In Mexico old traditions die slowly and despite the 20th century commercialized tinsel and glitter seen around Christmas time, holiday customs have remained practically unchanged. Unlike the United States and Northern Europe where feasting and exchanging gifts are reserved for Christmas Day, Mexicans celebrate on the Eve of December 24th, the last posada, which is the culmination of 9 days of processions and parties of Dias de Los Santos Peregrinos. Christmas Day itself is considered a holy day and the atmosphere is imbued with an air of piety. Restaurants, offices and shops are closed and the towns are enveloped in quiet sobriety where even the roosters, dogs and burros seem to be in peaceful relaxation.
Noche Buena, Night of Goodwill or Christmas Eve, is observed with religious and secular practices reflecting the customs of Spanish colonial days with many primitive overtones. Though the Spanish conquerors tried to suppress most pagan rites in their attempt to Christianize the native population, the missioners encouraged the Indians to dedicate their songs and dances to the Christian God and the saints, incorporating them into Catholic ceremony and celebrations. Thus in many localities today, nativity plays and primitive folk dances are still part and parcel of the Christmas expression. Some of the most traditional interpretations of the events surrounding the birth of the child Jesus are well documented and flawlessly performed by Miguel Sabido at the Teatro Ritual Popular Mexicano in Mexico City.
In La Manzanilla, contests of pastorelas or nativity tableaux are held and every playwright in the city comes out with his own version of the Christmas story. Those shepherds' plays are native folk theatre, childlike, innocent, rowdy, farcical inventions involving citizens from all walls of life. The pastorela is as Mexican as a cactus, and is kept alive and folksy for all the folk who love it.
In Quiroga, Michoacan, amateur actors and dancers present Pastorales or Paradise plays in the beautiful settings provided by the colonial sites of the city. These plays date back to medieval times and are the reenactment of the legend of Adam and Evets expulsion from Paradise and end in Bethlehem with the coming of Jesus. The viejitos or Little Old Men dance is performed in the atrium of the church and in the green lush patios of the houses beautifully ornamented for Christmas. The people of the houses give away aguinaldos or little bags of candies to the children after the performances.
In Vera Cruz, Las Fiestas Navidenas start on Christmas Eve and finish with Epiphany on January 6th, the Day of Three Kings. Jarocho music (typical Vera Cruz music) is played throughout the week with small guitars (jaranas and requinitos) and harps (arpas) or by strolling marimba bands making the gayest sounds ever heard. Nightly, regional dances of the Christmas Huapanjos with jarocho music are presented in the town square. According to tradition, many of the ethnic groups of the area wearing their particular native dress (all so different and varied), perform their lively dances including the impressive Palo Volador or flying pole, the touching Marqueses danced by the children and the unforgettable Culebra or snake dance. All festivities take place with a carefree spirit and with much jarama or carousing.
Another Spanish colonial town, Queretaro, carries on the Christmas customs in a more subdued and disciplined tone in the fashion of the Spanish aristocracy. On Christmas Eve, there is a grand parade with marching bands, charros in all their silver glitter on horseback and monos or dwarfs with huge papier mache heads similar to those used for fiestas in Spain. Special mules pull decorated carriages or calandria representing various biblical episodes with both live actors and carved images. All of this is followed by a quiet family oriented midnight supper.
After the last posada in Tuxpan, Jalisco, the Holy Family or Nacimiento is paraded through the town and is glorified with folk dances such as Moros y Christianos (Moors and Christians) and Sonajeros (Rattlers). A rare pre Hispanic dance, Paixtle, is per¬formed by masked dancers completely covered with moss along with the dance of the region called Chayacates for which the performers wear long hair and deer horns. The town folk, young and old, in native dress endlessly perform these stirring dances throughout the night, accompanied by homemade instruments: drams, violins and reed flutes.
Christmas Eve is uniquely recognized as the Night of the Radishes or Las Fiestas de Los Rabanos in Oaxaca, because the local grown large radishes are in season. Horticulturists hold a large exhibition of their produce, including beautiful floral arrangements and clever little figures carved from the radishes. The town plaza and surrounding stalls are decorated with the radish sculptures and a prize is awarded to the best artist. The night is climaxed by an old practice of eating bunelos, the traditional Christmas wafer, floating in a cracked clay dish of syrup. One must hurl the plate into the air and let it smash to the ground. By midnight, the plaza is heaped with broken pottery and everyone is having a smashing good time drinking pulque and chicha (see Index).
The nativity scene is the traditionally hallowed element of all these posadas and pastoral plays. It is a symbol of renovation and ……….rms an indispensable part of all the Christmas celebrations everywhere in Mexico, which inspires the Mexican artisan to interpret the concept in every possible type of medium. From Italy, in the early 13th Century, popular belief tells us that the initiator of the joyful creations of the nacimiento was Frances of Assisi, the saint who personifies love. The fascinating and charming folk art was further spread by Carlos III and brought to Mexico by Fray de Pedro Gante. This Franciscan monk worked industriously with the Indian population and while teaching arts and occupations, he encouraged the use of native skills to recreate the nativity figures needed in the Christmas processions. Today, the Indian and Meztizo artisans combine the earthly and the divine in a hope for a better life and express this hope in figures and colors which blend tenderness with gaiety. Perhaps the most famous and popular nacimientos are the miniature figures, highly ornate polychromed ceramic forms which are hand molded in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. In addition to the traditional members of the Holy Family, balloon and taco vendors, water carriers and other quaint types appear on the scene, with whom the poorer classes are familiar in their daily activities. No less artistic and even more symbolic are the small dried everlasting flowers which the people of Ocotlan, Oaxaca, use to form a half moon cradle to crudely hold the three actors in the divine drama, the Christ Child, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. In contrast to this sobriety, the explosion of Indian baroque in clay at Metepac, State of Mexico, is a veritable festival of interwoven forms and colors sprang from the deepest layers of Mexican nationality; with its rosy archangels, virgins in embroidered cloaks, kings riding magenta elephants and camels along with the traditional animals of the manger decorated with flowers. A magnificent pottery "Tree of Life" may be included among a throng of biblical figures. And not to be omitted are the fantastic or surrealistic figures of Santa Crux, Jalisco, where the unglazed polychromed ceramic biblical characters are mixed with mariachi bands and strangely costumed figures of the tactoanes (ancient lords) in Noah's Ark.
Yearly, an immense exhibition of nacimientos are on view at the National Auditorium in Mexico City as part of the "Exhibition of Revival of Our Traditions". A fabulous giant nativity scene is featured at Guadalajara's Christmas Tianguis (impromptu open market) in Plaza Tapatia, with life sized figures and real animals, sheep, a donkey and a bull. Award winning original handmade interpretations from local church groups, schools and villages also attract thousands of spectators. Many families spend weeks in preparation of the nativity scene which often spills over onto several tables and makeshift platforms. The nacimientos navidenos are the main center attraction at traditional Christmas Eve dinners. At the stroke of midnight, the figure of Baby Jesus is placed in his cradle in the manger, which signals the time to open gifts brought by the Niño Jesus and not by Santa Claus. According to another tradition, thyme was part of the straw bed of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child; it was a major herb and thus is always included in the nativity scene.
The Christmas tree, which was originally an evergreen tree decorated with apples to represent the first fruits of sin in the Garden of Eden in the Paradise Plays, takes many forms in Mexico where fir trees are scarce. The tree plays a secondary role to the importance of the nativity scene and is recreated from the natural foliage of each region. Thus it is not uncommon to see an amaranth tumblewood festooned with wafer thin ceramic shapes representing the life saving fruit of the sacrament and candles symbolizing Christ as the Light of the World.
In recent years, La Manzanilla, the one time sleeping fishing village, now under the influence of its tourist trade and its young modern population, has slowly slipped into a gringo ized Christmas production. Tinsel and Christmas lights decorate the city's main streets and a life size realistic creche is set up in front of the fountain in the main square. Pastel colored plastic trees with electric lights and baubles simulating the cold climate Noel, adorn the hotels, shops, offices and homes. The first snow birds arriving from the North in the guise of Santa Claus come loaded down with stateside goodies and Christmas parties with lavish buffets and holiday cheer a la Madison Avenue abound in many homes. The traditionalists, referring to most of the Mexicans in La Manzanilla, however still participate enthusiastically in the last posada on Christmas Eve and solemnly attend a midnight mass (Misa de Gallo), part of which is delivered in English at the main church off the central plaza. A midnight supper of elaborate traditional dishes follows, which is a veritable showcase of Mexican cooking. In prosperous La Manzanilla, this prolific spread includes the usual six courses of a festive supper or cena; appetizer or entremes, soup of sopa, fish entree or entrada, meat or fowl entree or platillo fuerte, dessert or postre, coffee or chocolat' with sugar symbol cookies. A few additional delicacies are added before the meal with a punch and after with a Brandy snifter, just because it is fiesta time, which means eating and drinking in Mexico. Plenty of wine flows and a special lager ale produced for this night, called Cerveza de Noche Buena, is offered between courses. Fresh field ripened fruit (fruta de tiempo) are liberally used to complete a full course meal, followed by a fine Mexican brandy to sip reflectively in peace and goodwill.
The special dishes for this once a year gastronomic event keep reappearing year after year as tradition dictates in Mexico.
A white tablecloth, multicolor candles, a centerpiece of a potted poinsettia (flor de la Pascua or flor de Noche Buena) and a bowl of holiday punch with punch cups create a warm and inviting picture. A large variety of colorful Mexican specialties decorated with Christmas greens turn the serving table into a veritable horizontal Christmas tree overflowing with surprises.
An elegant and colorful table d' hote may be any combination of the following items. For openers, a spicy mulled punch with raw sugar cane and wild crabapples is offered along with appetizers of codfish a la Vizcaina and pork liver pate. The formal menu really starts with an oyster soup and a homemade holiday bread and is followed by an entrada of little shrimp cakes on a bed of cooked greens and cactus strips called revoljito or a half portion of cold stuffed red snapper. While turkey in mole sauce (see Index) is the classical dish and a must for this most joyous of all the Mexican fiestas, the food most relished is a roasted suckling pig served on hot tortillas and smothered with a drunken chile sauce of tequila. An added modern touch may be a sweet potato stuffing for the piglet alongside the customary beans and rice dishes. In the coastal regions, a large fresh fish stuffed with seafood is the delicacy of choice for the platillo fuerte or main course. A huge crunchy salad known as Ensalada de Noche Buena is an unusual mixture of cooked vegetables, raw fruit and raw sugar cane. It is an old colonial dish, an ensalada de dames, which repeats itself yearly at the Christmas Eve table. Baked pineapple with custard sauce is a most characteristic dessert of an already rich meal any time of the year, but especially so for the midnight super supper fete.
As one delves into these gustatory delights and samples the cornucopia of plenty available in Mexico, one needs to remember that in the humble thatched hots, where more than one third of the population dwell, just one lone stewing hen is affordable once a year. At Christmas, these poor poverty stricken descendants of the Aztecs buy one fowl and prepare a dish called Gallina a la Mexicana, with the same ingredients and by the same methods used by their ancestors. Once a ritual food served only to give thanks to the gods, it is now affordable just once a year to be relished and shared among many in a communal fashion for the Christmas fiesta.
The traditional way you celebrate Christmas is deeply rooted in your family history, religion and the place where you live. I would not presume to suggest that you change these treasured observances and sentiments, but I can offer ideas which may be incorporated into those wonderful plans for home entertaining during the winter holiday season. The quite elaborate menu de¬scribed above can readily be simplified to suit your taste and needs. Reduce it to a mulled fruit punch bowl with a simple pork pate hors d'oeuvre, one fish appetizer, one main meat dish with salad and dessert. Or simply fill the punch bowl and the cookie jar, hang a garland of tropical greens with mistletoe (muerdago) and open your door to your neighbors with a cup of good cheer and a Christmas aguinaldo sweet like bunelo wafers for the children. To help set the joyous mood, dig up your old Christmas records and cassettes like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or Crosby's "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas". Better yet, treat yourself to a Christmas present. Buy Christmas records in Spanish and sing along "Noche de Paz, Noche de Amor" or "Silent Night". "Navidad, Hoy es Navidad, Es un dia de alegria y felicidad" to the tune of "Jingle Bells" is easy to learn. And old popular carol reminds us "Esta nache es Nochebuena y no es noche de dormir" "This is Christmas Eve and it's no night to sleep". So make merry. Feliz Navidad!! Feliz Pascuas!!
CHRISTMAS EVE PUNCH (Ponche Navideno)
This hot Christmas fruit punch is many hundreds of years old dating back to the 15th Century when Cortes brought sugar cane to Mexico. The raw sugar cane and the indigenous wild crabapples called tejocotes give this holiday cup of good cheer a unique punchy flavor. With the addition of pare sugar cane alcohol, it is a powerful drink with a mighty punch making one see double and feel single. Rum can be used instead and be just as effective.
1 1/2 kilos guavas
1 kilo pitted prunes
1 kilo pecan bits
12 sections peeled raw sugar cane
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 kilos tejocotes or crabapples
1 1/2 c. grated piloncillo
2 liters water
1 liter rum
Boil all ingredients in water until fruit is tender. Remove cinnamon sticks. Add rum and serve hot out of an earthenware bowl which retains the heat. Include bits of fruits, nuts and chews of sugar cane in each serving.
Note: A popular Mexican sweet is chews of green raw sugar cane. Cane stalks sold at street stands are stripped and cut into bite size and one chews them to extract the natural juices and then expectorates the fibers.
PORK LIVER PATE (Higado de Puerco para Untar)
An appetizing spread made of pork liver is served on fried bread slices or on a slightly sweet holiday bread. Served with a fruit punch, it creates a favorable impression before the big show begins.
2 slices bacon 1/2 kilo pork liver
1 onion 2 garlic cloves
2 marinated chiles 4 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 eggs 1/2 c. cracker meal
1/2 c. water or stock 1/4 c. sherry
1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. oregano 1 recipe fried bread
Saute' 2 slices of bacon with chopped onion and garlic. Dry liver well and remove outer skin and veins. Cut into pieces and saute' along with bacon and onions, adding chopped anchovy fillets and chopped marinated chile peppers (see Index) for 5 minutes. Coarsely chop mixture by hand or in blender. Add beaten eggs, cracker meal, water, sherry, salt, pepper and oregano. Mix well. Mound into a well greased loaf pan. Bake in oven at 170° C for 40 minutes. Serve with fried bread slices or crisp tortilla chips.
Note: Heart and kidney of the suckling pig to be roasted can be boiled in salted water, pureed and added to chopped pork liver before baking.
French fried garlic toast gives spreads, soups and salads that added pizzazz for the holiday appetizers.
1 loaf French bread 1 c. oil
2 eggs 1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 c. flour 1/2 tsp. salt or 8 anchovy fillets
Cut bread into 1/2 inch thick slices, about 16 slices. Dip each slice in plain water and roll in flour seasoned with garlic powder. Dip into beaten eggs with salt or mashed anchovy fillets in it. Fry in hot oil on both sides until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm on cookie sheet in oven at 80° C.
OYSTER STEW (Sopa de Ostiones)
An appropriate touch of the Christmas Eve supper in Mexico is the traditional hot thick creamy soup with morsels of fresh oysters floating on top. Served with homemade holiday bread, it prepares the diners or fiesteros for the more formidable dishes to come. Just the right mouthful to stave off hunger before the big feast!
3/4 liter fresh shucked oysters 1 pt. oyster liquid
1/2 c. dry sherry 1 onion
3 slices bacon 1/2 liter water
2 potatoes 2 carrots
3 leeks 1 large can condensed milk
1 tsp. salt 1/4 tap. pepper
1 c. whipped cream (optional)
Scrub oyster shells well. Force point of a knife between shell lips at thin end. Cut abductor muscles from shell. Drop oyster into a container and reserve the liquid. Examine oysters for bits of shell. Marinate oysters in 1/4 cup sherry. Set aside. Saute' minced bacon slices and chopped onion and add to water and oyster liquid and bring to a boil. Add peeled and diced potatoes and sliced carrots and simmer for 15 minutes until vegetables are tender. Drop raw oysters and matchstick slices of leek into cooked vegetable mix. Simmer until edges of oysters curl. Stir in condensed milk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Puree 1/4 of the mixture in a blender. Return to pot and reheat while stirring in another 1/4 cup sherry. Pour into heated soup bowls. Top each bowl with a generous spoonful of whipped cream. Slide under a broiler until cream is toasted dark brawn. Serve immediately sprinkled with chopped parsley and chives if available.
CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY BREAD (Pan de Buena Noche)
Christmas bread is an ancient custom originating in Dresden about 1400 A.D. when people tried to represent religious thought in their baking. The stollen or is facsimile is baked in Mexico as a representation of the Christ child in His swaddling cloth. Baked in a mold or in muffin tine, it is flavored with rum and colored rich yellow with saffron and swaddles a filling of candied fruits and nuts. It will retain its freshness for some time. It is especially good with breakfast coffee and/or afternoon wine.
3/4 c. sweet butter 1/2 c. raisins, soaked in rum
1/2 c. grated piloncillo 1/4 c. biznaga, candied cactus
1 tap. salt 1/4 c. candied pineapple
1 tap. powdered anise 1/4 c. chopped pine nuts
1 tps. almond extract 2 packages dry yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm milk 1 Tbsp. sugar
2 eggs 1 tsp. saffron in 3 Tbsp. rum
41/2 c. flour honey
Cream butter and grated piloncillo until smooth. Add salt, anise and almond extract. Dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon regular sugar in lukewarm milk. As yeast starts to bubble, add to cream mix. Add beaten eggs and saffron marinated in rum for 1 hour. Stir in 3 1/2 cups sifted flour. Beat 3 minutes. Chop candied fruits and add to presoaked drained raisins and pine nuts. Toss through remaining 1 cup sifted flour. Mix into the dough, kneading in the bowl until it is elastic. Cover and set aside for 1 hour to rise until it is light and airy. Spoon into 4 well greased muffin tins, filling 2/3 full. Cover and set aside to rise again. Bake in oven at 170° C for 60 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove, brush with honey and dredge with powdered sugar or just serve plain with sweet butter alongside a bowl of oyster soup.
SALTED CODFISH CASSEROLE (Bacaloa a la Vizcaina)
A most famous salted codfish dish served at Christmas time is named for the Province of Viscaya in the dry highlands of the Basque country of Spain. Traditionalists stick to bacalcoa a la Vizcaina as the main dish for Christmas Eve, while others enjoy just a small portion of it as a fish appetizer to a bigger supper.
1 kilo dried salt cod 3 large cooked potatoes
1/2 c. oil 1/2 c. sherry
3 garlic cloves 2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions 1/4 c. bread crumbs
3 bread slices, cubed 1/4 c. green olives
6 pimentos 5 tomatoes
1/2 c. fish stock 1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
Beat dried codfish by whacking against the kitchen counter several times to break down the tissue. Soak in cold water over¬night. Rinse and discard water. Poach codfish gently in enough water to cover for 20 minutes until fish flakes easily. Drain and dry on paper towels. Reserve 1/2 cup stock. Remove bones and cut into large slices. Saute' cod slices in hot oil until golden brown on both sides. Remove carefully with slotted spoon and blot on paper towels. Reserve oil and set aside. Place fish in a well greased casserole and keep warm. Puree onions, garlic, 3 pimentos, bread cubes, tomatoes and stock. Saute' pureed mixture in reserved oil, adding more oil if needed and cook for 20 minutes until sauce thickens. Check salt content, adding more to taste. Season sauce with pepper and oregano. Pour sauce over fish in casserole, adding remaining 3 pimentos cut into strips and cooked potato slices. Cover all with sherry. Scatter bread crumbs sauteed in olive oil over top. Bake in 160° C oven for 20 minutes. Garnish with chopped green olives to contrast with red pimentos for a Christmas touch.
STUFFED SNAPPER OR CHRISTMAS FISH (Pescado Navideno)
A two for one taste delight is achieved when Mexico's favorite red snapper or rockfish is stuffed with a delicate shrimp and scallop dressing. It is no wonder that this dish appears as a main course at the Christmas supper. Small individual fish may be used in place of a big one and then served as the fish entrada course before the platillo fuerte, the main meat entree.
6 fresh small red snapper or 6 limes
1 1/2 kilos fresh red snapper or rockfish 6 garlic cloves 1 onion
4 Tbsp. oil 1 c. pealed raw shrimp
4 tomatoes 1 hard cooked egg
1 c. raw scallops 3 Tbsp. parsley
1/4 c. pitted olives (optional) 1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt 1 small can pimentos
1 small can asparagus tips green olives
Clean and scale fish with a sharp knife.
Note: If fish is deboned before baking, leave skin intact.
Slash tough skin diagonally across both sides at several intervals. Make a paste of the juice of limes and minced garlic cloves. Rub fish inside and out. Marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour. Prepare stuffing.
Prepare stuffing: Saute' chopped onion in hot oil and add mashed tomatoes. Cook into a thickened recado or sauce. Add chopped raw shrimp, scallops, mashed hard cooked eggs, chopped parsley and chopped pitted olives. Cook for 10 minutes until shrimp turn pink. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pack stuffing lightly inside fish cavity. Close and sew together with white thread. Brush skin generously with oil. Place in a well greased ovenproof serving dish or an earthenware shallow platter. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in oven at 170° C for 25 minutes until fish is tender and flakes when tested with a fork. Pull off skin and allow fish to cool. Garnish with a Yuletide flower made by arranging strips of pimento to form poinsettia flowers (flor de la Pascua) with sliced green olives in the center and asparagus tips for stems
SHRIMP CAKES IN GREENS OR HODGEPODGE OF GREENS(Revoltijo
A vegetable fricassee with shrimp cakes is a traditional dish served before the all night vigil on Christmas Eve, using cooked greens called romeritos which are similar in appearance to rosemary and cooked tender pads of the prickly pear cactus called nopales. At the midnight supper the serving size is reduced by half as the first fish entrada course. This dish is also popular during Lent.
1/2 kilo romeritos or other greens
4 large potatoes
1/4 kilo dried shrimp
2 c. fresh nopalitos (or canned) 2 eggs
3 Tbsp. cracker meal 3 c. shrimp broth
1 jar prepared mole paste 1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. oil 1/4 tsp. pepper
Wash romeritos and strip the fine succulent leaves off the coarse stem. Cook in just enough water to cover with l/2 tea¬spoon salt. Cover pot with lid and simmer for 10 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside. If using fresh nopales, scrape off sharp spines with knife and cut cactus pads into very small strips. Simmer in salted water until tender for 20 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse under cold running water to remove sap released in cooking, a viscous like coating similar to okra. Set aside. Boil unpeeled potatoes in salted water until tender but skins have not split. Cool. Peel and cut into l/2 inch slices. Set aside, keeping covered with a damp cloth. Clean dried shrimp carefully. Boil 1/2 of the shrimp in 3 cups water. Strain, reserve broth and set cooked shrimp aside. The other half of dried shrimp are pulverized in blender. For the shrimp cakes, mix dried shrimp with cracker meal and lightly beaten eggs, adding more meal to firm up batter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drop a heaping tablespoonful of shrimp mixture into hot oil. Fry gently on both sides until browned. Drain on paper towels. Set shrimp cakes aside and keep warm. Prepare mole sauce from jar. Heat floating oil on top of jar. Add paste and fry for 5 minutes. Add reserved shrimp broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into a casserole. Add cooked vegetables romeritos, nopales and potatoes and boiled shrimp. Gently reheat until sauce thickens and just before serving add shrimp cakes.
ROASTED SUCKLING PIG (Cochinita Asada)
The local succulent porcines, sometimes running loose on the streets of La Manzanilla, are greatly appreciated for their savory flavor, rich diversity and tenderness. A whole roasted suckling pig is a feast of all feasts and the piece de resistance at the midnight Christmas Eve supper. Usually prepared in a hole in the ground or barbeque pit, it is equally as delicious when made in the oven.
1 whole piglet (about 6 kilos) 1 apple
2 Tbsp. achiote or annatto seeds 2 olives
2 Tbsp. vinegar 1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. dried oregano 6 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. pepper
2 c. orange juice 3 large banana leaves or aluminum
1 recipe stuffing foil
1 recipe drunken sauce
Have butcher dress pig or clean piglet at home: Singe over high flame to destroy bristles. Immerse in boiling water and scrape clean with a vegetable brush until white. Dry well. Score dressed suckling pig all over in a criss cross pattern with a sharp knife. Rub piglet inside and out with achiote marinade.
Soak achiote seeds in vinegar. Puree with cumin, oregano, garlic, salt, pepper and orange juice to make a smooth thin paste. Marinate pig overnight in refrigerator and reserve extra marinade. Stuff mouth with a wad of aluminum foil. Fill cavity of piglet with sweet potato and apple stuffing (follows). Close opening or truss it with skewers and string or sew up. Position legs, forelegs forward and hind legs into a crouching position. Line a large roasting pan with banana leaves. Place stuffed piglet in center of lined pan and pour reserved marinade over it. Cover with banana leaves and a tightly fitting lid. Instead of a pib or hole in the ground, place piglet in oven. Bake for 5 hours (about 45 minutes per kilo) in oven at 180° C until meat is soft and almost falling off the bone. During the last hour, remove cover and top banana leaf. Baste with pan juices frequently to produce a crackling skin. Remove to large serving platter lined with fresh banana leaves. Trim the pig with an apple in the mouth, olives in the eye sockets and a garland of fresh green vines from the garden around the neck. Surround the piglet with baked apples.
To serve Mexican Style: Shred meat and fold into hot tortillas topped with a salsa borracha or drunken sauce (follows). To carve Mexican style, place head to left of carver. Remove forelegs and hams. Divide meat down the center of back. Separate ribs. Shred meat off bones with fingers and fold into tortillas. Serve a section of crackling skin and a rib to each person on a plate with stuffing and baked apples.
SWEET POTATO APPLE STUFFING (Relleno de Camotes y Manzanas)
Sweet potatoes native to Mexico are not like those in the U.S. Red skinned with white meat, they are exceptionally bland and mix well with tart apples in a stuffing to dress up a roasted piglet.
6 sweet potatoes 1/4 c. butter
1 onion 3 garlic cloves
3 unpeeled apples 1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. chile powder 1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. coriander seeds 1 tsp. grated lime rind
1/2 c. broth 1/2 c. dry white wine
1 large firm plantain (optional) 1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. chopped almonds 1 c. chopped celery
Cook unpeeled sweet potatoes until soft. Cool slightly Peel and mash to make 5 6 cups. Saute' chopped onion and minced garlic cloves in butter until onions are tender. Add onion mix to diced cored unpeeled apples, chopped celery, salt, chile powder, cumin, crushed coriander seeds, grated lime rind, diced plantain, raisins and chopped almonds. Toss lightly adding broth and dry white wine, alternating with cooked mashed sweet potatoes. Keep mixture as light and airy as possible. Pack stuffing into cavity of piglet or place in a well greased casserole to bake separately during the last hour of roasting the pig.
DRUNKEN SAUCE (Salsa Borracha)
Originally made with pulque, the fermented milky sap or aguamiel of the maguey cactus, this Chile sauce is rightfullycalled drunken sauce. Today, tequila or beer are acceptable substitutes as pulque is not always on hand. The sauce is a traditional 'must' with roasted or barbequed dishes.
6 Chile anchos or 6 Tbsp. 1 c. tequila
pure Chile powder 1 onion
1 c. orange juice 4 Tbsp. oil
3 garlic cloves 2 Tbsp. cheese (optional)
1/2 tsp. Salt
Parch chiles in dry skillet. Soak them in tequila until soft for 1 hour. Remove seeds and veins. Puree in a blender, adding tequila used for soaking, orange juice, onion, garlic cloves and oil to form a smooth sauce. Season to taste with salt. For a richer sauce, add 2 tablespoons grated Chihuahua cheese.
CHRISTMAS EVE SALAD (Ensalada de Noche Buena)
The traditional Christmas Eve salad resembles the ensalada de dames or ladies' salad so popular during the colonial days when ladies were considered too delicate for meats, the heartier fare for men. It is a colorful unusual mixture of fruits, vegetables and raw sugar cane decorated with nuts, ruby pomegranate seeds and Christmas hard candies. Pomegranate seeds are not always available in La Manzanilla, which permits the substitution of some red colored spiced fruit like pickled papaya (see Index).
1 tsp. salt 1/2 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. vinegar 6 large beets
1 head of lettuce 1 whole sugar cane stalk (castilla)
4 oranges 4 bananas
2 jicamas 1/2 small pineapple (4 slices)
1 c. pine nuts or unsalted 1 c. hard Christmas candies (optional)
peanuts 1 recipe Mexican vinaigrette
pomegranate seeds or 1 c. (see Index)
pickled papaya (see Index)
Wash beets, cut off tops, leaving 1 inch of stem and peel. Cover with water. Add salt and sugar and cook for 1/2 hour for young beets or until soft. Cool slightly and slice. Replace in beet broth and reserve. Peel and slice oranges, bananas and jicamas. Peel and slice pineapple into cubes. Remove outer coating of sugar cane stalk. Slice and cut into strips. Or purchase a 50 peso bag of already prepared sugar cane from the street stand near the bus station. Mix all fruit with beets in their broth. Refrigerate for 1 hour. When ready to serve, shred lettuce and line in large shallow bowl. Arrange fruit attractively on bed of lettuce, presoaked in microdyne solution. Sprinkle with nuts and pomegranate seeds (if available) or pickled papaya (see Index). Toss lightly just before serving. Add a few Christmas hard candies to each portion. Serve with a Mexican vinaigrette dressing on the side (see Index).
BAKED PINEAPPLE WITH CUSTARD SAUCE (Piña al Horno con
The Mexican custom of serving a bowl or basket of assorted fresh fruit for dessert reflects the European influence on its cuisine. Hot baked pineapple served out of its leafy shell and topped with chilled custard sauce is a holiday alternative to the traditional fresh fruit plate.
2 whole fresh pineapples 1/4 c. powdered sugar
4 Tbsp. rum 1 stick margarine
1 recipe custard sauce (follows) or 1 recipe banana sherbet (Index)
Cut off tops and bottoms of ripe pineapples and set aside. Insert a long sharp knife about 1/2 inch from the outer edge and cut until fruit is entirely loosened and can be removed in one chunk. Cut into bite size and sprinkle with rum. Dust with powdered sugar. Replace pieces into pineapple shells and replace bottom so that pineapple sits level on its base. Dot top with bits of margarine. Wrap entire pineapple (minus lid) in aluminum foil. Bake in oven at 170° C for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Replace top and set on serving plate. Spoon out of shell while still warm and top with chilled custard sauce.
CUSTARD SAUCE (Natillas)
A simple rum flavored custard cream somewhat similar to the Russian Sabayon sherry sauce is used widely in Mexico to garnish plain cakes, puddings and fruit desserts.
5 egg yolks 2 c. milk dash of salt 1/4 c. sugar 1 tsp. vanilla extract 2 Tbsp. rum
Beat egg yolks with milk in top of double boiler (baño de Maria). Add a dash of salt and sugar. Cook over, not in, boiling water, stirring until mixture is smooth and thickened and sauce will coat a metal spoon. Remove from heat. Add rum and vanilla. Chill. Serve with baked pineapple. Other uses are suggested throughout this book.
COCONUT MERINGUES (Meringues de Coco)
Coconut meringues can be made bite size for a melt in the-¬mouth sweet or 'se ha derretido' so often craved for when drinking after dinner coffee. For a more complete dessert, a larger hollowed mound of meringue can be filled with fruit, chocolate sauce or banana sherbet (see Index).
1 1/4 c. powdered sugar 6 egg whites
1 tsp. water 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar (crema
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract de tartar)
1 1/4 c. dried shredded coconut
Have egg whites at room temperature. Add water and whip with electric beater, slowly adding cream of tartar. Continue beating, slowly adding a few tablespoons of sugar at a time. Don't overheat. Fold in vanilla extract and shredded coconut. Drop batter by teaspoon onto a greased cookie sheet lined with a greased brown paper bag or writing paper not waxed paper. Swirl each mound into a pretty shape with the tines of a fork. Bake on the bottom rack of oven at 130° C for 30 minutes. Remove with spatula as soon as taken out of oven. Will keep for days in a tightly closed tin container.
Note: A no peek method. Preheat oven to 200° C and put meringue mounds into oven. Close door and turn off heat. Don't peek! Let stand overnight in oven. Remove with spatula and store.