Jul 162017

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, the first Franciscan mission in the Californias (province of New Spain), was founded on this date in 1769 by Spanish friar Junípero Serra in an area long inhabited by the Kumeyaay people. The mission, of course, eventually developed into the city of San Diego. The original Spanish settlement at the Kumeyaay’s Nipawai was within the general area occupied during the late Paleoindian period and continuing on into the present day by the Indian group known as the Diegueño to the Spanish, a name denoting that the people  were served by the padres at Mission San Diego de Alcalá. In comparison with other Californian Indians a fair amount is known about the Kumeyaay prior to the establishment of the mission thanks in large part to the records of the Spanish explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who documented his observations of life in the coastal villages he encountered along the Southern California coast in October 1542. Cabrillo, a Portuguese navigator in the service of Spain, is credited with the Spanish discovery of San Diego Bay. On the evening of September 28, 1542 the ships San Salvador and Victoria sailed into the harbor, whereupon Cabrillo christened it “San Miguel.” During that expedition a landing party went ashore and briefly interacted with a small group of local people.

About 60 years later another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, made landfall around 10 miles from the present Mission site. Under Vizcaíno’s command the San Diego, Santo Tomás, and frigate Tres Reyes dropped anchor on November 10, 1602, and the port was renamed San Diego de Alcalá. It was another 167 years before the Spanish returned to San Diego. The kingdom of Spain had been moderately interested in adding to its colonies in Mexico, however, it was not until 1741—the time of the Vitus Bering expedition, when the territorial ambitions of tsarist Russia towards North America became known—that King Philip V of Spain felt that Spanish colonies were necessary in Upper California, and so Franciscans (and troops) gradually migrated north, eventually colonizing the West to the Rockies. This ought to be a powerful reminder to “patriotic” denizens of the United States in the modern era, that until the treaty of Gudalupe Hidalgo in 1848 which concluded the Mexican-American War, (http://www.bookofdaystales.com/treaty-of-guadalupe-hidalgo/ ), the whole western third of the current continental United States was owned by Mexico, and that English-speaking peoples there are the immigrants (of course, from an Indian perspective, so are the Spanish-speaking peoples).

In May 1769, Gaspar de Portolà had established the Fort Presidio of San Diego on a hill near the San Diego River. This was actually the first settlement by Europeans in what is now the state of California. Then in July Mission San Diego de Alcalá was founded by Franciscan friars under Junípero Serra. By 1797, the mission had the largest Indian population in Alta California, with over 1,400 neophytes living in and around the mission proper. Mission San Diego was the southern anchor in California of the historic mission trail El Camino Real.

In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain, and San Diego became part of the Mexican territory of Alta California. In 1822, Mexico began attempting to extend its authority over the coastal territory of Alta California. The fort on Presidio Hill was gradually abandoned, while the town of San Diego grew up on the level land below Presidio Hill. The Mission was secularized by the Mexican government in 1833, and most of the Mission lands were sold to wealthy Californio settlers. The 432 residents of the town petitioned the governor to form a pueblo, and Juan María Osuna was elected the first alcalde, defeating Pío Pico in the vote. However, San Diego had been losing population throughout the 1830s and in 1838 the town lost its pueblo status because its size dropped to an estimated 100 to 150 residents. It was not until after 1848, when Alta California became part of the United States that San Diego started growing again.

Carne asada fries seems like a fitting dish for today. It was invented in the 1990s by Lolita’s Mexican Food in San Diego, inspired by a suggestion from their tortilla distributor. It’s a suitably bastardized Mexican-American dish that is popular in and around the San Diego region. It can be made in a number of ways, but the basics are fries on the bottom topped with chopped carne asada, guacamole, and shredded cheese with other ingredients added as the cook desires.

You don’t need a strict recipe. Use about 1½ pounds of carne asada to 2 pounds of freshly cooked French fries. Chop the meat coarsely and spread over the French fries. Cover with grated cotija cheese (or other good melting cheese), and place under a grill to melt. Garnish with sour cream, guacamole, and whatever else you want – such as chopped tomatoes and pico de gallo.