What comes to mind when you think of Easter….. Bunnies, egg hunts and blooming flowers? In Mexico we don’t celebrate Easter, but Semana Santa which is the week before Easter. It is a national holiday and it’s also the time that many Mexicans take time off to go to the beach. Big cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey become ghost towns in these days and in beach destinations cash machines run out of money and supermarket shelves are emptied. I love the sun and sea of Cozumel, Cabo and Mazatlan, but when there are so many people on the beach I prefer to experience Easter in a different way!
Mexico is one of the most catholic countries in Latin America. It’s present in everyday life: people make the sign of a cross when passing in front of a church or use saint’s images for protection. Semana Santa is one of the most important celebrations, with processions and re-enactments of the crucifixion of Jesus.
On Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos) many Catholics visit their local church, buy a palm leaf that’s offered by the many vendors outside the church. Then they attend mass to receive a blessing on the palm. The blessed palm leaf will keep the holder safe and is usually located behind the front door of the house or on the rear-view mirror in the car. The design of the palm leafs differ per region and is a wonderful example of Mexican handcraft.
The re-enactments of Jesus’ crucifixion are much more than a mere theatre play. The involved actors are devout Catholics and express their deep religious feelings through the role they are playing. In some cities the actors that play Jesus, carry crosses that weigh up to 80 kilo, are literally crucified and undergo extreme pain. Thousands of people attend the Via Crucis throughout the country.
One of the more solemn activities of Holy Week is the Procesion del Silencio (Procession of Silence). It takes place on the Friday night before Easter and could be considered a funeral procession. All participants wear special clothing or hoods to renounce selfishness and arrogance. The image of a crucified or deceased Jesus heads the march, behind him the Virgen Marie dressed in mourning cloths. This Virgen is also called ‘Virgen Dolorosa’. All images of Jesus and the Virgen Marie that participate, are carried by the members of the church the image belongs to. During the procession you can hear only the sound of drums, that mark the pace. It’s kind of eery to be a part of the Procesion del Silencio: apart of the absence of sound, all street light are turned off and eventually you start to feel the sadness too.
Now enough about celebrations…. let’s about my favorite topic: FOOD! In the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter (Lent) Catholics are not allowed to eat meat on Fridays. Mexican catholics have created a special vegetarian dish for this time of year. It’s called Capirotada and could be considered a bread pudding with syrup. Each region in Mexico has its own version of this traditional Lent dish. This recipe from the north of Mexico is special, because it has layers of cheese.
Capirotada – Mexican bread pudding with syrup
20-25 slices of baguette (1-2 days old)
5 ounces (150 grams) of butter
9 ounces (250 grams) of grated queso Chihuahua or aged cheese
7 ounces (200 grams) of raisins
7 ounces (200 grams) of unsalted peanuts
5 ounces(150 grams) piloncillo or mascabado sugar
3 cups (750 ml) of water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup (250 ml) milk
- First prepare the syrup: boil the sugar, water, cinnamon and cloves in a sauce pan with a thick bottom while stirring into liquid syrup. Remove the pan from the fire and stir in the milk.
- Toast the slices of bread and cover with butter.
- Preheat the oven at 390ºF(200ºC). Use a deep casserole (cazuela) for this dish. Dip the slices of bread into the syrup until making one layer. Spread part of the cheese, raisins and peanuts on tip and cover with another layer of bread dipped in syrup. Continue until all the ingredients are finished.
- Strain the leftover of the syrup and pour over the pudding. Cover with aluminium foil and bake the pudding for about 20 minutes. Check from time to time by lifting the foil and flattening the pudding with a spoon. Lower the heat to 300ºF(150ºC) and bake for another 30 minutes. Serve this pudding lukewarm.
SERVES 6 PEOPLES
Dancing Chef Maaike