Tita fears that she has become pregnant as a result of her encounter with Pedro. She has missed a period and knows she will have to cancel her engagement to John Brown now that she is not a virgin. She is preoccupied with these thoughts during the preparation of King's Day bread. This particular recipe evokes memories of her childhood, especially the loving care of Nacha and companionship of the disappeared Gertrudis.
While Tita bakes the bread, Rosaura visits to ask for Tita's help. Rosaura suffers from digestive problems that make her overweight and give her bad breath and flatulence, estranging her even further from Pedro. John Brown has prescribed a diet to ease her discomfort, but Rosaura asks Tita for further assistance with her illness and her marriage. Tita agrees to help Rosaura, providing a special family recipe to cure bad breath and offering special foods to help her lose weight. She is simultaneously warmed by the good will that leads Rosaura to confide in her and desperately guilt-ridden about her encounter with Pedro, especially because Rosaura pinpoints the breakdown in her relationship with Pedro to the night she and Chencha saw flames from the "ghost" of Mama Elena.
No sooner does Rosaura leave the kitchen than the true spirit of Mama Elena enters with a cold chill. She scolds Tita for her relationship with Pedro and curses the baby growing in Tita's stomach. Chencha enters unexpectedly, forcing Mama Elena's ghost to flee. Tita is distraught, but there is no one to whom she can turn.
That night, during the party held for the festival of Three Kings, Gertrudis returns to the ranch. She gallops up alongside the man who swept her away on his horse so many years ago and a regiment of fifty troops. Now a general in the revolutionary army, Gertrudis is a veteran of many battles, and the ranch spends the rest of the night listening to her improbable stories. Tita is joyous at the return of her lost sister.
That Rosaura seeks assistance from Tita reinforces the implicit power Tita has over Rosaura resulting from Pedro's lust for her. With her physical afflictions (which one can interpret as a sort of bizarre punishment for her role in Tita's unhappiness), Rosaura has become an unappealing, de-feminized caricature. She has no power over food, as it alters her weight and breath, and occasions flatulence in her. Tita, on the other hand, wields control over food, and is able to offer suggestions for a diet to solve Rosaura's problems. Tita finds power and nourishment in food, whereas Rosaura is disconnected from the wisdom of the kitchen, and food becomes for her a source of discomfort and diminished self-esteem.
The return of Mama Elena in the form of a ghost epitomizes the degree to which Mama Elena exercises influence over Tita. Even in death, she has more power over Tita than Tita, in life, has over herself. However, one can argue that Mama Elena's spirit does not appear of its own volition, but is rather invoked by Tita's profound sense of guilt about her affair with Pedro, as though Tita seeks a reprimand that she knows she deserves. In this reading, Mama Elena's cursing of the child echoes Tita's own desire not to be pregnant, because she dreads the inevitable judgment that society will pass on her. Either way, it is clear that Tita will not be free of Mama Elena until she asserts her individuality.
The return of Gertrudis offers Tita a role model--a woman who has achieved success by taking risks in her search for personal freedom. Gertrudis's only access to the power denied to her as a woman in early twentieth-century Mexico requires a rejection of the all-female world of the ranch and an embracing of the all-male world of the military (her intervening stint in a brothel proves unsatisfying). Donning the costume of an army general, Gertrudis bucks the limits of femininity; as La General, she is able to exert a power unavailable to women in the domestic realm. Recounting stories of improbable battlefield bravado, Gertrudis conforms to the stereotype of the machismo-exuding Mexican male of the early twentieth century. The involvement of a woman such as Gertrudis in the Mexican Revolution is historically accurate (women indeed played significant roles in the war) and serves to illustrate the extreme alternative available to women in that time period; Rosaura, in contrast, exemplifies the traditional female role of wife and mother (albeit unsuccessfully).