Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dia de los Muertos


Dia de los Muertos or All Souls' Day

(Click here for most recent posts.) 2006 post

Again with the religious holy day, only this one is mixed with ancient Mexican, indigenous peoples' customs. Voilà- we have "The Day of the Dead" occurring on All Saints' Day and All Souls' Days. No coincidence there.

Dia de los Muertos is celebrated on the first 2 calendar days of November.
November 1 is called Dia de los Angelitos and celebrates the lives of children who have passed. November 2 celebrates the deceased adults.

In a land where many die young, these 2 days are not days for weeping and heavy sadness as one would see in the US and many western cultures. These 2 days are for celebrating because the the souls of the dearly departed return home to be among the world of the living. Everyone comes back whether from Heaven, Hell or Purgatory to celebrate together. What a wonderful custom for keeping people close in our hearts.

If you have ever been anywhere in Mexico this time of year, you will be amazed at the colorful festivities.

Preparation for this normally begins on the last 2 days of October, when families set up commemorative altars for their loved ones.

Traditionally, tables are decorated with marigolds, fruits, vegetables, favorite foods, drinks and candies, devotional candles, copal incense (a pine sap resin), statues of saints, photos of the deceased and paper cutouts from a pre-Columbian folk art called "papel picado."

It is believed the spirits ingest the essences of the food, and after the celebrations, the family eats the offerings. Remember: waste not; want not!

Some of the food items seen on the altars can be found in the local bakeries, dulcerias, and homes. The Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), sugar skulls, candied pumpkin or Calabaza en Tacha.

Other foods regionally may be eaten customarily during Dia de los Muertos, like Muk-bil Pollo, a Yucatab tamal pie, or pumpkin tamales.

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Calabaza En Tacha- Candied Pumpkin
From Chelsie Kenyon
1 4-to-5 pound Pumpkin approx.
8 Cinnamon sticks
Juice of 1 Orange
4 cups water
2 lbs Piloncillo (or use brown sugar or
raw sugar)

Cut the pumpkin into medium (2½" to 3" squares or triangles). Remove seeds and strings. With a sharp knife make diamond designs over the pulp

Put the sugar in a pan with the cinnamon, orange juice, and water. Bring to a boil and stir until the piloncillo has dissolved.

Place the first layer of pieces of pumpkin upside down so they absorb as much juice as possible. The second layer should be with the pulp upwards. Cover and simmer. When ready the top of the pumpkin pieces should look somewhat glazed, and the pulp soft and golden brown.

Let cool and serve with the syrup. You can also add cold evaporated milk!
I prefer to have the pumpkin after it has been in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

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Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead)


1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup very warm water
2 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1/2 teaspoon anise seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sugar


Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, 1/4 cup sugar and salt.

In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.

Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.

Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into "ropes."

On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 "bones." Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.

Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.

When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

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Muk-bil Pollo
Recipe from The Art of Mexican Cooking (Bantam Books, 1989) - Buy this book!
By Diana Kennedy

This is a Yucatecan tamal pie, filled with a highly seasoned mixture of chicken and pork and cooked in a banana leaf. It is the Mayan tamal pie offered to the dead on All Saints' Day, traditionally accompanied by a cup of hot chocolate. Muk-bil literally means "to put in the ground" or to cook in a pib (an underground oven).

John L. Stevens, in Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, describes the feast of todos los santos in the middle of the nineteenth century in Yucatán

"…and besides the usual ceremonies of the Catholic Church throughout the world, there is one peculiar to Yucatán, derived from the customs of the Indians and called Mukpipoyo. On this day every Indian, according to his means, purchases and burns a certain number of consecrated candles, in honor of his deceased relatives, and in memory of each member of his family who has died within the year. Besides this, they bake in the earth a pie consisting of a paste of Indian corn, stuffed with pork and fowls, and seasoned with chili, and during the day every good Yucateco eats nothing but this. In the interior, where the Indians are less civilised, they religiously place a portion of this composition out of doors, under a tree, or in some retired place, for their deceased friends to eat, and they say that the portion thus set apart is always eaten, which induces the belief that the dead may be enticed back by appealing to the same appetites which govern them when living; but this sometimes accounts for by malicious and skeptical persons, who say that in every neighbourhood there are other Indians, poorer than those who can afford to regale their deceased relatives, and these consider it no sin, on a matter of this kind, to step between the living and the dead."

This dish is cooked in the villages in pibs (underground ovens) and comes out with a golden, crisp top and a faintly smoky flavor. Very often the chicken will just be jointed, but it makes it a great deal easier to serve if the bones are removed.

Yield: 6 servings

Fat for the Dough
A small frying pan
½ pound pork fat, cut into small cubes
Heat the fat over a medium flame, or in the oven, until the lard renders out of it. Turn the pieces from time to time so that they do not burn but become evenly crisp and brown.

A large saucepan
A 3-pound chicken
½ pound pork shoulder
4 cloves garlic, toasted
1½ teaspoons salt
Water to barely cover
Cut the chicken into serving pieces and the pork into 1-inch squares. Put them into the pan with the other ingredients and barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, lower the flame, and simmer until the meat is just tender - the chicken should take about 35 minutes; the pork a little longer. Strain the meat, reserving the broth. Remove the bones from the chicken. Set the meat aside.
A small saucepan
1½ cups reserved meat broth
2 Tablespoons tortilla masa, or 1½ Tablespoons masa harina (see Editor's Note)
Stir the masa gradually into the broth. Bring to a boil, lower the flame, and stir the mixture until it thickens a little. Set the thickened broth aside.

¼ teaspoon peppercorns
¼ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon achiote (see Editor's Note)
1 Tablespoon mild white vinegar
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Grind all the seasonings together to a smooth sauce and set aside.
A frying pan
3 Tablespoons rendered pork fat
1/3 medium onion, finely chopped
1 chile habanero, whole
½ medium green pepper, diced
1 large sprig epazote (see Editor's Note)
1 large tomato
The cooked meats
Melt the pork fat and fry the chopped onion, chile, green pepper and epazote, without browning, until they are soft. Add the ground seasonings and continue cooking the mixture for about 3 minutes. Add the tomato and the cooked meats to the ingredients in the pan and continue cooking the mixture for 10 minutes over a medium flame. Set aside.

Preparing the Pan
A metal baking pan about 8 x 8 x 2 inches
4 lengths of string, each measuring about 30 inches
Some large pieces of banana leaves
Lay 2 pieces of string parallel across the length of the dish and the other 2 pieces across the width - there will be a large overlap for tying.

Quickly pass the leaves over a flame to make them more pliable, and line the dish with them, smooth, shiny side up, so that they overlap the pan by about 5 inches all the way around. Set the pan aside while the dough is prepared.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2 pounds prepared tortilla dough, or 3½ cups masa harina plus 2 cups boiling water (see Editor's Note)
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon hot paprika
The melted fat and fat pieces
If you are using masa harina, mix it with the boiling water to a soft dough. To the dough, add the salt, paprika and fat and mix thoroughly.

The prepared pan
The dough
The filling
The thickened broth
A piece of banana leaf approximately 11 x 11 inches
The remaining dough
Press about two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan to form a crust about ¼-inch thick on the bottom and sides of the pan.

Put the filling into the lined pan and pour the thickened broth over it. With the smooth, shiny side of the leaf upward, press out the remaining dough onto it about ¼-inch thick. This will be the cover for the pie.

Carefully turn the leaf upside down so that the dough completely covers the pan, with enough of an overlap to seal it together with the dough around the sides of the pan.

Fold the leaves over the top of the pie and tie them down firmly with the string. Bake the Muk-bil Pollo for 1½ hours and serve it immediately.

Note: In Yucatán they do not use strings to tie up the pie. They use the hard central vein of the banana leaf and make the rest by tying together 1/4-inch strips torn off a banana leaf, with the grain. It is a lot of work but it looks nicer.

If you look at the banana leaf you will see that it has a shiny, smooth side and a less shiny, ridged underside. Always put the tamal dough onto the shiny side.

If you can time it so that you serve it hot, straight out of the oven, it is well worthwhile. However, if you have to reheat it, then put it into the oven in a water bath to keep the dough soft. It freezes quite well cooked. Put it frozen into a water bath in a 350°F oven to reheat.

Mexican ingredients and seasonings like masa harina, epazote and achiote are available at Mexican/Latino markets and produce stands around the country.

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Candy Skulls


2 cups of confectioner's or powdered (10x) sugar
1 egg white
1 tspful corn syrup
1/2 tspful vanilla
1/3 cup corn flour
Edible vegetable food coloring

Necessary utensils:
1 2-liter glass or plastic bowl
1 wooden spoon or spatula
1 sieve
1 fine bristled paint brush (sm tip)

1. Place the syrup, vanilla and egg white in the bowl and mix with the wooden spoon or spatula.

2. Sift the confectioner's sugar and add it to the mixture.

3. When ingredients are well mixed together, knead into a ball with your fingers.

4. Sprinkle some corn flour on a table or other flat surface. Spread out the mixture and knead it until it becomes smooth and easy to handle like tortilla dough.

5. Form small figures like crosses, coffins, skulls, plates of food, baskets of flowers, etc.

6. Leave candy figures out on the table to dry for three hours. Paint with vegetable coloring as desired.

I miss celebrating this in Mexico!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hey ya wut up? this is tight yo!!