Tita is preparing hot chocolate and three kings’ day bread with candied fruit and a porcelain doll hidden inside. She is miserable, believing she is pregnant with Pedro’s baby. She remembers making the chocolate and bread during holiday seasons past. She mourns the simplicity of childhood, missing Nacha, Gertrudis, and her good relationship with Rosaura. Lately, she has been making a special diet for Rosaura, who has suffered with extra weight, inexplicable flatulence, and bad breath. Rosaura believes their rivalry is over, and she seeks Tita’s help to fix her health, win back Pedro, and prevent social disgrace. She explains that Pedro never been “disposed to sexual excess,” but has taken especially little interest in Rosaura since the night she “saw Mama Elena’s ghost.” Tita is overcome with guilt seeing her sister’s desperate situation. Her guilt is complicated, however, by her anger that Rosaura still plans to make Esperanza follow the family tradition.
Rosaura is in denial that Pedro and Tita still love each other, choosing to believe that Tita’s relationship with John means that everything is resolved. Her delusions are illustrated by her mistaken belief that she saw Mama Elena’s ghost the night she saw the colors shooting from the dark room, as well as her failure to associate Pedro’s lack of sexual interest throughout their relationship with his feelings for Tita. Tita continues her family’s traditions, such as the chocolate and bread, but they have no meaning without the people who helped her create the memories. Tita’s misery isolates her because she can’t share her predicament, and must perpetuate the illusion that everything is normal.
As she prepares the hot chocolate and bread, Tita feels a cold wind, and Mama Elena’s ghost appears before her. She says that Tita has “forgotten all morality, respect and good behavior,” and calls her a “good-for-nothing.” She curses Tita’s unborn baby, and Tita feels terrible. She feels her life is ruined, and she plans to call off her wedding to John and find a place far away where she can have the baby without Rosaura’s knowledge.
Tita’s connection to the spirit world highlights the intensity of her emotions, both good and bad. Just as the ghosts of Nacha and Morning Light appeared to Tita when she was sad or lonely, so too does she conjure the ghost of Mama Elena seemingly through the magnitude of her guilt and anxiety.
Tita folds the bread dough over the doll. As kids, she remembers, Tita and her sisters would compete to find the porcelain doll, which they saw as an omen of good luck that could grant the finder a wish. As she places the dough to rise, she reflects on how much easier it was to make wishes as a child. She makes the wish that she had never met Pedro, that Mama Elena’s ghost would go away, and that Gertrudis would come back to help her. Tita tries tell Pedro about her pregnancy, but Chencha interrupts to explain that their neighbors, the Loboses, have arrived. Mama Elena’s ghost glares at Tita, and Pulque the dog barks wildly. Tita begins to faint, and Paquita Lobos makes her sit and smell salts. She says that if she didn’t know better, she might think Tita were pregnant.
The holiday comes at a perfect time, when Tita is in a helpless situation and badly needs a wish. Throughout her life, she has suffered under the cruelty and injustice of others. Now, however, Tita’s suffering has been brought on by her own actions. Gertrudis is the perfect person to wish for, as Tita knows that her sister has pursued her own desires and passions without shame. Even though Pedro shares equally in the responsibility, it is Tita who bears the greatest weight of her own and society’s judgment, and she who must decide how to resolve things.
Unexpectedly, a rebel troop arrives. They are led by Gertrudis, who has become a general, and her husband Juan Alejandrez. Gertrudis says she knows that today is the day Tita makes the chocolate and bread, and she has come home to enjoy the special family recipe. Tita’s heart fills with joy. The troop joins Tita’s family and their neighbors as they celebrate the bread and chocolate, with Chencha working to feed everyone. Gertrudis relishes the chocolate, which brings back memories and fills her with a sense of home. She makes a wish for Tita to live a long life, so that the secrets of their family recipes will live on.
Tita unknowingly invoked the magical powers of her cooking by wishing “into” the bread for Gertrudis to return. Gertrudis, though has built such an astonishing life for herself so far from home, still feels affected by the deep spiritual connection between food and memories. Gertrudis’ desire to show her mother her success, even after so many years of distance and bad relations, illustrates the resilience of the childlike desire to please one’s parents.
Gertrudis explains that after leaving the brothel, she joined the army and fought her way through the ranks to become a general. She reunited with Juan, and they married. Gertrudis is sad to hear of Mama Elena’s death, as she was eager for her mother to see her success. Later Juan plays music while Gertrudis dances. Rosaura remarks that Gertrudis’ rhythm has always baffled her, as nobody else in her family shares it. Tita believes Gertrudis’ rhythm came from her “mulatto” father, a secret she thinks she will guard forever. The narrator then momentarily jumps to the future, saying that Tita ends up telling Gertrudis the truth a year later, in order to defend Gertrudis’ honor when she gives birth to a dark-skinned baby. Back at the party, Tita hopes Gertrudis will stay and help her figure out what to do about her pregnancy and the “love triangle.”
Until now, the battleground has been depicted as a wholly masculine arena. By achieving status as a general, Gertrudis defies the social norm that men fight and women stay at home. Rather than using violence on those weaker than her, which would follow the pattern of Mama Elena’s violence, Gertrudis instead uses violence to further her cause. As a woman, Gertrudis is fighting back not only against the federal powers but also against the structure of the patriarchy itself. Juan accepts Gertrudis back, even after her work in the brothel. His attitude again runs counter to the sexist male culture that prefers women to be chaste and virginal.