Posted in Central America, Sweets, tagged calaveras, Catrinas, Dia de los Muertos, egg-free, gluten-free, gluten-free gingerbread, Guadalupe Posada, Mexico, peanut-free on 2 November 2008|
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These are my fallen angles. For a Day of the Dead gathering with Mexican friends I made two things: a traditional calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) and these creatures, my Catrinas. The classic calavera, or sugar skull, is an icon of Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico, but, no surprise, that they are impossible to find where we live in the UK. I could not find chocolate skulls either, nor any three-dimensional moulds to make any sort of calavera. I couldn’t find even two-dimensional skull or skeleton forms, despite Halloween. But I did have a Christmas angel cookie-cutter, and if you look closely…
I should be clear: I do not claim these as ‘authentic.’ I’ve no research to suggest that anyone in Mexico left anything like this on an altar this weekend. But they are inspired by a famous icon that has become associated with Día de los Muertos in Mexico, the Catrinas of José Guadalupe Posada. These are my far-inferior version of his wonderful etchings, albeit in gingerbread form. It really is meant as an homage. Had I more talent, my cookies would have had hats and handbags.
What did my Mexican friends think? That there must be something heretical about turning angels into skeletons. There probably is. But my Catrinas were warmly accepted in the spirit of the afternoon regardless, next to the pollo recado rojo in tortilla and the pan de muertos. They know I mean well, stumbling through life with enthusiasm, if not clarity.
PS: For those in need, I used the gluten-free gingerbread men recipe from the Sainsbury’s site, with real butter instead of dairy-free spread, and making sure to have xanthum gum onboard. They were stealthily good, and are well worth repeating at Christmas…with a different glazing pattern.
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This charmingly candid photograph shows the chiles en nogada that I made for a backyard pot-luck last month. Chiles en nogada are in essence peppers stuffed with pork and fruit, covered in a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. The recipe is said to be almost 200 years old, comes from an area just southeast of Mexico City called Puebla, and is traditionally served around Mexican Independance Day, in a tribute to the red, white and green of the flag. The particular occasion for us was a luncheon wishing some Parisien friends au revoir, but as it was the weekend before Mexican Independence Day and the party’s hosts were Mexican, I decided to give this dish a go, thousands of kilometres from its natural home.
The distance matters: the chiles of chiles en nogada are meant to be poblano peppers, and these are impossible to find in the UK, at least out here in not-London. So I substituted grilled and peeled green bell peppers instead, and incorporated a few small diced green chilies into the filling to try to recreate the slightly picante flavour of the poblano, if not the shape. The filling is a saute of diced cooked pork, onion, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, almonds, apple, and diced dried apricot (again, faking the candied innards of a cactus that I couldn’t find locally). The walnut sauce is not a bechamel, but a no-cook mixture of creme fraiche, quark, sour cream and sugar (a crazy combination to mimic the proper queso fresca), ground walnuts, and (gluten-free) bread crumbs. Pomegranate and cilantro to finish, for the patriotic flourish.
So my Mexican friends very graciously ate this version of chiles en nogada, which was more improvised than authentic, and proclaimed it accurate. ¡Such good manners! For a study in contrasts, behold the bowl of mole sauce in the upper left corner of the photo: it’s makings were transported by suitcase to the UK from a market in Mexico City. Now that’s impressive dedication to the real thing.
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