Kongo visited Reyes Adobe in Agoura Hills this week with #1 granddaughter’s fourth grade class. The Reyes Adobe house, built in 1850, was originally part of the Rancho Las Virgenes (still an exit on U.S. 101) Spanish land grant. After the Mexican War and the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848 the United States recognized the original land claims — sort of. A descendant of the original grantee, Maria Antonia Machado de Reyes was eventually granted about 8,000 acres after several petitions to the government.
Kongo found this fascinating because Mrs. Kongo’s maiden name is Machado and the ever calculating monkey was thinking…hey, maybe there was some way to lay claim to something. The monkey could do with a new Rancho. Alas, apparently these were completely different branches of the extremely populous Machado clans and besides, Mrs. Kongo’s ancestors didn’t arrive until early in the 20th century. In any event….the once pretty large rancho is now a small plot of land in the midst of the sprawling bedroom community of Agoura Hills.
The class was met by “Miss Ellie” a wonderful docent playing the role of a visitor to the Rancho in the 1860s. She and fellow docent “Paulino” shared fascinating stories about life on the Rancho in the 19th century.
While visiting Reyes Adobe, the fourth graders learned about how adobe bricks are made and even helped put some together. They also churned butter and ground up corn to make tortillas. Other aspects of life on the Rancho that the kids participated in was learning how to throw a lariat over cow horns and getting the lowdown on baking at an outside oven.
This awesome grape arbor on the side of the house made Kongo want to stop off at Home Depot on the way home and get the materials to make his own grape arbor. From the looks of the vines, however, this one has obviously been in the making for a long, long time!
Besides learning how to make adobe bricks, a combination of mud, straw, and cow manure (the 4th graders skipped the manure ingredient…), we learned all about some of the advantages of building thick adobe walls for structures. First, the ingredients are plentiful. Second, it doesn’t rain that much in Southern California (While writing this Kongo is looking at his window at a massive rain storm pelting the area!) so the bricks last a long time, and the insulating properties keep homes cool in the hot summers and fairly warm in the winters. On the Reyes Rancho they used adobe to build the barn and sometimes the animals actually ate the walls!
Paulino showed the young wranglers how to properly throw a lariat and explained the the word lariat is a combination of the Spanish word La (the) and riata (a rope used to catch cattle). This of course led to a short discourse about “catching a bull by the horns.”
The children learned how to make tortillas the traditional way. First you have to make masa harina by adding lime to water and boiling it until all the lime dissolves. Then you add corn kernels and continue to boil for a few minutes then take the mixture away from the heat and let it sit overnight. The resulting masa harina is now ready to be ground up into a mushy paste. In the photo above granddaughter is grinding the masa harina in the traditional method by using a rock and grinding stone. This makes a mush that is collected in a bowl. To make the tortilla, you grab a handful of the mush, shape it into a thin tortilla patty, and cook it on a hot griddle. Delicious!
The Reyes Adobe historical site is located in Agoura Hills, a short distance from the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) about 40 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. Look for the brown historical point of interest signs on the freeway.
Travel safe. Have fun!