In preparation of next months events, not withstanding the 4 days of the LM Days, here is my latest installment of holidays and history. |
Chapter Fifteen - Viva Barbecue Mexican style ! Viva Zapata !
The month of February features at least 11 important fiesta days in Mexico, including a day dedicated to the telegraphers of the country. Just to mention a few other important dates; the 2nd is the Festival of Candlemas which marks the date when Baby Jesus was taken out of the creche and dressed. Also known as Godparents Day or Dia de Los Compadres, the rituals prescribe for this day a big friendship party or bsile given by the person who found the bean in the Three Kings' Bread of January 6th. On the same day, the historic event of the Treaty of Hidalgo is observed, recognizing the pact which signed away California, New Mexico and Texas to the United States or two million square kilometers or 1/2 of the territory of Mexico. Not too much to celebrate about!
February 5th commemorates the ratification of the Mexican Constitution of 1857 which raised decrees of equality before the law, freedom of the press and nationalization of church lands to the rank of national laws. In 1917, the Constitution was revised and expanded further to include land, labor and education reforms which were necessary to unify and solidify a nation embroiled and divided by civil wars.
On February 14th, Dia de Amistad and St. Valentine´s Day, Mexicans pause a moment in silence and pay homage to a past President, Vincent Guerrero, another revolutionary hero, assassinated by an enemy of the state. They also rejoice for their national independence because the Republic of Mexico was fully recognized by the United States and England on this day.
February 19th is El Dia de Ejercito or Army Day and Flag Day is observed on February 24th, Dia de Banderas.
In Jalisco, there are at least 20 additional days of celebration added to the busy social calendar as arranged by the Department of Tourism, the Hotel Association and the Cultural Committee of the Belles Artes. A varied program of cultural presentations, sports functions and civic commemoration ceremonies include military processions, native folk dancing, parades with floats, fireworks, fishing tournaments for sailfish, charrera or rodeos, bullfights and a sailboat regatta from Marina del Rey in Los Angelos. Daily, thousands of visitors pour into our city from the north, from across the seas and from the big cities of Mexico to partake in the merriment and to celebrate the sun and the sea. They come to ride horseback in the jungle, to explore the sea flora and fauna in the underwater national park at Los Arcos (the arched rock island in the bay), to take boat trips to inaccessible coastal villages like Quimisto with its waterfall or Las Animus with its quiet isolated cove and turquoise waters splashing on white sandy shores.
They also come to see our picturesque colonial town sitting at the apex of a half moon bay and ringed by mountains densely clad in coco palms and exuberant jungle greens. Cobblestoned streets lined with bright flowering blue jacaranda and African red tulip trees, run up and down among a warren of red tilted roof houses covered with magenta bouganvilla and fiery orange trumpet vines. It is a story book place where pigs and chickens still roam the streets, where the little aborrotes or mama papa groceries still sell penny candy (10 pesos today), rice, beans and tortillas; where church bells ring at the break of day mixed with strains of enthusiastic roosters, barking dogs, jingling bells of the passing garbage truck and the clap clap of the burros. Apron clad women with braided hair sell food from aromatic steaming cazuelas at sidewalk restaurants while other ladies gossip as they pound their laundry on the rocks in the local rivers or bathe their children in the rushing waters of the river. Open doors interspersed among the shops selling designer dresses allow a peek at leafy patios of private dwellings with caged parrots, canaries, toucans and macaws squawking for attention. Children play at stick ball while burros and muleteers (arrieros) clap clap on the cobblestones and join the motorized traffic passing through the city.
On fiesta days, Mexicans' thoughts turn to 'un dia de campestre' an open air social affair at which a whole animal is roasted in an old family style barbeque. Most every one still has family and relatives living in the surrounding countryside and on a special four day or weekend holiday called a 'puente' or bridge, there is a mass exodus to the ranchitos for barbacoa. While the outdoor firepits are being lit, during the month of February, little children dressed in sombreros and mustaches play at revolution and victorious shouts of "Viva la revolution!",
"Viva Zapata!", "Viva Pancho Villa!" and "Viva la Constitution!" ring through the air. Others gather around an abuelito (grandpa) or viejito (the old one) to listen as the real live hero of the revolution spins his hair raising tales of fighting with the guerillas with plenty of scars to show for his valor. At appropriate intervals, everyone is expected to shout "Viva!", "Viva Zapata!", "Viva Pancho Villa!" and "Viva Abuelito!" and toast all the heroes with another shot of tequila or beer. "Drink now, for tomorrow we die" or "Si me han de mater manana, que me taten de una vez." Not to be outdone by the Mexicans, the United States expatriates in PuertoVallarta like to sing praises and honor their national heroes, George Washington on February 22nd and Abe Lincoln on February 12th. In our house, Abuelito Bernardo (my husband) gathers his grandchildren around a family cookout in the backyard to tell the fairy tales of George chopping down the cherry tree and his not telling a lie; about Abe living in a log cabin and chopping firewood for warmth and light by which to read through the night. The children then don tricornered paper hats and play at chopping down the tree with cardboard hatchets. In keeping with the Yankee tradition, we serve apple pie (red cherries are not available), the genuine classic that combines heaps of tart cooking apples with a little sugar and cinnamon and piled high in a wonder¬fully short but firm pastry shell. It adds the perfect patriotic punch to our national birthday parties and the celebrations have delicious stateside overtones with joyous cries from the children, "Viva George!", "Viva Abe!", "Viva Grandpa!" and "Viva apple pie!"
Barbacoa or barbeque Mexican style is an ancient way of cooking, probably going back to the Neolithic man, whereby a whole dressed pig, lamb, goat or side of beef is wrapped in maguey leaves and roasted in an underground pit lined with hot stones and agave stalks or pencas de maguey (Century plant). The whole animal from chin to tail or barba a cola (the origin of the word barbacoa) is cooked in the aromatic steam of the maguey juice. Modern versions of the primitive bbarbacoa pits can be seen at the popular palapa open air restaurants or restaurantes de campestre along the airport highway which serve succulent roasted lamb or borrega barbacoa, shepherd style goat or chive al pastor and roasted partridge or codorniz al carbon. A reasonable substitute for this old fashioned Indian cooking is the charcoal grill at home in a brasero or clay brazier, resembling a primitive mask made of hard fired black Oaxacan pottery or terra cotta. Sometimes, mesquite, a drywood from a tree that bears a sugary fruit grown in the arid parts of Mexico, is used instead of charcoal or carbon. It gives a milder more nutlike flavor than coals with an outdoorsey taste that is most appealing. Note: Braseros don't come with grills, so use one from the oven or have one made at the ironshop to fit the top bowl. A re converted 5 gallon lard can does the job just as well, if a clay brasero is not available. For a good hot fire, uniformly spread a bed of 20 coals (or pure homemade carbon bits bought from the little old man who sells petroleo for the oil lamps) and ignite the fuel. To sear meat, use glowing coals, just before the gray ash stage. For quick cocking, use medium glowing coals partially covered with gray ash. To roast thick pieces for a longer period, use low glowing coals with a thick gray ash.
Charcoal cookery is a popular practice in La Manzanilla where everyday brings balmy weather. It is also an easy informal way to entertain guests at the height of the tourist season in February with grace and a minimum of fuss. A sure guarantee for a leisurely meal out of doors is a menu of a variety of foods that can be cocked over hot coals, Mexican style. Take a heaping measure of Mexican cooking know how, season with a touch of Chile, add a little imagination and you are bound to have a delightfully different barbeque. PuIl out the tongs, don the chef's hat, light the fire and have a barbeque party! Fun starts the minute the fire gets going. Everybody pitches in! Set the table with casual appointments wing paper goods and accented with live tropical flowers and same patriotic symbols to recognize the bravery of Mexican and American heroes. One or two small braseros with glowing hot coals and aromatic chips of coconut husks at one end of the table and a punch bowl of pina colada at the other create an elusive combination of fine food laced with Mexican hospitality, an outdoorsey atmosphere with that laid back lifestyle of the west coast.
A suggested menu scheme of Mexican barbeque specialties may start off with a frosty foamy pina colada with a variety of self service hors d'oeuvres, featuring mackerel fillets and cactus pads in corn husks. Everyone is in on the fun when you grill your own. Each guest becomes a chef as he prepares his own appetizer at a small table brazier and enjoys the tantalizing aromas of charcoal cookery. A cold creamy avocado soup served with finesse and flair in a sturdy glass goblet will sustain the hungry crowd until all is ready. Take advantage of a good fire and roast corn in the husks, bananas in the skin and keep lots of fresh corn tortillas warm. The main course may be such popular old time favorites as hot dogs and hamburgers, but try some new approaches such as succulent porkribs, leg of lamb, juicy steak and crispy chicken marinated, basted and glazed with a Mexican blend of spices and herbs. Casseroles of already prepared cooked beans (see Index) and a papaya coconut rice reheated over low glowing coals add special flavors, textures and color to the hearty barbeque main dishes and a crisp cooked vegetable salad or a Mexican cole slow (see Index) complements it all. Bring the al fresco dining experience to a sweet conclusion with a patriotic dessert of tricolored almond cream and an honest to goodness stateside apple pie and/or homemade Mexican cookies.
PATRIOTIC PINA COLADA (Piña Colada de Patria)
The natural tropical flavors of fresh pineapple and fresh coconut used in this punch beats any ready to use canned mixture. This frothy creamy coconut milk shake can be alcoholic or non¬-alcoholic depending on the occasion. Either way, it is a festive drink. The flavoring power of rum works well with this delicious piña colada mix. Colored ice cubes in the tricolors of the Mexican flag are used at patriotic celebrations and add a decorative touch to an already glamorous drink.
2 whole coconuts with reserved
1 c. hot water
2 c. coconut liquid
1 large whole pineapple or 6 c. juice and pulp
2 c. light rum or 1 bottle soda water
1/4 c. lime juice
1 c. sugar
orange rum ice cubes (follows)
green and red maraschino cherries
Pierce eyes of the coconut with ice pick to drain off coconut liquid. Reserve and set aside. Bake coconut in oven at 200° C for 15 minutes. Break it open with a hammer. Remove the flesh from the shell with the point of a strong knife. Peel off the brown membrane and cut meat into 1/2 inch cubes. For each cup of cubed meat, add 1/2 cup coconut liquid and 1/4 cup hot water. Whirl in electric blender for 30 seconds. Let stand for 1 hour. Strain thin puree through a double thickness of dampened cheese¬cloth. Squeeze out about 3 cups coconut milk. Save coconut crumbs in refrigerator for another use (see ice cube recipe below). Peel pineapple and remove core. Puree in electric blender adding 1 bottle (7 ounces) club soda to make 6 cups of pineapple juice with pulp. Combine with coconut milk, sugar, lime juice and rum. Stir until well blended. Pour over crushed ice in a punch bowl or pitcher. Serve in frosted high ball glasses with a flavored decorated ice cube. Or garnish with a stemmed red and green maraschino cherry and a coconut stick.
ORANGE RUM CUBES (Cubes de Hielo Naranjada)
Decorated ice cubes add fun and flavor to any punch and with a bit of alcohol, it gives the drink an extra kick. Red and green maraschino cherries with coconut chips are used to simulate the tricolors of the Mexican flag on patriotic days.
2 c. orange juice
1/4 c. light rum
1/4 c. coconut chips or
red and green maraschino cherries
Combine orange juice and light rum. Pour into an ice cube tray, filling it half way. Slice cherries in half and add one red and one green section with a few shreds of coconut to each cube. Freeze to anchor fruit. Fill with remaining juice. Freeze until firm. To remove, allow tray to sit on counter at room temperature for a few seconds.
PACIFIC MACKERAL AND CACTUS IN CORN HUSKS OVER COALS(Sierra y Nopales en Hojas al Carbon)
An interesting unique appetizer as well as a good conversation piece around the grill is roasted Pacific mackerel or sierra fillets in corn husks, prepared in the ancient Aztec fashion. The fillets rest on a crunchy bed of nopales or prickly pear in an envelope made of mixote a paper thin membrane covering of the maguey lest, soaked in water for 2 hours before using, then cut into square sheets. The fish parcels are prepared ahead of time and each guest is invited to roast his own appetizer or entrada. Note: Corn husks are used if mixiote is not available.
1/4 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp. salt
6 small whole nopales or
6 small sierra fillets
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. butter
12 corn husks or aluminum
1 spring epazote (optional)
Remember to think of a donation to the abulance operating fund at Palapa Joe's, thank you
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