he raises vegetables, meat and poultry, which he sells at the Downtown SFC Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and SFC Farmers’ Market at the Triangle on Wednesdays. He also operates a food trailer at the same markets.

How did you get started farming?

I was teaching high school Ag Science in San Antonio, Austin and Elgin and I knew I wanted to continue to do what my family had been doing, basically living off the grid and producing all of our own food. We bought some property in Elgin and had turkeys and chickens. We added some fruit trees and, when my son Ricardo was born, I knew I wanted to make being a dad and farming my fulltime jobs. I tested the waters with one of the SFC Farmers’ Markets and I thought, ‘That was a lot of fun!’ and it just snowballed from there.

At what age did you start cooking?

Probably 10 or 11 was when I cooked solo for the first time. I made tortillas and rice. They were…edible. Not as good as my mom’s. We had tortillas, beans and rice daily, and I always watched what she was doing, but she doesn’t use measuring cups or recipes. So it took me several years to reverse engineer what she was doing. In the beginning, I always did things like use too much baking powder or not enough water.

What are your favorite things to cook?

Sopa de Fiedo is so good, and so easy to make! It’s vermicelli noodles with beef, peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices. You serve it with fresh tortillas. It’s so good!

What’s your advice for someone just starting out in the kitchen?

Don’t be afraid! Just try it. Even now, I still call my mom and ask for advice.

Do you have a favorite holiday food memory or tradition?

All the baking - the Christmas cookies and the desserts. Oh, and the buñuelos, with the cinnamon and sugar. A little fried cookie.

Are there any holiday/annual food traditions you have at home?

Well, this year is the first year my son is old enough to really help. He loves to crack eggs! When I cook in the morning, that’s what he does, he cracks the eggs. We’ll make cookies or something we can do together. He’s very, very intrigued by cooking! I hope he gets to where he likes to cook.

Do you have any tips for cooking for a crowd?

The more you cook – the bigger batches – the more forgiving the recipe can be - unless you burn it. But, in general, larger batches are easier to correct for flavor and other things.

On December 17th, you will be teaching Holiday Tamalada! – Making Homemade Tamales* in SFC’s The Happy Kitchen. What can participants expect from your class?

In addition to learning the recipes and the steps for how to make tamales, you will get a history lesson on the tradition of making tamales. Today, we make tamales for Christmas, but for my grandmother and my great grandmother, this was a way of life. The preservation of food was very important to them, because they had no refrigeration. So, as you learn the recipe and the steps, you will also learn the science of how and why these steps are important.

*The class is sold out, but you can order holiday tamales from El Cruz Ranch here: http://www.elcruzranch.com/tamales-orders