GUADALAJARA, MEXICO.- Heirs to a long tradition, the artisans of the western Mexican town of San Lucas Evangelista are adding a modern and innovative touch to the molcajetes (mortars) and metates (grindstones) used in kitchens across the Aztec nation.
For decades, a handful of families have sculpted and shaped these culinary tools out of basalt, a dark fine-grained volcanic rock, which they extract from the nearby mines of Cerro Viejo.
Victor Cocula is well known in San Lucas Evangelista as one of the craftsmen dedicated to the production of metates and molcajetes, as well as other stone products.
He tells EFE that his family taught him how to mine the stone and then bash and carve it into a shape fueled by imagination. After years of experience, Victor says he needs only to look at the stone to know exactly what he will make of it.
«Nowadays, tools such as sharp hammers and axes are used, which we call picaderos, and with them we shape the stones we extract – using a pickaxe, shovel, bar – from the mines that are located in the foothills of Cerro Viejo,» Cocula said.
Metates and molcajetes, which have been used in Mexico since time immemorial, are typically adorned with turtle or pig figures and pre-Columbian frets or flowers that contrast with the coarse, dark basalt.
The Cocula family make their living from the sale of these products and when the seven-person receives large orders, usually from restaurateurs in tourist areas of Mexico and other countries such as Colombia, they hire neighbors to help out.
The company has sought to make the utensils more striking with new designs and forms, in addition to expanding its catalog with products such as special dishes or instruments for the «temazcal» (sweat-lodge), since the basalt stone is able to resist high temperatures.
«It’s a matter of having a little imagination, knowing what profile you want to follow, what kind of market we are having, the needs of the restaurateurs,» Victor said.
San Lucas Evangelista is known as the cradle of the craft of the molcajete.
In the town’s main square, artisans, with support from the Jalisco state government, constructed «the largest molcajete in the world,» which serves as a fountain.
A few blocks away from the site, Adrian Rodriguez has a workshop packed with the stone products, ranging from cups, plates, ashtrays, lamps and even buckets to keep drinks cool.
He also keeps in his patio a pile of rocks he will later turn into molcajetes.
The artisan tells EFE that when sculpting the stone he saw the need to look for new ways to market the crafts.
Gradually and in collaboration with carpenters, he has created items of basalt and wood to update his catalog, allowing him to reach new buyers.
Juan Jose Perez, 65, has been making molcajetes since he was 8 years old, when one of his uncles taught him the profession.
At his studio, which is also a shop, Mexicans living in the United States and foreign tourists come in search of souvenirs.