Mexicans preserve 'posadas' tradition with 9 nights of feasting

A PROCESSION OF FOOD

December 19, 1990|By Vicky Robbins

Christmas has been celebrated in Mexico since 1587 when Brother Diego de Sorio of the Acolman Convent near Mexico City received papal permission to officiate nine daily masses from Dec. 16-24 to commemorate the birth of Christ.

It was fortuitous for the Catholic Church that the Christmas season coincided with indigenous festivities in honor of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war. Thus, its evangelical labors were made easier and Spanish traditions were soon intertwined with local ones.

Central to the holiday customs here are the nine "posadas," or the re-enactment of the nine-day wandering from Nazareth to Bethlehem of Joseph and Mary in search of a birthplace for the blessed child.

While "posadas" have generally lost much of their meaning in the larger cities of Mexico with Santa Claus and imported Christmas trees are every year more in evidence, in smaller towns throughout the country the people still celebrate the holiday the way their forefathers did.

Marcela Lara of the village of Santiago Tilapa in the State of Mexico says that every year a committee is chosen from the local inhabitants to plan the nine-day processions and the food that will be served.

Starting on Dec. 16 Joseph and Mary and a crowd of pilgrims nightly entreat entry, in song, at the door of a chosen house. They are at first turned away and then allowed to enter.

Then the festivities begin. A pinata, bearing fruits, sugar cane, hard candies and nuts, will noisily be broken. Food is offered to one and all, generally followed by dancing.

The "posadas" continue for eight days, culminating on the 24th when the procession moves to the church where the baby Jesus is placed in his cradle in the "nacimiento," or nativity scene. There is a Christmas mass, followed by a late supper.

Each town chooses the foods it will serve on each of the nine nights, but almost always there is atole (a corn-based hot drink) and bunuelos (a light cruller). Also served are hot punch, tamales, enchiladas or whatever the speciality of the town might be.

In the cities, Christmas Eve dinner is a more elaborate mixture of Spanish and Mexican dishes. It is almost always served near midnight and presents are opened afterwards. Christmas Day is a time for rest and leftovers.

Roast stuffed turkey, suckling pig, codfish and beet salad are favorites, as well as a strangely exotic dish called "revoltijo" -- fritters, made from dried shrimp, which are cooked with potatoes and cactus leaves in a sauce of rosemary and "mole." (Because of the difficulty in finding these ingredients, this recipe is not included in the ones below.)

Roast stuffed turkey

Turkey, or "guajolote," is native to Mexico and was one of the few animals domesticated by the Aztecs. The Spaniards took such a liking to it that they soon introduced it into Europe, where it replaced the peacock as succulent banquet fare.

Turkey is very popular on Christmas Eve and is generally stuffed with a combination of ground meats, fruits and nuts. This version is called Guajolote relleno al horno.

1 15-pound turkey

2 tablespoons butter or oil

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

3/4 pound ground beef

3/4 pound ground pork

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup almonds, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup olives, sliced

salt, pepper

1/2 cup sherry

2 eggs, well beaten

butter for basting

Wash the turkey well, pat dry and make the following stuffing:

Heat butter or oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and celery for five minutes. Mix the ground meats together in a bowl and add to the pan. Cook slowly until browned, breaking the meat into small pieces with a fork. Add the raisins, almonds, olives, salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with sherry and add the beaten eggs. Mix well.

Stuff the inside and neck cavity loosely and sew both openings with needle and thread. Brush turkey with melted butter and wrap in tin foil. Roast at 325 degrees for approximately four hours, or 15 minutes per pound, basting frequently. Remove foil for last 30 minutes of cooking time to brown skin well. Make gravy from drippings.

Note: If you're concerned about using eggs in the stuffing, just be sure that when the turkey is done, the dressing temperature )) reads 160 to 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. (Stick the thermometer directly into the stuffing through the cavity to test.) that temperature, the eggs are thoroughly cooked.

Turkey stuffed with dried fruits

The following version is called Guajolote relleno de orejones.

1 15-pound turkey

1/2 cup dried apricot slices

1/2 cup dried peach slices

1/2 cup dried pear slices

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup plums, pitted and sliced

1 cup sherry

salt, pepper

1/2 cup almonds, peeled and sliced

butter for basting

Soak dried apricots in cold water overnight. Drain and put in a bowl with other fruits, the sherry and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Stuff inside and neck cavity, sew up and cook according to TC directions for the roast stuffed turkey. Before serving sprinkle with almonds.

Spanish-style codfish

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