Friday, October 24, 2008

Dia de Los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos is a wonderful (though macabre) festive day celebrated November 1st (Dia de los Angelitos)- All Saints Day, and November 2nd- All Souls Day. Along the border, the celebration begins on October 31st: Halloween Day.

Paintings made famous for this day are attributed to Jose Guadalupe Posada. Go to this amazing website to read his biography and view some of his more famous paintings.Dia de los Muertos is a time to celebrate and remember relatives and friends who have passed on from this life. Some people even take the time to celebrate pets who have gone on to pet heaven.

The most common ways to celebrate Dia de Los Muertos is to create an "ofrenda," an altar dedicated to the deceased. The ofrenda can be set up on a fireplace mantle or a side table. It can be as complex or as humble as you wish it to be.

Often the altar is first covered with a brightly colored cloth, perhaps a zarape. Surrounding the zarape, attach "papel picado." Papel Picado is, very simply, cut tissue paper, called "papel de china" in Spanish, in a variety of colors and designs, made much the same way you would in making a snowflake.

The possibilities are endless. Some stores specializing in Mexican decor carry pre-cut papel picado for various occasions, even Halloween or Dia de los Muertos. Pictures of our long lost friends and family are also placed on the altar. Their favorite foods and beverages are set on the table as are the traditional "Pan de Muertos" (this delightful recipe was created by Meryl, at Inspired Bites) and sugar skulls.

Candles are lit and incense burns to help the departed find their way back home for that one special day to celebrate the circle of life (and death) with their loved ones. Complete the ofrenda with pots full of marigolds. These beautiful yellow-orange flowers are associated with the Day of the Dead. Some people sprinkle the flower petals from outside their door all the way to the ofrenda to help the departed find their way.

This glorious celebration had it's beginnings many years ago. Old world cultures have long since made their peace with the marriage of life and death and joyfully celebrate each. While the U.S. has fallen behind in the acceptance of the conjoining of both processes of the circle of life, the rising numbers of Mexican Americans determined to maintain roots in their culture have influenced the general population's acceptance of Dia de los Muertos. Finally, if feasible, make the journey to the cemetery. Say the rosary, or just talk to your lost loved one and enjoy that magic moment when life and death are on the same plane.

Make your own sugar skulls. It's so easy. Follow the traditional way of making Alfeñique or the simple way through a Wilton recipe I found online. Either way, you're bound to be a hit when you display these on your table for Halloween or Dia de Los Muertos.

Sugar Skulls (Alfeñique) - Traditional Recipe

2 cups powdered sugar
1 egg white
1-tablespoon light corn syrup
½ teaspoon vanilla
1/3-cup cornstarch
Food coloring
1 fine paintbrush

Sift powdered sugar. Mix egg white, syrup, and vanilla in a dry clean bowl. Mix sugar into egg mixture gradually. Knead with fingers until mixture forms ball. Sprinkle cornstarch on table or board. Put mixture on board and shape into smooth manageable ball. Wrap tightly in plastic and chill until ready to use. Shape skulls by hand, or pack mixture into skull shaped pan. If using shaped pan, remove immediately and allow to dry for 24 hours. When dry and hardened, color with food coloring, using a fine paintbrush.This is a traditional recipe for Día de los Muertos Sugar Skulls.

If you would like a little simpler recipe, try the Wilton Sugar Mold recipe. I found an inexpensive skull mold pan at the Dollar store which I used as well.

2 cups sugar
4 teaspoons water

Making sure there are no lumps in the sugar, knead sugar and water together until it holds like wet sand. Dust mold(s) with cornstarch to prevent sticking. Pack into shaped skeleton mold(s) with palm of hand. Immediately remove from molds by inverting onto a sturdy cardboard sheet or back of cookie pan. Allow to set for 3 hours. Holding gently, scoop out bottom of skeleton mold. Place back on board or pan and allow to dry 24 hours. When completely dry, paint and decorate with fine paintbrush dipped in food coloring or with colored Royal Frosting.

My daughter and I made 30 sugar skulls for her to take to her Spanish class on Dia de los Muertos 2 years ago. The students were asking for more. Must have gone over well.

For the Capirotada Recipe, both Chocolate and Traditional, go to my chocolate blog. I'm sure you'll enjoy both recipes. Aprovecho.


Michele said...

I adore all the traditional stories that you tell here. Sugar skulls are pretty common in my area. I've never tried one, but will pick a few up this year. :-)

Reeni said...

When I lived in Tucson there were a lot of events surrounding these two days. When I lived there I started a tradition of leaving a plate of food outside my door on Halloween night, it was said to be for the hungry souls crossing over and always included apples, cheese, bread, baked sweets and of course some leftover Halloween candy. I'm not sure where that idea originated from, is that something you've heard of? Your sugar skulls look great! Thanks for all the background info. and interesting facts!

Gloria Chadwick said...

Teresa, Very interesting post! Day of the Dead is a really big deal here in San Antonio.
BTW, you've been tagged with a foodie scenario. Come and see what it is. :)

Natashya said...

Wow! I love the pan. I haven't heard of sugar skulls. I guess the day of the dead festivities haven't reached much of Canada yet. Looks really interesting.

Foodycat said...

Another very interesting post! Do you actually eat the skulls?

ARLENE said...

Teresa, your post brought fond memories and a chuckle or two. At the school where I was Principal we taught Spanish begining in first grade. One of my Spanish teachers went all out for Day of the Dead. I had seen her lesson plan and everything was very appropriate for the age of the children, but one parent "went off," accusing the teacher of everything but being the anti-Christ. We finally got through to her that we were NOT teaching demonology, but culture, but the teacher bought me a little "Day of the Dead" doll so I'd always remember her. I wish we'd had your mold for the sugar skulls. We'd have both been fired, but what fun! LOL.

Ivy said...

I have seen a lot of documentaries about Dia de Los Muertos and this tradition is very interesting. I like those molds you have, never seen them before.
I have an Award for you to collect.

Fabby's Cupcaker ;) said...

Tere, están hermosas!!! me atrevería a decir que hasta más lindas que las que encuentras aquí!


Ah! ya empezó el reto del IRON CUPCAKE, puedes entrar a mi blog y votar por mi? Muchas gracias! Te mando un abrazo!

Ramya Vijaykumar said...

I am a chocolate fan and I do love your work that brings me quite often to your blog. I have a question, I wanted to make chocolates and found many moulds but they were either in plastic or in rubber, usually the chocolate is melted and poured into the mould wont the mould react to the heat or is there any other mould I need to get or should the choco be cooled???

Mommy's Kitchen said...

Those sugar skulls are so cute Teresa. I love the little skull pan.