We have a tradition of making dozens of varieties of Christmas cookies in my family, and as a result the smell of something buttery baking in the oven always reminds me of the Christmas season. However, I associate a different set of smells with Christmas in Mexico, the primary one being the scent of the cinnamon-laced drink, ponche. Ponche is fruit punch that is served warm usually during the months of November and December in Mexico. It reminds me of an embellished hot apple cider and always transports me to the season of Posadas, the nine day celebration leading up to Christmas.
Brrrr…Old Man Winter made an early appearance. The temperature plunged into the teens over the weekend, and the ground is blanketed with 2-3 inches of snow. This put me in the mood for some hot chocolate.
The first trip I ever made to Mexico in the summer of 2007 was unforgettable. To this day, I cannot imagine my culinary life before it. During my short six week stay, my senses were flooded by countless new tastes and aromas. The agua de jamaica, a deep wine-colored drink made out of rehydrated hibiscus flowers, was exotic. The prickly guanábana fruit with its indescribable luscious flavor left me wanting more, and the cheeses were glorious. They were white, fresh, and tangy—nothing like the orange-colored “Mexican” cheeses in the U.S.
One of my favorite parts of celebrating Día de Muertos is making and eating the traditional pan de muerto or bread of the dead. In the weeks leading up to the big celebration at the beginning of November, Mexican panaderías begin to fill their shelves with the sugar-coated loaves. The small, medium, and large rounds are topped with the classic crossbones design and seem to almost sparkle in the light from their generous dusting of sugar.
Día de Muertos or Day of the Dead is a two day long celebration that occurs in Mexico on November 1st and 2nd. During this time, the Mexican people celebrate and remember their loved ones who have passed away. They believe that the spirits of these individuals return to be with their families during this time. Many people visit the cemeteries and decorate the graves with cempasúchil (marigolds) and velas (candles). In homes, people often build ofrendas or offerings for the departed souls. Ofrendas can be made up of any number of objects. Photographs, candles, papel picado (cut tissue paper), pan de muerto (bread of the dead), and calaveras de azúcar (sugar skulls) are just a few of the objects you might find on an ofrenda.