A Spoon for Every Bite

Una cuchara para cada bocado

By: Joe Hayes
Illustrator: Rebecca Leer

In this lovely New Mexico folktale, a rich man tries to prove his wealth to his poor neighbors by using a new spoon for every bite.



The rich man laughed aloud. "You had only two spoons! And you bought a third one for me to eat with! Why, I have so many spoons I could use a different one each day of the year if I wished to." That's how the rich man mocked the poor man in this classic.

From master storyteller Joe Hayes and illustrator Rebecca Leer, in this lovely New Mexico folktale, a rich man tries to prove his wealth to his poor neighbors by using a new spoon for every bite. In the process, he's served a pretty dish of comeuppance. Joe Hayes is one of America's premier storytellers a nationally recognized teller of tales from the Hispanic, Native American and Anglo cultures. His bilingual Spanish-English tellings have earned him a distinctive place among AmericaÍs storytellers.A Spoon for Every Bite desert spread

A Note from Joe Hayes for Readers and Storytellers:

In telling this story, I have combined two elements of the Hispanic story tradition of the Southwest. The deceptive reference to the use of a tortilla as an eating utensil is cast in the form of a picaresque tale featuring two compadres, one poor but clever and the other rich and overbearing.

Several brief tales and chistes hinge on the tortilla as a spoon that is used only once. From a high school teacher I heard a Mexican version in which a proud conquistador brags to a humble Indian that his king eats off plates of silver and gold. Feigning indifference, the Indian replies that his chief is so rich he uses a different spoon for every bite. In an Anglo-American variant a seasoned traveler on the Santa Fe Trail yarns a greenhorn about the high style of life in New Mexico with the same idea. The joke is well-known to the old ones in New Mexico. On one occasion as I told my version at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Historical Museum south of Santa Fe, I noticed an elderly Hispanic gentleman in the group turn toward his wife when I said the phrase "a spoon for every bite" and silently mouth the word tortilla.

Humorous tales about rich and poor compadres abound in Hispanic story lore. In his compendious collection of Spanish narrative in the Southwest, Cuentos españoles de Colorado y Nuevo Mêjico, Juan B. Rael dedicates an entire section to los dos compadres, and many stories that are otherwise categorized involve two individuals identified as compadres, el uno rico, el otro muy pobre. In one such tale, the tortilla/spoon joke is briefly repeated.

Curiously, while the old tales so often portray an almost adversarial relationship between compadres, the actual relationship is quite the opposite. The role of godparent is highly esteemed, and parents typically choose a very dear friend to fill it. The tales of los dos compadres, however, are quite old and perhaps reflect the time when the wealthy hacendado would serve as godfather to all the children born to his peones as an expression of noblesse oblige. Whatever the true reason may be, these tales serve as a reminder that folktales cannot always be viewed as accurate expressions of the contemporary mores and practices of the culture from which they derive.

Watch Joe Hayes tell his tale in English or Spanish in these free, online videos, part of the Joe Hayes Storytelling Collection.

Awards and Accomodations

Tejas Star Book Award
Land of Enchantment Book Award

6 reviews for A Spoon for Every Bite

  1. Publisher’s Weekly
    “New Mexican storyteller Hayes builds an involving moral tale around an old Hispanic joke about tortillas. A poor, kindly husband and wife invite their rich neighbor over to dinner; the neighbor, realizing his hosts have only three spoons, boasts that he has “so many spoons in [his] house [he] could use a different one each day of the year.” The wife, unfazed, replies that she has a friend “who uses a different spoon for every bite he eats.” This galls the rich man, who then squanders his fortune buying spoons for his every bite. In his poverty, he discovers the couple’s trickery: their friend’s “spoon for every bite” is a tortilla. Rendered in warm, earthy pastels, Leer’s (The Girl Who Listened to Sinks) illustrations are a potent blend of rusticity and droll melodrama. The exaggerated facial expressions flatter the hyperbolic story line while also helping to clarify for children the moral choices found in this deftly told tale.”

  2. School Library Journal
    “This Southwestern tale is based on a play on words that most children raised (even peripherally) in the Hispanic tradition understand: a rolled tortilla can be used as both bread and eating utensil. This slight story’s humor depends on a character who makes a fool of himself because he doesn’t have this knowledge. A poor couple who own only two spoons invite a rich neighbor to be their newborn’s godfather. They save their pennies to buy a third spoon, then invite their compadre over for dinner. When he hears what they have done, he laughs at them, bragging about the number of spoons he owns. The husband and wife can’t resist telling him about someone they know who never uses the same spoon twice. Eaten with jealousy, the man begins throwing his spoons away after each use (in the poor family’s yard). He goes through his entire fortune before giving up in despair. His neighbors take him to a nearby pueblo where an Indian demonstrates how to have “a spoon for every bite” (a tortilla). An author’s note explains the background of the story. Leer’s realistic paintings, rendered in pastels, display a southern Arizona desertscape. The faces of the three main characters are especially vivid in their display of emotion.”

  3. Kirkus Reviews
    “The landscapes and lore of the desert are captured in this traditional Hispanic fable about a boastful rich man who is outsmarted by his poor neighbors. The poor couple, whose shack looks out on the mansion of the wealthy man and who own but two spoons, ask him to be the compadre, or godfather, to their child. He agrees; they save every penny to buy a third spoon so they can invite him to dinner. The compadre comes to their home and laughs at their poverty, boasting that he could use a different spoon every day of the year. They mention a man they know who uses a different spoon for every bite. Intent on proving his superior wealth, the compadre bankrupts himself trying to outdo this legendary man, whose “spoons” are the tortillas with which he eats his beans. Hayes includes an author’s note about his sources, while Leer successfully combines the colors of the southwest with the caricatured figures who piquantly inhabit the tale. An entertaining marriage of pictures and words.”

  4. Booklist
    “Set in the Southwest, this is the story of a couple so poor they own only two spoons. When their child is born, they ask a rich neighbor to be the baby’s compadre (godfather). The couple save up enough to buy a third spoon so that they can invite the rich man to dinner, but he makes a poor guest, bragging about the amount of spoons he owns. The couple tell him they know someone who uses a new spoon for every bite. Obsessed, the rich man buys so many spoons he eventually loses his fortune. The spoon that can be used for every new bite, by the way, is a tortilla. As the author’s note tells readers, this story is a variation on several Hispanic traditions that feature poor but clever men (here, the husband inherits all the old spoons and sells them) and a rich but silly adversary. The tortilla-as-spoon motif is also familiar. The attractive paintings do a nice job of re-creating the Old Southwest, featuring desert colors and flora, fauna, and architecture of the region. The art also helps kids visualize just how a tortilla becomes an eating utensil.”

  5. Children’s Literature
    “This Land of Enchantment Book Award winner is an excellent offering from Cinco Puntos Press. Hayes retells the story of a rich rancher who becomes fixated on one goal: to use a different spoon for every bite, upon learning from the poor parents of his godchild that they have a friend who does this. The rancher cannot imagine someone living more lavishly than he and sets off on a yearlong quest that leaves him bankrupt and mad. He finally goes to the poor parents’s house and insists that their friend’s lifestyle is impossible to sustain and that they must show him how he does it. The parents oblige and take him to their even poorer friend’s house who uses each spoon only once, however, it is a rather different sort of spoon than the reader might expect and certainly than the rancher expected. Leer’s illustrations develop wonderful characters and show off lovely dramatic compositions. This edition of the book offers a full Spanish translation, which will make the book accessible to an even larger appreciative audience and even better for use in bilingual classroom settings.”

  6. New Mexico Magazine
    “A Spoon for Every Bite/Una Cuchara Para Cada Bocado is the kind of funny folk tale that readers have come to expect from master storyteller Joe Hayes. Suffice to say, a rich man becomes godfather to the child of a poor family. The rich man is stuck up and competitive. The poor family is warm and clever.
    The plot hinges on a riddle: Who is it that uses a different spoon with every bite? The answer is a classic one in the Hispanic Southwestern tradition, but you’ll have to read the book to discover the answer! The illustrations by Rebecca Leer are warm and gentle, with a nostalgic feeling. As in so many folk tales wit triumphs over greed—to the reader’s enjoyment.”

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