Borderlands Staples: Margaritas y Nachos
Reprinted From South Texas: The Newsletter (August-October 2004); By Richard Holland Bennett, with research from David Killam, John Stockley, Alan Dreeben and John Lettunich
In this age of media bombardment concerning nutrition, dieting and obesity, one cannot ignore the components of our dietary intake. The dictionary defines a staple as a chief part or element. As a true South Texan, my diet includes two staples that are overwhelmingly my favorite food and drink. Those would be the nacho and the margarita. Given an unlimited travel budget by Bonnie Sue, I decided to research the origin of these delicacies and to set up interviews with the people involved. So we will serve you up a warm historical plate of nachos and then chase it down with an ice cold margarita.
Since the Nacho was invented in Piedras Negras, Coahuila Mexico, I only had to travel sixty miles from our ranch home to begin my research. I was fortunate to meet and visit with Ignacio Anaya, Jr. (Nachito) and John Stockley, the Director of the Eagle Pass Museum. The two fine Border Ambassadors gave me the history of the nacho along with a little local information from the past. You see it was Ignacio Anaya, Sr. (Nacho) who first concocted this revered delicacy. The story begins with Señor don Rodolfo de los Santos, the major entrepreneur of Peidras Negras. Don Rodolfo owned three restaurants: the Moderno, the Club Victoria and the Compestre, plus, the 60,000-hectare Gato Ranch as well as a soft drink distributorship.
During the Depression and Prohibition a favorite “watering hole” in the southern United States was Ma Crosby’s in Cuidad Acuna. It was don Rodolfo who persuaded five waiters to come join his team in Piedras Negras. Nacho Anaya was one of those waiters. His assigned location was the Club Victoria (overlooking the Rio Grande, at the Mexican end of the International Bridge). Always a good cook, Nacho catered to a clientele that ranged from fighter pilot trainees at Fort Duncan to society ladies from the nearby business and ranching communities. Some leisurely afternoon luncheons were enjoyed by Mesdames Pascual Debona, Bob Bibb and Mamie Finan — ladies from leading Coahuilan ranching families. Because Nacho aimed to please his customers he began to serve a toasted tortilla with shredded Wisconsin cheddar cheese (melted) with a jalapeño pepper on top. As the ladies requested this concoction, they realized it needed a name, and they began to call it Nacho’s Special. And from that the name was shortened to “Nachos.”
Though Nacho Anaya never became rich from his invention, he achieved good recognition. He later moved to Moderno, where he served such personalities as Lyndon Johnson and John Wayne (who looked as favorably on Mexican tequila as on Jim Beam whiskey). General George Patton and General Quiñones became friends at the Moderno, although it is thought that they had faced one another in battle during the Mexican Revolution.
Nacho Anaya certainly had an interesting life. He had worked for Houston Harte and the San Antonio Standard Times. One of his greatest fans was Frank Huntress, Jr, the publisher of the San Antonio Express News. Mr. Huntress took it upon himself to teach the cook in the famous Drive Inn Restaurant in Matamoros, Mexico how to make a Nacho. He later instructed the staff at a restaurant in Xochlmilco.
The Nacho may have been invented around 1943. During the same time frame Margarita Sames and husband, Bill, sold their interest in a Laredo motor vehicle company. Thereafter, the attractive, hard partying couple set their sails for the mountain top views of Acapulco Bay.
Acapulco was, in the next decades, to become a major destination for the famous, wealthy and world-wide jet set.
But early-on, the day-and-night, seven-days-a-week social scene provided a perfect environment for Margarita Sames.
She began to experiment with various liquid concoctions in order to find a refreshing party drink that could be served during hot weather. Her unlikely recipe of 1/3 tequila, 1/3 Cointreau and 1/3 Mexican lime juice became a favorite among visiting socialites.
They would say “Lets have one of Margarita’s drinks”, and hence the “Margarita” was born.
We know the Sames’ entertained the local hotel heir Nicky Hilton, shown here with his wife Elizabeth Taylor, who liked Acapulco for honeymoons.
Others on the Acapulco scene included Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, John Wayne and the Ali Khan…
… and Mexican actors like Cantinflas, shown here with with the cliff divers at La Quebrada.
I remember visiting Acapulco several times as a youngster in the 50’s (our driver, Pepe, was also the driver for John Wayne).
And then, a few years later there was the “scene” at the submerged bar at Teddy Stoufer’s Villa Vera.
Margarita and her drink became well known in wider circles. In later years she became the spokesperson for the Cointreau brand and was featured on national television making her magic recipe.
With all respect, we prefer the original recipe to Cointreau’s.
The company featured her attractive, shapely figure in ads in a bathing suit, with a Margarita in hand.
Considering that Margarita’s daily menu included tequila by day and bourbon by night, it is remarkable that her looks and her health held up for eighty years.
Margarita Sames had a type-A personality, and didn’t suffer fools gladly. It would have been fun to be around during the Acapulco days, just to watch the “Margarita Show.”
If I ever make it to the Great Beyond and St. Peter gives me a welcoming reception, I believe I will request that it be catered by Nacho Anaya with Margarita Sames tending bar.
…Richard Holland (“Ricky Bob”) Bennett
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST NACHO
Secret #1 is the cheese: The best nachos are made with cheddar cheese. The best cheddar is New York State Herkimer County white cheddar, aged at least 1-year. Note: all cheddar cheese is white until food coloring is added.
This cheddar is a Costco sharp cheddar which has been shredded. Any sharp cheddar of any color will work fine.
Another trick to making the best nacho is to fry the tortilla in its entirety.
Next, place the cheese on the entire fried tortilla: Do not cut the tortilla until after the cheese has been melted on it. This will save you much work, cheese, and improve the final quality enormously.
Most people cut the jalapeño into rounds. Jalapeño can be bought pre-cut this way.
However, the best and prettiest way to place the jalapeño is to cut the jalapeño lengthwise in quarters with the seeds in it. Place the jalapeño skin up to the heat source.
Place the nachos on a baking pan.
Bake in a hot oven just long enough for the heat to melt them. Then cut them in quarters.
It’s that simple so don’t mess with perfection!
HOW TO MAKE THE BEST MARGARITA
Margaritas are made from lime juice, triple sec and tequila.
Use small limes. Place them in a hand squeezer…
…and squeeze out 1/3 cup which is enough for two margaritas.
Add equal parts of tequila and triple sec. It doesn’t matter what kind of tequila you use so long as it is agave tequila. The stronger the tequila the better it tastes because it’s being mixed with lime juice which tends to overwhelm the tequila. The same holds for the triple sec, and my personal favorite is Mexican triple sec Conroy (my apologies to Cointreau).
Place the tequila juice in a martini shaker which has lots of ice in it. Place all of the juice in and shake vigorously.
Place the margarita glass in a shallow dish of lime juice and then dip the edges in margarita salt.
The shaken tequila mix has been diluted by the ice that has chilled it and it is then poured over ice in the salted margarita glass.
The key to a good margarita is absolutely fresh lime juice from small limes and the portions are one, one and one.
Serve your margaritas and your nachos on the front porch looking into the West Texas mountains.
For some reason margaritas and nachos taste better if enjoyed as a summer thunderstorm is rolling in!
Sorry to be the pedant, but given that there’s attestation to a “tequila daisy” some ten years before any of the “margarita” origin stories, and that “margarita” is “daisy” in Spanish, all of the other stories seem pretty dodgy. Weirdly, there’s a much better case for Nacho’s nachos.
I agree that the real stories may never be known but my pal Richard (‘Ricky Bob’) Bennet, master of high-quality BS, has this version, which is better than mine.
The recipes for nachos and margaritas are my own, and I stand behind them. Thanks for reading and commenting.