Cooking Like A Mexican

Calabaza en tacha
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

AlejandraSarachaga.jpgIn a place like Los Cabos in which both cultures, Mexican and American, coexist, there are two celebrations that in some way we share. Mexican Día de Muertos and American Halloween.

Both have the same origin: pagan, both celebrate death, both use the same colors; purple, orange and black, and both share one ingredient: the pumpkin. Americans’ use it for a pie and we Mexicans use it for a dessert that our kids love.

The vast majority of the pumpkins consumed worldwide originated in species that were domesticated in Mexico, all belonging to the genus, cucurbita. In fact this is the first plant cultivated in Mesoamerica, which the earliest found date back some 10,000 years. Since then, the pumpkin is a fundamental part of the national diet, is a plant that takes advantage of not only the fruit but its flowers and stems, and since following the Spanish conquest was dispersed through the world is a product consumed widely.

These plants produce fruits that can reach a considerable size and have a very fleshy pulp, were prized in ancient times for its seeds, especially those that we Mexicans call pepitas, are relatively abundant, and they represent an efficient source of protein and are capable of being stored for long periods without hardly deteriorating. These qualities of the seeds help explain the process that led to the squash plants being popular with the nomadic people. That situation was gradually changing the characteristics of the plant, making it more suitable for human needs looking for its proper development. The most notable changes between wild and domesticated squash and or pumpkin are in reducing the bitter taste of the pulp, and the increase in the size of the parts used, as the fruit and seeds.

The earliest evidence of domesticated squash corresponds to precisely one of the varieties used today, and found in a cave in Oaxaca, in the southern part of Mexico. These seeds were dated back to between 8300 and 10,000 years before present. In the caves Romero and Valenzuela, in Tamaulipas, a state in the north of Mexico, is also located cucurbita pepo seeds, these from 2000 BC In Tehuacan, Puebla, a region from which much of the information on the domestication of plants in Mesoamerica remains were found corresponding to 5200 BC. The fact that the rest of the species was domesticated squash in later times indicates that the cucurbita pepo was the most suitable for the environmental conditions of Mesoamerica.

The Day of the Dead is a pre-Hispanic Mexican celebration that honors the dead on November 2, starting from November 1, coinciding with the Catholic celebrations of All Souls Day and All Saints. It’s a Mexican holiday, which is also celebrated in some Central American countries, and in many communities in the United States, where there is a large Mexican and Central American population. UNESCO has declared the Mexican holiday as Intangible Cultural Heritage.

 The origins of the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico predate the arrival of the Spanish. The rituals that celebrate the life of the ancestors are made from at least 3,000 years ago. In the pre-Hispanic era it was common practice to keep skulls as trophies and display them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

The festival that became the Day of the Dead marked the ninth month of the Aztec solar calendar, near the beginning of August, and was celebrated for an entire month. The festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacíhuatl, known as Lady Death, (currently related to  Catrina, the commonly seen cartoonish character), an, Lord of the land of the dead’s wife Mictlantecuhtli. The festivities were dedicated to the celebration of children and the lives of deceased relatives.

This celebration is for all Mexicans because, despite being a party that has become a national symbol and is taught in school, There are many families who are moreinterested in celebrating All Saints Day as they do in other Catholic countries. Linked with this is the strong influence of the United States that, at least in border areas, is evidenced by the presence of the holiday known as Halloween, which is celebrated every year more often and in a greater number of households. That is also why there is a concern among Mexicans themselves wanting to preserve the Day of the Dead as part of Mexican culture.

calabaza.jpgHalloween, (a contraction of all hallows’ evening, ‘night of all saints’), also known as Halloween or Night of the Dead, is a celebration of Celtic origin celebrated  on the night of October 31 primarily in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and in Anglo-Saxon countries such as Mexico and Colombia. It has roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Christian holiday All Saints’ Day. In large part, is a secular celebration but some believe it has a religious background. Irish immigrants passed versions of the tradition to North America during the Great Irish Famine of 1840

So this year, after you dear readers buy your pumpkin and build your jack-o’-lantern decorations, instead of tossing the guts, do as we do. Prepare a “to die for” typical Mexican dessert.

Calabaza en Tacha

INGREDIENTS:

1 big pumpkin cut in pieces (oopss, there goes your decoration)

6-8 cups of brown sugar.

10 cinnamon sticks

20 cloves

1 ½ cups of water

Orange peel

PROCEDURE:

Boil the water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and the orange peel, when the sugar is completely melted turn off the fire and reserve. Cut the pumpkin in big pieces, diamond shape, by the fleshy part, place them in a big bowl, the bottom layer with skin down, and the rest of thellayers with the skin up. Pour all the syrup in the same bowl and let it boil to soft heat for around 2 ½ hours, or until the pumkin completely absorbs the liquid and it has a dark caramel color.

We use this dessert to place it on the altars, but you can give it to your kids as a trick or treat.

Alejandra.