Merry month of May
MERRY SPRING FESTIVALS OF MAY - BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR LA MANZANILLA
The tides have washed away most of the sand castles that were built on the beaches of La Manzanilla during the Easter Spring vacation. The air smells of roses, the sunsets glow red and purple with the accumulation of the first rain clouds on the horizons and children dance around a maypole on Día de Los Niños as the last day of April ushers in the May Spring Festivals. As in the ancient tradition, spring festivals to the goddesses of fertility and to the saints of agriculture, the month of May is one continuous festival throughout rural Mexico. Special days are set aside for the planting of corn, to welcome the rain and to bless the animals. Regional agricultural and trade fairs are set up everywhere; a flower fair at Fortin de Las Flores, strawberry fair at Irapuato, grape harvest fiesta at Parras, a pineapple fair at Villa Azueta. Each contains attractive displays of the finest fruit and produce of the specific area with all the elements of the Mexican fiesta. The highlight of many of these ferías is native folkloric dancing under the arbora beautifully decorated with flowers similar to the medieval English custom of dancing around the maypole. Special added attractions are cockfights, bullfights, sports competitions, handicraft expositions and noisy colorful fireworks displays. Improvised restaurants with benches and oilcloth covered tables spring up around the town squares offering deep plates of steaming frijoles and carne asada cooking on grates over wood fires with hot fresh tortillas while pushcarts bearing big jars of rainbow colored froitades jiggle over the cobblestones.
On May 15th, special homage is paid to San Isidro Labrador the patron saint of farmers and on this day rural farmers parade brightly decorated yolked oxen and mules alongside their tractors sporting colorful ornaments and garlands of flowers into town to be blessed in religious ceremonies.
May 3rd, Día de la Santa Cruz, is a favorite celebration, particularly among the construction workers all over Mexico. The masons build a cross on their construction site, decorate it with colorful paper flowers and the head engineer gives the workers a big feast with mariachi bands blaring out through the town.
In and around Mexico City on May 5th, many civic ceremonies commemorate the Battle of Puebla, the victory won over the French troops in 1862 who were determined to impose a monarch upon Mexico and establish a second monarchy. The local inhabitants re-enact La Batilla de Cinco de Mayo in a mock battle in the afternoon after the morning political speeches. The men divide into two large groups and dress as French and Mexican soldiers with their thundering muskets blasting away and include the favor regiment of Zacapoaxtla Indians who fought so bravely against the French.
Las Fiestas de Mayo in La Manzanilla is also the birthday celebration of the city itself. La Manzanilla, the fishing village turned resort has almost no history until its official recognition as a municipality in 1918, although Mexico itself has one of the m' ancient and colorful histories in the Western hemisphere with its wars and revolutions dating back thousands of years. The area of Vallarta was claimed for Spain by Don Pedro Alvarado in 1540 after Spanish seamen discovered various safe harbors in the Bahia de Banderas or Bay of Flags on their way to explore Baja Californi Here they replenished their ships with water, wood and fresh food. English, Dutch, free lance privateers and famous navigators like Sebastian Vizcaino and Frances Drake attacked these shores more than once, but never established a settlement. In 1664 a dockyar' was built by Bernardo Bernel de Pinadero at the mouth of the Mismaloya River to carry out the colonization of Baja California. Two hundred years later another dock for loading and unloading supplies for the exploitation of the mines of Real de Caule was set up at the mouth of the Rio Caule where La Manzanilla is today. In 1851, Don Guadalupe Sanchez carried salt in a boat to be used in
the mines and his family was the first to settle along the Rio Caule. Along those shores were the haunts of roaming loot hungry pirates and legends of ghosts and buried treasures wore popular. Many grim folk tales about pirating still abound. The main beach in La Manzanilla, Playa de Los Muertos (Beach of the Dead) was named after a massacre of silver miners by a ahiplul of pirates. Several attempts to rename the beach Playa Sol have failed. Attracted by the rich sail of the river banks, Crealea and Euromestizos gradually arrived to fish and farm alon the Rio Caule, soon intermarried with the native Indian population from the surrounding mountains and founded a permanent pueblo. These simple farmers and fishermen were able to thrive due to the protective isolation of the bay and during the uneasy times of the Mexican Revolution, they grew much needed grain and raised pigs which wore shipped by boat via other ports to supply the revolutionaries. By July 14, 1885, this little seaside village was named Puerto de Las Peñas or Rocky Port, and a federal customs house was established. The pueblo slowly grew into a municipality or county and on May 31, 1918, it was officially recognized and named La Manzanilla after the illustrious governor of Jalisco state, Don Ignacio L. Vallarta, and the first mayor was elected. In 1951 La Manzanilla won international recognition with its first centennial anniversary of its foundation and in 1954 Mexicana
Airlines received the first air franchise which linked La Manzanilla to Guadalajara and the outside world. Jet airline service and a new airport followed shortly after.
Having much to shout about and celebrate, the city fathers of La Manzanilla, together with the departments of tourism and culture and many civic groups, sponsor a month long program of cultural and sports activities in the true spirit of the Mexican fiesta. Fairgrounds are set up north of the city off the airport highway with carnival rides, booths, commercial exhibits, palenque cockfights, bullfights, public staged performances of folkloric dancing and special variety shows featuring famous TV and movie artists of Mexico like Jose Iturbe, Karlos and Lisa and including our well known beloved mime, Sergio Tatayo. Days before, throughout the city, anticipation mounts as artistic posters announcing the festivities are hammered to buildings and street lampposts and hand cut crepe paper cutouts decorate the town plaza or zocalo. The full agenda starts off with a colorful parade of charros with their senoritas on horseback, marching bands and extravagant floats, all led by the Queen of the Fiestas. This is followed by many ribbon cutting ceremonies inaugurating the month long exhibits, contests and races.
Amidst the flurry of activities in the month of May, local residents take time out to honor many unsung heroes and plan special fiestas for Mothers Day, Teachers Day and Students Day. Several neighbors will usually get together to pay special tribute to their children's teachers. As is the Mexican custom, flowers are sent with the children to school in the morning of "El Día del Maestro" and a communal feast is prepared for the teachers in the afternoon, either at school or at home. All participating families are asked to bring a special dish for a pot luck buffet and a little package of cookies for the hostess as a traditional courtesy. A buffet table is usually laden with hot steaming casseroles, huge punch bowls and platters of desserts. All dishes have those Mexican seasonings and ingredients which make them typically Mexican and yet each one manifests a different nuance - a little less of or a little more of a particular spice to coax the traditional flavor to the point of absolutely delicious.
The Mexican cook is a past master of culinary innovation; she has the ability to improvise on a classical dish and invent her own recipes based on what is available in the market and in her kitchen.
The recipes for some of the different and yet familiar dishes that have appeared at our neighborhood Teacher ́s Feast from time to time follow.
They have been rearranged into an appealing menu for an afternoon ladies luncheon or an evening spring supper. Start your May fiesta at home with a creamy coconut gin fizz. Enjoy marinated mussels and cocktail size fish balls in a spicy tomato aspic as appetizers. Then serve an unusual tasty eggplant soup which always pleases as a first course and is a way of life in Mexico. Add to the convivial celebration a choice of two attractive popular entrees; glorified spicy veal a la chile con came centered in a rice crown and outlined with braised purslane greens or a flavorful beef tongue in a pipian nut sauce with side dishes of beans and rice. A fine textured homemade mango bread with a mango
glaze is just the right sweet touch to accompany the main entree. Serve cold beer or a chilled Mexican dry white wine by Calefa from Baja California as recommended by Captain Jose Ruiz from the Fiesta Americana restaurant. Brew a pot or alla of lemon grass tea for a grand finale with an old fashioned Mexican dessert of "Royal Eggs" in a sherry syrup.
With summer in the air and everyone in a festive mood in the merry month of May, serve this delightful menu buffet style to your visiting guests and friends who will sit at small tables covered with informal cloths and colorful Mexican appointments in the style of a Mexican fiesta. Decorate the house with balloons, paper cutouts and streamers. A Maypole with garlands of fresh flowers and a pinata or two can provide some of the after supper entertainment. Prepare most of the dishes ahead to give you time to rehearse a few Mexican folk dancing steps with some of the extroverts in your crowd. Invite all the guests to participate in the fun of a Mexican fiesta - to step around the Maypole to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance and take a whack or two at the piñata and scramble on the floor for the spilled goodies.
COCONUT GIN FIZZ (Jaibol de Coco y Ginebre)
Local grown coconuts are the source of a highly esteemed drink in La Manzanilla. Iced green immature coconuts with the tops hacked off for straws to reach the refreshing tart, slightly milky looking liquid are sold at many open stands on the beaches and roadsides. With a shot of rum or gin, a squirt of soda water and a dash of lime, the coconut milk becomes a delicate "white cloud" or nube blanco
COCONUT GIN FIZZ (Jaibol de Coco y Ginebre)
Local grown coconuts are the source of a highly esteemed drink in La Manzanilla. Iced green immature coconuts with the tops hacked off for straws to reach the refreshing tart, slightly milky looking liquid are sold at many open stands on the beaches and roadsides. With a shot of rum or gin, a squirt of soda water and a dash of lime, the coconut milk becomes a delicate "white cloud" or nube blanco highball for afternoon sipping out of the original coconut shell at the poolside or at an afternoon with the ladies at home.
2 1/2 c. coconut milk (see 1/2 c. lime juice
Index) or 3 c. dried 2 c. gin
unsweetened coconut + 1/2 c. sugar
4 c. milk
trayful of crushed ice cubes 2 (8 oz.) bottles soda water sprigs of mint
or Agua Mineral maraschino cherries
See Index to make coconut milk from fresh coconuts or make milk from packaged coconut by combining 3 cups of shredded dry unsweetened coconut with 4 cups cold milk. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Whirl in blender for 1 minute. Strain through double thickness of cheesecloth, squeezing out 21/2 cups coca milk. Discard roughage. Blend together coca milk with lime juice, gin, crushed ice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Liquid should be
COLD BEAN SOUP (Sopa de Frijol Frio)
Pureed beans add body to a simple broth (caldo sencillo) enriching it with more proteins and nourishment. Served cold it is exceptionally good with grilled open faced sandwiches.
1 c. pinto beans 1 onion
1 stalk celery
1 tsp. salt
2 c. beef stock
3 c. water 1 carrot
2 Tbsp. parsley
1/2 c. evaporated milk
radishes and onions for garnish
Boil pinto beans in water for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for 1 hour. Cook beans with soaking water and sliced onion, chopped carrot and chopped celery stalk for 2 hours or until beans are tender. Puree vegetables and beans using a little of the cooking liquid if needed to make a thin smooth puree. Add beef broth (caldo sencillo) - see above, evaporated milk, freshly chopped parsley and salt to taste. Cover and chill. Garnish with more chopped parsley or chopped radishes and onions. Serve with totopos or sandwiches.