What can you say about the beginning of November? The brilliant colors of fall leaves are gone. There’s that first nip of winter air biting your nose. Thanksgiving and the mob-shopping scenes are just three weeks away.
I say November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls’ Day. But wait, there’s more! (Now I sound like a TV commercial selling kitchen knives that cut concrete cinder blocks and tomatoes. Sorry.) November 1 and 2 are also the days the Latin cultures observe Dias de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead.
Do not confuse this with George Romero’s classic movie “Dawn of the Dead”, and no, October 31 is not called “Night of the Living Dead Eve”. It is actually a holiday celebrated by families and friends to pray for loved ones who passed into the netherworld. Kind of like Memorial Day, only without the politicians and the parades. Traditions include building altars and honoring deceased loved ones with their favorite food and drink, then visiting the gravesites with these delicacies. (Note to my friends and family. When my time comes, I like chicken wings and tequila).
Day of the Dead is primarily celebrated in Mexico and can be traced back to the ancient Aztec calendar. Yes, the same ancient Aztec calendar that predicts the end of the world, December 21, 2012. So this year’s celebration of the Dead could be the last one. Then we can all celebrate Dia de los Muertos next year.
But back to the holiday.
The most recognized symbol for remembering the dead is obviously the human skull. Many families bring toys to the graves of children; some bring mementos to a family member such as a photograph or keepsakes. Others bring bottles of tequila, mescal or piuique to the last resting place of drunken uncles. (Again, I prefer tequila over photographs or flowers).
The skull, or the Calaveras, as I refer to it, is the main focal point of Day of the Dead festivities. Laced with sugar, chocolate or confectionary candy, these skulls can get quite elaborate. The sugar skull during the observance is both a gift to the living and the dead. Make a few of these babies for Halloween, the save them for Dias de los Muertos.
Dias de los Muertos Calaveras (Sugar Skulls)
2 ½ Cups Sugar
1 Egg White
1 Tsp. Karo Syrup
1 Tsp. Almond Extract
½ Cup Masa Harina
Food Coloring, Red and Green
Colored Baking Sprinkles
Pour the sugar in a bowl. Combine the egg whites, corn syrup and almond extract in another bowl and mix well. Pour the egg white mixture in the sugar bowl and mix with your hands until dough is formed. Form the dough into a ball.
Lightly dust a cutting board with Masa Harina. At this point you can form the dough into a skull shape, or pour it into a skull mold if you have one. Once shaped in to a skull, press the candy into the dough. Sprinkle with baking sparkles and drizzle with chocolate.
Using a fine tipped paint brush, decorate your skulls with the food coloring. Refrigerate when done.
Happy Dias de los Muertos amigos and see you on the other side.