Chencha surprises Tita and brings her some Ox-Tail soup at Dr. Brown’s house. As Tita eats the soup, she notices Nacha’s ghost next to her and begins to cry. Dr. Brown notices a stream of water coming down the stairwell and bursts into the room. He is relieved to see that the stream is one of tears and thanks Chencha for making Tita weep. As he turns to leave, Tita finally speaks and asks him to stay. He stands by her side as Chencha updates them on ranch life.
On the ranch, Mama Elena has forbidden anyone from visiting Tita or mentioning her name. Chencha delivers a letter to Tita written by Gertrudis. In the letter, Gertrudis thanks Tita for the clothes and announces that she will be leaving the brothel in search of the place she truly belongs. Chencha, Dr. Brown, and Tita all work together to clean up the water from Tita’s tears. Afterwards Tita tells Chencha that she intends never to return to the ranch. On her way home Chencha tries to figure out the best way to break the news to Mama Elena. Out of habit, she wrings her rebozo in hand as she contemplates what to say. Chencha admires Tita’s courage but decides she could never join her in escaping Mama Elena’s ranch.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brown proposes to Tita while the two are at a neighbor’s ranch. He gives Tita a dress purchased in San Antonio, Texas that reminds her of a dove’s feathers. Tita agrees to marry Dr. Brown, and the two share a kiss. Although Tita does not feel the same kissing Dr. Brown as she had when she kissed Pedro, she hopes that someday she will feel the same kind of passion with Dr. Brown.
Chencha decides to tell Mama Elena that she encountered Tita begging on the street and that Tita will return home when she is worthy of living with the wonderful mother that Mama Elena is. However, before she can tell Mama Elena, bandits arrive at the ranch. They rape Chencha and strike Mama Elena who tries to defend her. The blow paralyzes Mama Elena from the waist down.
Tita returns to the farm after hearing of the injuries suffered by Chencha and Mama Elena. For the first time in all her life, she matches Mama Elena’s strong gaze with her own. Helpless, Mama Elena must accept the care of the daughter she disowned. Knowing how embarrassed her mother feels, Tita ensures that she gives her mother exceptional care. She carefully prepares the ox-tail soup to aid in her mother’s recovery but Mama Elena spits the soup out and tells Tita to take it away.
Mama Elena’s rudeness makes Tita question whether she should have come to the ranch at all. She feels Mama Elena’s demeanor snuffing out the fire about to light inside her and wishes she could run away to protect it. Tita runs out of the house just as Dr. Brown is entering. The short embrace between the two helps restore Tita’s flame.
Mama Elena asks Dr. Brown to lock the door and taste the soup to assure her that it is bitter. Dr. Brown finds the soup delicious and tells Mama Elena nothing is wrong with it but Mama Elena is convinced that Tita is trying to poison her. Dr. Brown tells Mama Elena that he intends to marry Tita. This infuriates Mama Elena and further convinces her that Tita is trying to poison her so she can run off with the doctor. Mama Elena orders Chencha to prepare all her meals and taste them in front of her before she can eat them.
Free of her cooking duties, Tita begins to work on her trousseau. She decides to marry John once her mother’s health improves. One day while Chencha has her stitches removed Tita prepares her mother’s meal. Mama Elena detects a bitter taste in the food and casts Chencha out of the house to punish her for her deception. Tita hires a cook for Mama Elena but Mama Elena’s rudeness drives her away. Indeed, no cook stays to work for Mama Elena longer than 15 days because of her meanness. Having no alternative, Mama Elena resumes eating Tita’s food. One month later Mama Elena dies from pains and spasms. Tita and John discover a bottle of ipecac in her dresser and conclude that it caused Mama Elena’s death
After Mama Elena’s death, Tita discovers a small key in a locket around her neck. Tita remembers a time during her childhood when she hid in her mother’s wardrobe during a game of hide and seek. She realizes that the key belongs to a box that Mama Elena kept in that very wardrobe. When Tita opens the box, she finds a diary and a collection of letters from someone named José Treviño. She discovers that Mama Elena was in love with José but their marriage was forbidden because José was part black. When Mama Elena’s parents discovered her love for José, they quickly made her marry Juan De La Garza. However, despite being married Mama Elena continued to meet with José. In fact, José was Gertrudis’ father. Once Mama Elena discovered she was pregnant with José’s child, she decided to run away with him but that night José was killed at their meeting place. Juan De la Garza remained ignorant of Mama Elena’s affair until the night Tita was born. He went out to celebrate Tita’s birth in a bar with friends and when someone revealed to him the truth of his wife’s infidelity, he had a heart attack. After reading this, Tita feels a new compassion for her mother who had been denied love. She swears on her mother’s name never to reject love.
Pedro and a pregnant Rosaura attend the funeral. When Tita sees Pedro, she questions whether Dr. Brown is in fact her true love. However, after hugging Pedro, Tita decides that he does not deserve her love at all because he left her to go to San Antonio. She walks alongside Dr. Brown hoping to cause the same pain in Pedro that he caused her. Seeing Tita and Dr. Brown walk hand in hand unsettles Pedro. Mama Elena’s death had been the only thing preventing him from being with Tita. He cannot allow something else to stop him.
Once again, food moves the characters emotionally. The ox tail soup that Chencha brings to comfort Tita causes a literal river of tears to pour out of Tita’s eyes. This excess of tears is a repetition of the events that happened when Mama Elena gave birth to Tita. Her weeping symbolizes a re-birth. Tita finds a new life after eating the ox tail soup, as well as finding her voice again. Once again, Tita’s tears are not mere representations of sadness, rather they are something over which Dr. Brown rejoices; Tita can feel emotion again.
On her way back to the ranch, Chencha reveals a common fault of narrative tales, their reliance on subjective truth. Chencha becomes the agent of this kind of constructed “truth” when she decides to tell Mama Elena a different story to explain Tita’s absence. The romance heightens between Dr. Brown and Tita. Somehow, Tita feels a different love with Dr. Brown than she felt with Pedro. It is not characterized by the fierce passion that existed between her and Pedro but feels more like a stable and intimate camaraderie. Tita yearns for the passion she once felt and hopes that she will soon feel that with Dr. Brown.
Only the most dramatic of circumstances brings Tita back to her mother’s ranch. After bandits ravage the ranch, rape Chencha, and strike Mama Elena, Tita is the only one who can return to help. Ironically, the newly paralyzed Mama Elena must accept care from the daughter she intended to send to an asylum. Though Tita is determined to give her mother the best assistance, Mama Elena can only taste bitterness when she eats Tita’s food. Mama Elena’s paranoid suspicions that Tita wants to poison her in order to marry Dr. Brown ultimately lead to her death when she self-medicates with ipecac.
After Mama Elena’s death, Tita learns a long hidden secret about her mother. Mama Elena was also once the victim of a forbidden love. Denied the ability to be with her part-black lover, José Treviño, Mama Elena is forced to marry a man of her parents’ choice but not before having a daughter, Gertrudis, with the man she truly loved.
The revelation that Mama Elena was once in a similar situation as she and Pedro, shocks Tita. She empathizes with this Mama Elena, the heartbroken Mama Elena that Tita never knew. At the funeral, Tita thinks of this younger Mama Elena and grieves over her instead of grieving over the memory of the cold, rigid, woman who raised her. At the funeral, Tita also decides that Pedro does not deserve her love. She is upset that he agreed to leave her and decides to flaunt her relationship Dr. Brown in front of him to make him angry. Conversely, Pedro, realizing that the only obstacle to marrying Tita, Mama Elena, is dead, is determined to get the woman he loves back.