Cooking Like A Mexican

Pan de Muerto
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

The day this edition of the Gringo Gazette hits the streets is Halloween. For the Gringos and Canadians this tradition comes from the Celtic Culture. In México, what is celebrated is Día de Muertos, (Day of the dead), and is an ancient tradition which has its more expressive celebration in the state of Oaxaca. And it just happens to occur on Nov 2, fast on the heels of Halloween.

It’s traditional to eat food from Oaxaca and of course put that same food on the Day of the Dead altars as well. The altars are built by families to remember, honor and pay tribute to their dead.

Oaxacan food’s main allies are climate and traditions, the first brings us the plant and animal products that are the basis for the food, and the second explains the various forms used in its preparation.

Each dish of Oaxaca takes many hours of work in front of the stove. Entire lives are dedicated to the pursuit of new concoctions of ingredients and dosage variations. The list of traditional Oaxacan dishes is long, but it can be said that many of the most well-known Mexican dishes were born in this place. They have seven varieties of mole dishes, large numbers of tamales and many more, ranging from the simplest to the most elaborate. But they are all as rich as its folklore, traditions and customs. It is the result of a process in which ingredients come together over different historical stages, so this gastronomy is seasoned and enriched by time.

In Oaxaca the saints are celebrated in all the towns, as the state is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures where religious beliefs are part of the identity of its people.

Most are Roman Catholic these days but indigenous people jealously guard their ancestral beliefs and there are still a lot of rites and cults that are closely linked to nature, the stars, and natural phenomena, all this  in their own language. You can still hear chants and prayers to deities other than Christianity.

For Day of the Dead, women bake a rich bread called pan de muerto; bread for the dead.

As in many other towns and regions of Mexico, the Day of the Dead, or "Feast of All Saints and Souls" is held in Oaxaca with extra devotion.

Beginning in mid-October people begin buying what they will need for the party.

On October 31 each family builds a make shift altar in a prominent place in their home, and pile offerings on it to honor the dead.  In November the people “carry the dead”. That is, relatives and friends give a sample of the offerings that were made at home.

During the first two days of November it is also customary for the troupes to swing by. They are often just marachies who are pressed into service for this special day to sing and pray before each altar in exchange for some of the offerings.

In Oaxaca each calendar day is named after a village and that village name honors a patron saint, which is why in Oaxaca there is no day without a party.

There is also the famous night of radishes, where artisans in Oaxaca Valley exhibit works of art using the harvested radishes on hand. Those little radishes get intricate.

 

The Pan de Muerto is sold in every single supermarket and bakery in México, but I personally find it a little bit dry, maybe because they prepare it with too much time ahead, so I thought that it would be fun for you readers to bake your own, because is not that difficult, after all.

 

Ingredients for Pan de Muerto:

5 cups flour

3 tbsp baking powder (Royal)

2 sticks butter

5 eggs

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

zest of one orange

2 tbsp orange blossom water or 1 tablespoon anise.

1 pinch of salt

2 yolks to paint

Procedure

Mix the yeast with a little warm water, add ½ cup flour and work to make a soft bun, let rise about 15 minutes covered with paper.

Shift the remaining flour with sugar and salt, make a well in the center, and add three of the five eggs, five egg yolks, butter, grated orange and orange blossom, and water, work the dough.

Mix with yeast bun, knead to integrate the two masses and let rise until double in volume, split the scone in two and make the loaves, put in greased pans, paint with egg yolk.

Garnish with pieces of dough mimicking bones, skulls, tears, etc. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake in preheated oven 40 minutes, at 400° F. Remove and let cool.

It will go great with hot chocolate, which by the way also originated in Oaxaca.