Feb 222019
 

On this date in 1819, the Adams–Onís Treaty, also known as the Transcontinental Treaty, the Florida Purchase Treaty, or the Florida Treaty, was signed. It ceded Florida to the U.S. and defined the boundary between the U.S. and New Spain. It settled a standing border dispute between the two countries and was considered a triumph of U.S. diplomacy. It came in the midst of increasing tensions related to Spain’s territorial boundaries in North America against the United States and Great Britain in the aftermath of the American Revolution. It also came during the Latin American wars of independence. The Adams-Onis Treaty was negotiated by John Quincy Adams, the Secretary of State under U.S. President James Monroe, and the Spanish “minister plenipotentiary” (diplomatic envoy) Luis de Onís y González-Vara, during the reign of Ferdinand VII.

Florida had become a burden to Spain, which could not afford to send settlers or garrisons, so the Spanish government decided to cede the territory to the United States in exchange for settling the boundary dispute along the Sabine River in Spanish Texas. The treaty established the boundary of U.S. territory and claims through the Rocky Mountains and west to the Pacific Ocean, in exchange for the U.S. paying residents’ claims against the Spanish government up to a total of $5,000,000 and relinquishing the U.S. claims on parts of Spanish Texas west of the Sabine River and other Spanish areas, under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase.

Let’s pause for a moment, to take stock of the area now covered by the 48 states of the continental United States, and I make no apology for this being a post dominated by maps. Contemporary US nationalists like to imagine that the US has always existed as it is now, and that somehow it’s always been English-speaking territory (perhaps since the dawn of time). Even leaving aside the fact that for millennia the land was occupied by indigenous peoples speaking a kaleidoscope of languages, in colonial times the territory was loosely split into three zones: an eastern section that was mostly colonized from Britain, a western section that was mostly colonized from Mexico, and a middle section that was largely unsettled by colonists in the interior but was claimed by France and Spain at different times and was of primary importance because it controlled the Mississippi delta at New Orleans. Florida and parts of Louisiana were the main territories on the eastern and Gulf seaboard in the early nineteenth century that had not been British at one time.

Spain had long rejected repeated U.S. efforts to purchase Florida. But by 1818, Spain was facing a troubling colonial situation in which the cession of Florida made sense. Spain had been exhausted by the Peninsular War (1807–1814) against Napoleon in Europe and needed to rebuild its credibility and presence in its colonies. Revolutionaries in Central and South America were beginning to demand independence. Spain was unwilling to invest further in Florida, encroached on by U.S. settlers (affectionately known as Florida Crackers), and it worried about the border between New Spain (a large area including today’s Mexico, Central America, and much of the current US Western States) and the United States. With minor military presence in Florida, Spain was not able to restrain the Seminole warriors who routinely crossed the border and raided US villages and farms, as well as protected slave refugees from slave owners and traders of the southern United States.

By 1819, Spain was forced to negotiate, as it was losing hold on its American empire, with its western territories primed to revolt. While fighting escaped African-American slaves, outlaws, and Native Americans in U.S.-controlled Georgia during the First Seminole War, U.S. General Andrew Jackson had pursued them into Spanish Florida. He built Fort Scott, at the southern border of Georgia (i.e., the U.S.), and used it to destroy the Negro Fort in northwest Florida, whose existence was perceived as an intolerable disruptive risk by Georgia plantation owners. The U.S. effectively seized control of northeastern Florida although was not interested in outright annexation of territory for Georgia; for additional US Territory; or, for the creation of another U.S. state.

Adams argued that the U.S. had to take control because Florida (along the border of Georgia & Alabama Territory) had become “a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them.” Spain asked for British intervention, but London declined to assist Spain in the negotiations. Some of president Monroe’s cabinet demanded Jackson’s immediate dismissal for invading Florida, but Adams realized that his success had given the U.S. a favorable diplomatic position. Adams was able to negotiate very favorable terms.

The treaty, consisting of 16 articles was signed in Adams’ State Department office in Washington, on February 22nd, 1819. Ratification was postponed for two years, because Spain wanted to use the treaty as an incentive to keep the United States from giving diplomatic support to the revolutionaries in South America. As soon as the treaty was signed, the U.S. Senate ratified unanimously; but because of Spain’s stalling, a new ratification was necessary and this time there were objections. Henry Clay and other Western spokesmen demanded that Spain also give up Texas. This proposal was defeated by the Senate, which ratified the treaty a second time on February 19th, 1821, following ratification by Spain on October 24th, 1820. Ratifications were exchanged three days later and the treaty was proclaimed on February 22nd, 1821, two years to the day after the signing.

The Treaty closed the first era of United States expansion by providing for the cession of East Florida under Article 2; the abandonment of the controversy over West Florida under Article 2 (a portion of which had been seized by the United States); and the definition of a boundary with the Spanish province of Mexico, that clearly made Spanish Texas a part of Mexico, under Article 3, thus ending much of the vagueness in the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. Spain also ceded to the U.S. its claims to the Oregon Country, under Article 3.

Spain relinquished all claims in the Americas north of the 42nd parallel north. This was a historic retreat in its 327-year pursuit of lands in the Americas. The previous Anglo-American Convention of 1818 meant that both the United States and the British Empire could settle land north of the 42nd parallel and west of the Continental Divide. The United States now had a firm foothold on the Pacific Coast and could commence settlement of the jointly occupied Oregon Country (known as the Columbia District to the rival United Kingdom). The Russian Empire also claimed this entire region as part of Russian America.

For the United States, this Treaty (and the Treaty of 1818 with Britain agreeing to joint occupancy of the Pacific Northwest) meant that its claimed territory now extended far west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. For Spain, it meant that it kept its colony of Texas and also kept a buffer zone between its colonies in California and New Mexico and the U.S. territories. Many historians consider the Treaty to be a great achievement for the U.S., as time validated Adams’ vision that it would allow the U.S. to open trade with the Orient across the Pacific. For another 30 years North America was fairly evenly divided between the United States and Mexico (with Russian and British claims mixed in).

Since the control of Florida was a key aspect of the Treaty, a Florida recipe is called for. The main thing about Florida cuisine is that it has multiple influences. In the north of the state and the panhandle, the cooking most closely resembles Southern US cooking, and in the southern part there are strong Cuban and Caribbean influences. The old colonial Spanish era has scarcely left a trace. It’s better to think of Florida cooking in terms of ingredients such as key lime which can be found in many products apart from key lime pie. Conch is also a celebrated ingredient. However, I have given recipes for key lime and conch already, so I will turn to the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria). This crab has a small body that is not usually eaten, but has large, powerful claws which are prized.

The Florida stone crab loses its limbs easily to escape from predators or tight spaces, but their limbs will grow back. When a claw is broken such that the diaphragm at the body/claw joint is left intact, the wound can quickly heal itself and very little blood is lost. If, however, the claw is broken in the wrong place, more blood is lost and the crab’s chances of survival are much lower. Each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger. So far so good. The usual practice is to take one or two claws and toss the crabs back to regrow them. It almost seems like a green, sustainable practice. Not so fast, though. Clinical trials seem to indicate that around 25% of stone crabs that have one claw taken die, and around 50% of those with two claws taken die. The latter is hardly surprising. The crabs need their claws for survival. So, I suppose they are semi-sustainable.

Here is a video on their preparation:

Nov 022017
 

Today is All Souls’ Day commemorating All Souls, the Holy Souls, or the Faithful Departed, that is, the souls of Christians who have died. Observing Christians typically remember deceased relatives on the day. In Western Christianity the annual celebration is now held on 2 November and is associated with the three days of Allhallowtide, including All Saints’ Day (1 November) and its vigil, All Hallows Eve (31 October):

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/allhallowtide/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/all-saints-day/

It’s taken me quite a few years to tick off all three days of the triduum, but this year I can complete the set with All Souls. Just about every culture I know of, worldwide, has a special day (or season) to pay homage to the dead. Eventually – if I keep posting – I’ll mention Celtic Samhain which occurs around this time, marking the passage from the summer to the winter season, and is associated with the appearance of spirits of the dead. Unfortunately customs from Samhain and Halloween have merged over the years, and it will be good to pull them apart, as is my wont.

In the Catholic Church, “the faithful” refers specifically to baptized Catholics. The term “all souls” commemorates the church penitent of souls in Purgatory, whereas “all saints” commemorates the church triumphant of saints in Heaven. In the liturgical books of the western Catholic Church (the Latin Church) it is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (Commemoratio omnium fidelium defunctorum). Protestants don’t buy into the idea of Purgatory, but both Lutherans and Calvinists have a long tradition of honoring the day. Anglicans are iffy about it (which fits my general belief that Anglicans have never quite made up their minds about whether they want to be Catholic or not – they can’t make up their minds about much of anything).

Saint Odilo of Cluny (c. 962 – 1 January 1049), fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny, established All Souls’ Day on 2nd November in Cluny and its monasteries as the annual commemoration to pray for all the faithful departed. The practice was soon adopted throughout the whole Western church (but not the Eastern rite). Among continental Protestants the All Souls tradition has been tenaciously maintained. During Luther’s lifetime, All Souls’ Day was widely observed in Saxony although the Roman Catholic meaning of the day was discarded. Ecclesiastically in the Lutheran Church, the day was merged with, and is often seen as an extension of All Saints’ Day, with many Lutherans still visiting and decorating graves on all the days of Allhallowtide, including All Souls’ Day. Just as it is the custom of French people to decorate the graves of their dead on the jour des morts, so German, Polish, Czech, and Hungarian people visit graveyards once a year with offerings of flowers and special grave lights.

I may get round to a lengthier exposition on the Day of the Dead in Mexico one year. Indigenous celebrations of the departed have been going on in Mexico for millennia. After Spanish colonization these celebrations became linked to the Allhallowtide triduum in some parts of Mexico, especially the south. El Día de Muertos (NOT El Día de LOS Muertos, you Anglophone heathens), can be celebrated on November 1 or 2 or both. In some traditions the 1st is reserved for departed infants and children, and the 2nd for departed adults. Plans for the day are made throughout the year, including gathering the goods to be offered to the dead. During the three-day period families usually clean and decorate graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with ofrendas (altars), which often include orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl, Nāhuatl for “twenty flowers”). In modern Mexico the marigold is sometimes called Flor de Muerto. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

Toys are brought for dead children (los angelitos), and bottles of tequila, mezcal or pulque or jars of atole for adults. Families will also offer trinkets or the deceased’s favorite candies on the grave. Some families have ofrendas in homes, usually with foods such as candied pumpkin, pan de muerto, and sugar skulls; and beverages such as atole.

Here’s my favorite requiem for the day (favorite because I sang in it as a teen):

You’ve got a wide range of possibilities for recipes today. I’ve already given you recipes for soul cakes and mashed potatoes and turnips with fish to celebrate the season. I’ll go with eggs in Purgatory today.

Eggs in Purgatory

Ingredients:

6 to 8 large eggs
2 large cans tomatoes, drained and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
¾ cup shredded melting cheese
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

Instructions

Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they become soft and their juices, if any, have evaporated. Add the tomatoes and stir to heat thoroughly. With a spoon, make 6 to 8 (for each egg) nest spaces and break an egg into each space. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and cover evenly with cheese. Cover the pan and cook on low heat until the eggs are set. Garnish with parsley. Serve with crusty bread or toast.

Dec 162016
 

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Today is the official beginning of Las Posadas in Mexico and the US Southwest, although actual timing may vary. The 16th of December is 9 days before Christmas, a novena that can represent numerous things – including the 9 days of Mary’s pregnancy. La Posada is Spanish for “lodging” and is used in the plural because the celebration often involves activities on several days, or because it involves visiting numerous places that are potential lodgings.

The classic Las Posadas that I am familiar with from New Mexico and northern Mexico involves a candlelit procession of townspeople from designated house to house led by a young couple dressed as Mary and Joseph (often with Mary on a burro). At each house the couple sings a song which is responded to by the homeowner. There are many variants, of course. This is a simple sample:

Afuera:

En nombre del cielo
Os pido posada
Pues no puede andar
Mi esposa amada

[Outside

In the name of heaven
I request you grant us shelter
Given that she cannot walk
She my beloved wife]

Adentro:

Aquí no es mesón
Sigan adelante
Yo no puedo abrir
No sea algún tunante

[Inside:

This is not an Inn
Please continue ahead
I can not open
Don’t be a villain]

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The procession continues from house to house with different answers from inside, until eventually a designated host lets Mary and Joseph in and there is a re-enactment of the Nativity scene with food and drink laid out for the crowd.

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In Santa Fe, where I last attended Las Posadas about 25 years ago, the event is staged in the main plaza. Instead of going from house to house, Mary and Joseph go to the four sides of the square. At each side a devil appears at a top balcony and turns the couple away. The procession then veers off the square to a Nativity. As the couple and crowd journey around the square carrying candles, the crowd sings Spanish carols which continue at the Nativity.

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Las Posadas has been recorded as a tradition in Mexico for about 400 years, probably rooted in European traditions of re-enacting significant gospel events for a largely illiterate population who had only vague ideas about what Christian events, especially Christmas and Easter, represented (not helped by the fact that the Bible and the mass were available only in Latin, and congregations were actively dissuaded from reading the Bible).

In Mexico, the Aztec winter solstice festival had traditionally been observed from December 7 to December 26. According to the Aztec calendar, their most important deity, the sun god Huitzilopochtli, was born during the month of December (panquetzaliztli). The parallel in time between this indigenous celebration and the Christmas celebration lent itself to a merging of the two traditions. In 1586, Friar Diego de Soria obtained a papal bull from Pope Sixtus V, stating that a Christmas Mass (misa de Aguinaldo), be observed as novenas on the nine days preceding Christmas Day throughout Mexico.

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Although Las Posadas is a distinctly Mexican tradition it has analogs in various parts of the Spanish Diaspora. In the Philippines the Posadas tradition is represented by the Panunulúyan pageant. Sometimes it is performed right before the Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass), or on each of the nine nights. Mary and Joseph sing lines requesting for accommodation and the lines of the potential “innkeepers” may be sung or spoken. Usually the lyrics are not in Spanish but in one of the local languages, such as Tagalog. There was also a Las Posadas tradition in Nicaragua which older generations remember, but for unclear reasons it had died out by the 1960s.

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Cuba has a vaguely similar celebration at this time of year called Parrandas (though Parrandas has more of a Carnival atmosphere). The tradition began in the 19th century when Father Francisco Vigil de Quiñones, the priest of the Grand Cathedral of Remedios, in order to get the people to come to midnight masses the week before Christmas had the idea to put together groups of children and provide them with jars, plates and spoons so they could run around the village making noise and singing verses. The idea persisted over the years and gained in complexity so that it is now a street parade and festival.

Biscochitos are common festival food for Las Posadas in New Mexico, and you can find my recipe here – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-lorenzo/ . Let me talk about empanaditas instead. Some empanaditas are just miniature versions of empanadas, with the same savory fillings, but some are made with sweet fillings – empanaditas dulces. Empanaditas dulces make excellent party food at Christmas. You can use pretty much any sweet filling that you want. Fruit jams are very common. I usually bake my savory empanadas in the Argentine fashion, but I fry my sweet empanaditas. Being truly eclectic, at this time of year I use mincemeat for a filling.

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Empanaditas Dulces

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
salt
8 oz/225gm (2 sticks) butter, cut into 16 pieces
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp cold water
fruit filling
powdered sugar
oil (for frying)

Instructions

Mix the flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl or food processor.

Add the butter, eggs and water and mix until a clumpy dough forms.

Remove the dough from the bowl or processor and knead it for a few minutes.

Divide the dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough into a thin sheet and cut out round disc shapes for the empanaditas. I usually use a drinking glass as a cutter.

Place a little filling in the center of each circle. Do not use too much or they will leak when fried. Fold over the circle to form a semi-circle. Press down the edges firmly so that there are no holes, and crimp the edges with a fork.

Heat oil for shallow frying in a wide skillet to 350°F.  Fry the empanaditas in small batches, first on one side, then flipping them with a spatula when the underside is golden. When cooked on both sides, remove with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks. While still warm, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I prefer to serve them warm with whipped cream.

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Nov 072016
 

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On this date in 1907 Jesús García Corona, a Mexican railroad brakeman, died while preventing a train loaded with dynamite from exploding near Nacozari, Sonora, in 1907. As el héroe de Nacozari he is revered as a national hero and many streets, plazas, and schools across Mexico are named for him.

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García was born in Hermosillo, Sonora. At the age of 17 got a job with Moctezuma Copper Company, but due to his age, he could work initially only as a waterboy, but was subsequently promoted to switchman, then to brakeman. García ended up as the railroad brakeman for the train that covered the line between Nacozari, Sonora, and Douglas, Arizona. On 7 November 1907 the train was stopped in the town of Nacozari and, as he was resting, García saw that some hay on the roof of a car containing dynamite had caught fire. The locomotive’s firebox was failing and sparks were venting from the smokestack. The wind blew them into the hay and the fire spread into the dynamite cars. García sounded the alarm, cleared the train of people, and drove the train in reverse downhill at full-steam six kilometers out of the town before the dynamite exploded, killing him and sparing the population of the mining town.

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In his honor a statue was raised in the town and its name was changed to Nacozari de García. He was also declared a Hero of Humanity by the American Red Cross.  Many streets in Mexico bear his name, and the Estadio Héroe de Nacozari sports stadium in Hermosillo is also named after him. García’s sacrifice is remembered in the corrido “Máquina 501” sung by Pancho “el Charro” Avitia, and in the ballad, “Jesus Garcia” sung by Arizona State’s official balladeer, Dolan Ellis.

Mexican railroad workers commemorate 7 November every year as the Día del Ferrocarrilero (Railroader’s Day).

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Sonoran cooking is reasonably well known in the U.S. because Sonora borders Arizona, and both the cultures and cuisines of southern Arizona and northern Sonora share many attributes. The region is well known for beef and for flour tortillas (more common than corn tortillas), which come together to make the classic burrito. I’ve discussed burritos several times in previous posts:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/pueblo-revolt/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/san-francisco/

There I focused on New Mexico and California. Now I’ll turn my attention to Sonora/Arizona, where García’s train ran, and talk about machaca. Machaca was originally prepared most commonly from dried, spiced beef or pork, then rehydrated and pounded to make it tender. The reconstituted meat would then be used to prepare any number of dishes. While drying meat is one of the oldest forms of preservation, the drying of beef with chiles and other native spices was developed by the ranchers and cowboys of northern Mexico. After the arrival of refrigeration, dehydration was no longer needed for preservation but it continued to be produced because it has a distinctive flavor and is convenient. Most dried beef is sold in the U.S. as jerky, and in Mexico, it is still sold for cooking as well as snacking, mostly in the north in small-scale operations. Most formerly machaca dishes now are made from beef that has been well-cooked, shredded then cooked in its juices until the desired consistency is achieved, which in Phoenix can be soupy, dry or medio. In Tucson and south, the preparation is almost always dry, and approximates more closely the taste and texture of the original dish prepared from dried meat. Machaca is also called carne seca in Arizona and Sonora.

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For me the most enjoyable way to serve machaca is with scrambled eggs, salsa, and flour tortillas – making an informal burrito. By the way “burrito” is the Spanish diminutive of “burro” (donkey) whose etymology is a little obscure. A burrito may resemble the rolled packs that donkeys sometimes carried. Your difficult task will be getting hold of genuine machaca. Most recipes nowadays call from long-simmered brisket in spices for the meat, but nothing beats original machaca. To rehydrate the meat:

Cut the machaca into strips. Place the strips in a large bowl, with cold water and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, place the strips in a large pot and cover with fresh water. Allow to boil 1 ½ hours, changing the water halfway through boiling to remove excess salt and further tenderize meat.

Let the meat cool in the water, drain, and shred.

You can make all manner of dishes with the rehydrated meat. To make machaca and eggs, scramble the eggs in the usual way and add the shredded machaca towards the end to warm through. Serve with salsa and flour tortillas.

May 052015
 

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Today is Cinco de Mayo (“Fifth of May”), a celebration in the United States and in Mexico, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the holiday is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla (“The Day of the Battle of Puebla”) The date commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is sometimes mistaken as Mexico’s Independence Day—the most important national holiday in Mexico—but this is celebrated on September 16. Cinco de Mayo is a much bigger deal in the U.S. than in Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo has its roots in the French occupation of Mexico, which took place in the aftermath of the Mexican–American War of 1846–48 and the 1858–61 Reform War. The Reform War was a civil war and it pitted Liberals (who believed in separation of church and state, and freedom of religion) against the Conservatives (who favored a tight bond between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mexican State). These wars left the Mexican Treasury nearly bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez issued a moratorium under which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for two years. In response, France, Britain, and Spain sent naval forces to Veracruz to demand reimbursement. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, at the time ruled by Napoleon III, decided to use the opportunity to establish a Latin empire in Mexico that would favor French interests: the Second Mexican Empire.

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Late in 1861, a well-armed French fleet stormed Veracruz, landing a large French force and driving President Juárez and his government into retreat. Moving on from Veracruz towards Mexico City, the French army encountered heavy resistance from the Mexicans close to Puebla, at the Mexican forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. The 6,000-strong French army attacked the much smaller and poorly equipped Mexican army of 2,000. Yet, on May 5, 1862, the Mexicans managed to decisively crush the French army, then considered one of the most organized and powerful armies in the world.

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The victory was a significant morale booster for the Mexican army and the Mexican people at large. It was not a major strategic win in the overall war against the French, but it bolstered the resistance movement against France. It was a bit of a David and Goliath affair that helped establish a sense of national unity and pride for a time. But a year later, with 30,000 troops, the French were able to defeat the Mexican army, capture Mexico City, and install Maximilian I as emperor of Mexico. The French ascendancy lasted only three years, however – from 1864 to 1867. By 1865, with the American Civil War now over, the U.S. began to provide more political and military assistance to Mexico to oppose the French. Napoleon III, facing a persistent Mexican guerilla resistance, the threat of war with Prussia, and the prospect of war with the United States, retreated from Mexico starting in 1866. The Mexicans recaptured Mexico City, and Maximilian I, fighting a rearguard action, was apprehended and executed, along with his Mexican generals Miramón and Mejía, in the Cerro de las Campanas, Querétaro. On June 5, 1867, Benito Juarez finally entered Mexico City where he installed a legitimate government and reorganized his administration.

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Had the French succeeded in creating a stable French state in Mexico, it is conceivable that they would have sided with the Confederacy and changed the course of the Civil War in the U.S. They were anxious to open Southern ports from a Union blockade and resume trading with the South. Much better for Lincoln to have a (passive) ally to the south.

The observance of Cinco de Mayo in the United States first started in California in the 1860s when, upon hearing the news, Mexican gold miners initiated a grand celebration with songs, fireworks, and speeches. The holiday did not gain much traction until the 1940s with the rise of the Chicano movement, and then spread slowly from California to the rest of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. It was still not particularly big and did not become popular until the 1980s when marketers, especially beer companies, capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it. As such Cinco de Mayo has two rather divergent qualities. In places with large Mexican-American populations, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and San Jose, it became an opportunity to display pride in Mexico and Mexican-American heritage. In other places it’s become an excuse to drink quantities of Mexican beer and tequila.

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In the United States Cinco de Mayo has taken on a significance beyond that in Mexico. On June 7, 2005, the U.S. Congress issued a Concurrent Resolution calling on the President of the United States to issue a proclamation to the people to observe Cinco de Mayo with appropriate ceremonies and activities. Many communities display Cinco de Mayo banners, while school districts hold special events to educate students about the day’s historical significance. Special events and celebrations highlight Mexican culture, especially in its music and regional dancing.

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On May 9, 1862, President Juárez declared that the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla would be a national holiday regarded as “Battle of Puebla Day” or “Battle of Cinco de Mayo.” Although Mexican citizens feel very proud of the meaning of the Battle of Puebla, it is not observed as a national holiday in Mexico today. Nonetheless, all public schools are closed nation-wide in Mexico on May 5, and it is an official holiday in the State of Puebla, and in the neighboring State of Veracruz.

A few other locations around the world tip their hats to Cinco de Mayo. For example, in the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean, there is an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition. Love it !!

The great hangover cure in Mexico is tripe soup, known in Spanish as menudo or mondongo depending on the region and style of cooking; welcome for the morning after a night of celebration like Cinco de Mayo. I am rather curious about the fact that menudo is legendary as a hangover cure – very common dish in Mexico on New Year’s Day. My curiosity stems from the fact that the same claim is made of tripe-based soups found in regions as far flung as Romania, Turkey, Korea, and Greece. As a professional anthropologist I have to wonder about such a phenomenon. Did people in the Americas, Europe, and Asia all discover the same wonderful fact independently? Or is this a significant case of cultural diffusion from a single source? Maybe I’ll devote my next research grant to discovering the truth.

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The Puebla region specializes in green (verde) menudo, but other parts of Mexico have red (rojo) and white (blanco) versions. So let’s have a three-fer today to celebrate the colors of Mexico’s flag.

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Menudo Verde (Mondongo con Salsa Verde)

Ingredients

3 lbs cooked beef tripe (lime juice, garlic and onions)
beef broth
8 tomatillos
1 green bell pepper
2 hot green peppers (such as serrano, jalapeño or habañero)
1 large bunch of cilantro
2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ onion peeled

Instructions

Chop all the ingredients, except the tripe, coarsely and blend to a fine purée using around a cup of broth. Vary the chiles according to taste.

Heat the blended mixture to boiling in a heavy pot over medium-high heat with another cup of stock. Cover and cook maintaining a steady, but not vigorous, boil for about 30 minutes. You can do this the day before if you like and refrigerate overnight.

At this point you have a choice. If you want to serve this as a soup (menudo) you can simply add the tripe cut in bite-sized pieces and warm it through. If you want to serve it as a main course (mondongo), reduce the liquid until it is thickened, add the tripe to warm through, and serve with rice. Either way serve it with corn tortillas.

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Mennudo Blanco

This recipe comes from Sonora but you can also find it regularly in New Mexico. I practically lived on it when I lived in Santa Fe in 1993/94. This menudo is called “white” because it lacks the red or green chiles and vegetables that give other menudo styles their fiery complexity and color. In some respects it is the most basic of all menudos: just a light broth with tripe and white hominy with garnishes for extra flavor. This recipe is loosely based on a classic from The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy, very much modified by me over the years.

Ingredients

2 lbs honeycomb tripe
1 beef or calves’ foot
1 small head of garlic
1 medium white onion
1 tablespoon coarse salt (kosher or sea salt)
½ lb dried hominy (or 4 cups canned)
3 tsps powdered lime (for dry hominy)

garnishes

1 crumbled chile piquin
1 finely chopped white onion
roughly chopped cilantro
lime quarters

flour tortillas

Instructions

Chop the calves’ foot into 3 or 4 chunks with a heavy cleaver (or have your butcher do it for you). Do not peel the head of garlic, but cut it in half horizontally. Coarsely chop the onion. Put these ingredients in the bottom of a large saucepan along with half the salt. Lay the tripe on top and sprinkle on the remaining salt. Cover with water and bring to a very low simmer. Cover and cook on low heat until the tripe is tender (1 to 2 hours depending on the heat under the pot).   Remove the tripe with a slotted spoon and cut it into 1 ½” squares. Remove the calves’ foot pieces, take out the bones, and coarsely chop the meat. Return the tripe and calves’ foot meat to the cooking broth.

Meanwhile, if you are using dried hominy you will need to cook and flower it. Put the hominy in a large enamel pot and add cold water so that the corn is covered by about 2 inches. Put on a burner set to medium heat. Add ½ cup of cold water to the powdered lime and add the mixture to the pot by passing it through a fine wire strainer, pressing the lumps through with a wooden spoon. Let the whole pot simmer until the hominy skins slide easily off the kernels (20 to 30 minutes). Take the pot from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Drain the hominy and rub the kernels between your fingers to remove the skins. Place the corn in a colander and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Remove the pedicels (tough base of the kernels) with a sharp knife. Discard the skins and pedicels, and return the corn to the enamel pot along with enough cold water to come 3 inches above the kernels. Bring to a simmer and cook until the kernels pop open or “flower.” This may take 2 hours or so. I’m a coward and use canned most of the time.

Add the hominy and its cooking liquid to the pot containing the tripe with its broth. Cook over a very low flame for about 1 hour. Serve in large, deep bowls accompanied by the garnishes and warm flour tortillas.

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Menudo Rojo

This style of menudo is ubiquitous in Mexico. I got this recipe from a Mexican friend, Trini, living in Santa Fe (plus a big bowl as a treat on New Year’s). For the simmering stock I use red Fresnos or chiles de arbol. For the chile paste it is customary to use a relatively mild and flavorful red chile such as Anaheims, but I prefer something a bit hotter.

Ingredients

3 lbs tripe
1 calves’ foot
4 cloves garlic
2 small hot red chiles
1 large onion
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 tablespoon vinegar
coarse salt
1 lb frozen or canned posole (white hominy)
veal stock

chile paste

1 red Anaheim pepper
2 cloves garlic
pinch cumin seed
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste

garnishes

Mexican oregano
lime slices
chopped cilantro
chopped onion
hot red chile flakes

flour tortillas

Instructions

Cut the tripe into 1” squares and drop them into a large pot of boiling water. Scald the tripe for a few minutes and then drain. Split the calves’ foot and add it to the pot along with the tripe. Cover with cold water and bring gradually to a simmer. Smash 2 garlic cloves with the flat of a large cook’s knife. The skin will shred easily away. Add the smashed cloves to the pot. Slice the onion thinly and add it along with the small red chiles. Put the bay leaf, black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of cumin seed into a mortar with a pinch or two of coarse salt and give it a good bashing with a pestle until the peppercorns are cracked and the whole is beginning to give off a rich aroma. Add these spices to the pot. Cover and let everything simmer gently for an hour or so, checking periodically to make sure that the tripe does not overcook. As always, you are looking for a nice al dente texture. Remove the bones from the calves’ foot, chop the meat, and return it to the pot.

If you are using frozen posole put it in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a crushed clove of garlic, bring to a gentle simmer and cook for about 2 hours, or until it is tender. If you are using canned, all you need to do is heat it through in boiling water. Drain, but keep the posole warm.

Put the Anaheim peppers in a large heavy skillet over very high heat and toss them until they start to take on some color. Remove the stems. Slit the pods open and remove the seeds. Place the peppers in a large bowl, cover with boiling water, and let them steep for 20 minutes or so. When they are soft, scrape off as much of the skins as you can. Place them in a blender or food processor, along with the other chile paste ingredients (garlic, cumin, vinegar, oregano, salt, tomato paste and sugar), and process to a smooth paste. You can make this paste in any quantity you want and keep it in the refrigerator. It matures well over time.

Finishing off the menudo is a matter of personal taste. You can vary the proportions as you wish. Here is my suggestion. Place 4 cups of tripe and broth in a heavy saucepan.   Add three cups of drained posole and 1 tablespoon (or more) of chile paste. Top up the mixture with broth. Bring to a simmer. Add 2 garlic cloves finely minced, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 tablespoon of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of cumin seed. Let the soup simmer gently for about 20 minutes, to allow all the flavors to marry. Serve with the garnishes on the side for diners to help themselves.

OK, that’s satisfied my tripe fetish for a time.

May 102014
 

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Before I get into a discussion of tomatoes I would like to wish this blog a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY. On 10 May 2013, I wrote my first post which you can find here:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/micronesia-day/

You will note that my posts were very short in the early days, and it took me a few months to hit my stride. Now that I am into a new year I want to reassure you all that for the most part there will not be any repeats. Once in a while I might approach the same topic from a different angle, particularly if I am stuck for choice. Every day of the year has multiple feasts, birthdays, events and so forth associated with it. But I choose my daily topic very carefully, and I filter out a great many topics. For example, I try not to celebrate famous battles, unless they have transformed into national holidays and the like. I also try to avoid tyrants and other infamous types, although I make exceptions. Add to the mix the fact that I like to have a great deal of variety; I don’t want to post a succession of saints’ days or focus on one region of the globe for extended periods. And, course, the subject has to interest me. It all makes my labors challenging. On this day, in particular, I would especially welcome comments on how I am doing so far. Now . . . tomatoes.

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On this date in 1893 in the case of Nix v. Hedden the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the decision that, under U.S. customs regulations, the tomato should be classified as a vegetable rather than a fruit. The Court’s unanimous opinion held that the Tariff Act of 1883 used the ordinary meaning of the words “fruit” and “vegetable,” instead of the technical botanical meaning. The Tariff Act of 3 March, 1883 required a tax to be paid on imported vegetables, but not fruit. The case was filed as an action by John Nix, John W. Nix, George W. Nix, and Frank W. Nix against Edward L. Hedden, Collector of the Port of New York, to recover back duties paid under protest.

Botanically, a tomato is a fruit: the enlarged ovary, together with its seeds, of a flowering plant. However, the tomato has a much lower sugar content than other edible fruits, and is therefore not as sweet. Because it is typically served as part of a salad or cooked in the main course of a meal, rather than as dessert, it is considered a vegetable for most culinary uses. One exception is that tomatoes are treated as a fruit in home canning practices; they are acidic enough to process in a water bath rather than a pressure cooker as vegetables require. Tomatoes are not the only food source with this ambiguity: green beans, eggplants, cucumbers, and squashes of all kinds (such as zucchini and pumpkins) are all botanically fruits, yet cooked as vegetables.

At the trial, the plaintiffs’ counsel, after reading in evidence definitions of the words ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetables’ from Webster’s Dictionary, Worcester’s Dictionary, and the Imperial Dictionary, called two witnesses, who had been in the business of selling fruit and vegetables for 30 years, and asked them, after hearing these definitions, to say whether these words had “any special meaning in trade or commerce, different from those read.”

During testimony, one witness testified that in regard to the dictionary definition:

[the dictionary] does not classify all things there, but they are correct as far as they go. It does not take all kinds of fruit or vegetables; it takes a portion of them. I think the words ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetable’ have the same meaning in trade today that they had on March 1, 1883. I understand that the term ‘fruit’ is applied in trade only to such plants or parts of plants as contain the seeds. There are more vegetables than those in the enumeration given in Webster’s Dictionary under the term ‘vegetable,’ as ‘cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, potatoes, peas, beans, and the like,’ probably covered by the words ‘and the like.’

Another witness testified: “I don’t think the term ‘fruit’ or the term ‘vegetables’ had, in March 1883, and prior thereto, any special meaning in trade and commerce in this country different from that which I have read here from the dictionaries.”

Both the plaintiffs’ counsel and the defendant’s counsel made use of the dictionaries. The plaintiffs’ counsel read in evidence from the same dictionaries the definitions of the word tomato, while the defendant’s counsel then read in evidence from Webster’s Dictionary the definitions of the words pea, eggplant, cucumber, squash, and pepper. Countering this, the plaintiff then read in evidence from Webster’s and Worcester’s dictionaries the definitions of potato, turnip, parsnip, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot and bean.

The court unanimously decided in favor of the defense and found that the tomato should be classified under the customs regulations as a vegetable, based on the ways in which it is used, and the popular perception to this end. Justice Horace Gray, writing the opinion for the Court, stated that:

The passages cited from the dictionaries define the word ‘fruit’ as the seed of plants, or that part of plants which contains the seed, and especially the juicy, pulpy products of certain plants, covering and containing the seed. These definitions have no tendency to show that tomatoes are ‘fruit,’ as distinguished from ‘vegetables,’ in common speech, or within the meaning of the tariff act.

Justice Gray, citing several Supreme Court cases (Brown v. Piper, 91 U.S. 37, 42, and Jones v. U.S., 137 U.S. 202, 216) stated that when words have acquired no special meaning in trade or commerce, the ordinary meaning must be used by the court. In this case dictionaries cannot be admitted as evidence, but only as aids to the memory and understanding of the court. Gray acknowledged that botanically, tomatoes are classified as a “fruit of the vine.” Nevertheless, they are seen as vegetables because they are usually eaten as a main course instead of being eaten as a dessert. In making his decision, Justice Gray mentioned another case where it had been claimed that beans were seeds — Justice Bradley, in Robertson v. Salomon, 130 U.S. 412, 414, similarly found that though a bean is botanically a seed, in common parlance a bean is seen as a vegetable. While on the subject, Gray clarified the status of the cucumber, squash, pea, and bean.

Nix has been cited in three Supreme Court decisions as a precedent for court interpretation of common meanings, especially dictionary definitions. (Sonn v. Maggone, 159 U.S. 417 (1895); Saltonstall v. Wiebusch & Hilger, 156 U.S. 601 (1895); and Cadwalder v. Zeh, 151 U.S. 171 (1894)). Additionally, in JSG Trading Corp. v. Tray-Wrap, Inc., 917 F.2d 75 (2d Cir. 1990), a case unrelated to Nix aside from the shared focus on tomatoes, a judge wrote the following paragraph citing the case:

In common parlance tomatoes are vegetables, as the Supreme Court observed long ago, see Nix v. Hedden 149 U.S. 304, 307, 13 S.Ct. 881, 882, 37 L.Ed. 745 (1893), although botanically speaking they are actually a fruit. 26 Encyclopedia Americana 832 (Int’l. ed. 1981). Regardless of classification, people have been enjoying tomatoes for centuries, even Mr. Pickwick, as Dickens relates, ate his chops in ‘tomata’ sauce.

In 2005, supporters in the New Jersey legislature cited Nix as a basis for a bill designating the tomato as the official state vegetable. Arkansas, to be safe, designates the South Arkansas Vine Ripe Pink Tomato as the state fruit AND the state vegetable.

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The word “tomato” comes from the Spanish tomate, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl word tomatotl. It first appeared in print in 1595. Because the tomato is a member of the (deadly) nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit. Native versions were small, like cherry tomatoes, and most likely yellow rather than red. The tomato is native to western South America and Central America. Aztecs and other peoples in Mesoamerica used the fruit in their cooking. The exact date of domestication is unknown, but by 500 BCE, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico and probably other areas. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and is probably the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is probably the first person to have taken the small yellow tomato to Europe after he captured the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City, in 1521, although Christopher Columbus may have taken them back as early as 1493. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared in an herbal written in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who suggested that a new type of eggplant had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be divided into segments and eaten like an eggplant—that is, cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. However it wasn’t until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apple.”

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The poor taste and lack of sugar in modern garden and commercial tomato varieties resulted from breeding tomatoes to ripen uniformly red. This change occurred after discovery of a variety in the mid-20th century that ripened uniformly. This was widely cross-bred to produce red fruit without the typical green ring around the stem on uncross-bred varieties. Prior to general introduction of this trait, most tomatoes produced more sugar during ripening, and were sweeter and more flavorful.

New World cultigens transformed Old World cuisine immeasurably, and arguably the tomato, because of its versatility, had the greatest impact of them all. Imagine southern Italian cooking without the tomato, for example. Think of all of the tomato’s uses as juice, paste, cooked, and raw – Bloody Mary, gazpacho, ketchup, chutneys . . . If you are stuck for a party game try reciting the alphabet naming foods using tomatoes.

You may notice that in my recipes I often specify canned tomatoes for stews and sauces. This is a special case where a canned product is to be preferred over the fresh or frozen version. Fresh tomatoes do not provide the richness that canned ones do in most instances. This is not to say that you cannot use fresh ones, but the taste will be different. When I make chili, for example, I use either fresh or canned depending on what I have on hand. Both are good, but I prefer the version made with canned. I am not entirely sure why canned (commercial or homemade) tomatoes have this effect, but I suspect it is because they are double cooked – once in the cooking process, and second in the dish – thus giving time for the flavors to develop.

I had to think long and hard before selecting a recipe for today. I’ve created my own gazpacho sorbet which is really refreshing as a starter for a summer meal which I really like, and I thought might be a winner. But in the end I decided to thwart the findings of Nix v Hedden and give you a recipe for tomatoes used in a dessert. Chefs have experimented with using tomatoes in sweet dishes for some time. You’ll find recipes for tomato ice creams, sorbets, and granitas, for example. However, the flavor of red tomatoes is not especially conducive to heavy sweetening, and a large number of such recipes incorporate other fruits, such as plums or strawberries (botanically NOT a fruit!), to add flavor. Green tomatoes are a different matter. They can easily be incorporated into cooked dessert dishes as in the traditional Southern green tomato pie. This pie is no more than a standard apple pie recipe replacing the apples with green tomatoes. Gardeners are always trying to figure out uses for end of season green tomatoes and often end up pickling or frying them. Here’s your chance to widen your horizons. You can use your favorite apple pie recipe. Here is just one example from North Carolina. You will find an excellent recipe for the pastry under my Hints tab.

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Green Tomato Pie

Ingredients

1 ½ cups sugar
5 tbsps all purpose flour
2 tsps ground cinnamon
pinch salt
3 cups thinly sliced green tomatoes
1 tbsp cider vinegar
pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten

Instructions

Mix the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes and vinegar, and toss so that the tomatoes are evenly coated.

Line a pie plate with a bottom crust. Add the filling and dot it evenly with butter.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut it into strips to make a lattice top crust (or you can simply top the pie with a regular crust).

Brush the crust with egg, and bake in a 350°/175°C oven for 1 hour.

Cool on a wire rack to room temperature.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Dec 232013
 

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The Night of the Radishes (Noche de rábanos) is celebrated every year on December 23 in the zócalo (main plaza) of Oaxaca city in Mexico.  It began in 1897 and has grown steadily in size and complexity every since, so that it is now an international attraction. Even though the event only lasts a few hours it merges seamlessly into the activities of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with their parades, fireworks, dancing, and feasting.

It is one of the most impressive vegetable festivals in the world. Mexican craftsmen and farmers carve giant radishes that are especially grown for the purpose into artistic designs, usually representing saints or other religious figures, nativity scenes, or anything else the natural shape of the radish suggests. The basic radish used is a large red radish weighing up to 3 kilos (6.6 lbs).  To grow this big they are left in the ground for months after the normal harvest, constantly watered and tended.

Other materials may be added to the radish sculptures for effect, but the basic principle is the creative incising and peeling of the red skin of the radishes to reveal the white flesh beneath.  It’s probably best just to show some images to get the idea.

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The radish was a well-established crop in Hellenistic and Roman times, suggesting it was domesticated a lot earlier, but there is almost no archeological record on which to base its earlier history.  Wild forms of the radish and its relatives, the mustards and turnip, can be found over west Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. Radishes were introduced into the New World in the sixteenth century and have been a staple crop ever since.

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Radishes can be divided into spring and autumn varieties. Spring varieties are typically small, red, and bulbous, growing very quickly, whereas autumn radishes are large and cylindrical, taking months to mature. The two commonest varieties of autumn radish are the Spanish black and the Japanese daikon.

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The spring radish has to be the easiest vegetable to grow in the world, and my garden was never complete without a succession of them from early spring to early summer.  You simply pop the seeds into loose soil (I usually used patio containers), water them, and step back.  They emerge in a few days and are ready to eat in 2 to 4 weeks. If you cannot grow radishes you really are a hopeless case. Many home gardeners companion plant them with seeds that germinate more slowly in order to mark the rows.

I am told the leafy tops are edible but I have never tried it.  For one thing you would need a lot of radish greens to make a single dish, although some varieties are leafier than others.  The recipes I have seen involve shredding the leaves and poaching them in stock much as you would turnip greens. To make the most of the sparse greens it is perhaps best to blend the cooked greens and stock with cream to make a soup flavored with a little freshly ground pepper.  Worth a try if you are looking to experiment with something new.

Radishes are normally eaten raw, of course, but they can be cooked.  With their general aversion to raw foods I imagine Medieval people cooked radishes.  Certainly they would have pickled them, and pickled radishes can still add an attractive note to salads, although these days you would probably have to pickle them yourself. Asian radishes are much more commonly found commercially pickled (shredded). You might at least try roasting radishes, perhaps the next time you have a roast in the oven.  It is simplicity itself and produces a slightly sweet dish that goes well with roasted meats.

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© Roasted Radishes

Preheat the oven to 450°F/250°C.

Wash and then top and tail 1 lb (or whatever quantity you want) of very fresh radishes.

Toss the radishes in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. You can also add some dried herbs to the mix.  Rosemary is especially good.

Place the oiled radishes in one layer on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes.

Every few minutes shake the baking sheet to make sure the radishes brown evenly, and if necessary stir them around with a wooden spoon so that all get even heat.

Serve piping hot as a side dish.

[Small hint: you can use this method with just about every vegetable I know.  If you are not roasting leeks or carrots or parsnips you are not living right.]

Sep 042013
 

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Los Angeles was founded on this date in 1781, by the Spanish governor of California, Felipe de Neve. It became a part of Mexico in 1821 following the Mexican War of Independence. In 1848, at the end of the Mexican–American War, Los Angeles and the rest of California were purchased as part of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, thereby becoming part of the United States. This post focuses on Los Angeles from its founding up to 1848 – the Spanish/Mexican years – when the town was very different from the massive urban sprawl it has become.

In 1777 Governor Neve toured Alta California and decided to establish civic pueblos for the support of the military presidios (fortified bases). The new pueblos would reduce the secular function of the Franciscan missions in the area by reducing the dependency of the military on them. At the same time, they would promote the development of industry and agriculture. Neve identified Santa Barbara, San Jose, and Los Angeles as sites for his new pueblos. His plans for them closely followed a set of Spanish city-planning laws contained in the Leyes de Indias (Laws of the Indies) promulgated by King Philip II in 1573. Those laws were responsible for laying the foundations of the largest cities in the region, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tucson, and San Antonio—as well as Sonoma, Monterey, Santa Fe, San Jose, and Laredo.

The royal regulations were based on the ancient teachings of Vitruvius, who set down the rules for founding of new cities in the Roman Empire. Basically, the Spanish laws called for an open central plaza, surrounded by a fortified church, administrative buildings, and streets laid out in a grid, defining rectangles of limited size to be used for farming and residences. It was in accordance with such precise planning that Governor Neve founded the pueblo of San José de Guadalupe, California’s first municipality, on the great plain of Santa Clara on 29 November 1777.

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According to a written message sent by Governor Neve to report the juridical foundation of Los Angeles, 44 pobladores (settlers) gathered at San Gabriel Mission and, escorted by soldiers and two padres from the mission, set out for the spot that had been chosen twelve years earlier. The official name of the pueblo was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula” (“The Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Porciúncula River”). “The Queen of Angels” is an honorific of the Virgin Mary.

At the end of the first year only eight of the original founders were still in the pueblo; three had been forced out “for being useless to themselves and the town.” But the town grew as soldiers and other settlers came and stayed. In 1784 a chapel was built on the Plaza. The pobladores were given title to their land two years later. By 1800, there were 29 buildings that surrounded the Plaza, flat-roofed, one-storey adobe buildings with thatched roofs made of bullrushes.

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By 1821 Los Angeles had grown into a self-sustaining farming community, the largest in Southern California. Its development conformed strictly to the Leyes de Indias and the Reglamento of Governor Neve. Town planning was based on the unit of measurement, the vara, which was somewhat flexible, but was approximately 33 inches.The pueblo itself included a square of 10,000 varas, five and a quarter miles, on each side. The central Plaza was in the middle, 75 varas (208 ft.) wide and 100 varas (277 ft.) long. On the west side of the Plaza facing east, space was reserved for a church and municipal buildings. Each vecino (freeholder) received a solar (lot), 20 varas (55.5 ft.) wide and 40 varas (110 ft.) long.

Each settler also received four rectangles of land for farming, two irrigated plots and two dry ones. Each plot was 200 square varas. The farm plots were separated from the pueblo by a tract of land 200 varas wide. Some plots of land, propios, were set aside for the pueblo’s general use and revenue. Other plots of land, realengas, were set aside for future settlers. Land outside the city, baldíos, included mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests, and belonged to the king.

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When the settlers first arrived, the Los Angeles floodplain was heavily wooded with willows and oaks. The Los Angeles river flowed all year. Wildlife was plentiful, including deer, antelope, and bear, even an occasional grizzly bear. There were abundant wetlands and swamps. Steelhead and salmon swam the rivers. The first settlers built a water system consisting of ditches (zanjas) leading from the river through the middle of town and into the farmlands. The city was first known as a producer of fine wine grapes. The raising of cattle and the commerce in tallow and hides would come later.

Because of the great economic potential for Los Angeles, the demand for labor grew rapidly. Los Angeles began attracting Native Americans from as far away as San Diego and San Luis Obispo. Unlike the missions, the pobladores paid Native Americans for their labor. In exchange for their work as farm workers, vaqueros, ditch diggers, water haulers, and domestic help, they were paid in clothing and other goods as well as cash and alcohol. The pobladores bartered with them for prized sea-otter and seal pelts, sieves, trays, baskets, mats, and other woven goods. This commerce greatly contributed to the economic success of the town and the attraction of other Native Americans to the city.

Not only economic ties but also marriage drew many Native Americans into the life of the pueblo. In 1784—only three years after the founding—the first recorded marriages in Los Angeles took place. The two sons of settler Basilio Rosas, Maximo and José Carlos, married two young Native American women, María Antonia and María Dolores.

The construction on the Plaza of La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles took place between 1818 and 1822, much of it with Native American labor. The new church completed Governor Neve’s planned transition of authority from mission to pueblo. The angelinos would no longer have to make the bumpy 11-mile ride to Sunday Mass at Mission San Gabriel. In 1820 the route of El Camino Viejo was established from Los Angeles, over the mountains to the north and up the west side of the San Joaquin Valley to the east side of San Francisco Bay.

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Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821 was celebrated with great festivity throughout Alta California. No longer subjects of the king, people were now ciudadanos, citizens with rights under the law. In the plazas of Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, and other settlements, people swore allegiance to the new government, the Spanish flag was lowered, and the flag of independent Mexico raised. Independence brought economic growth. There was a corresponding increase in population as more Native Americans were assimilated and settlers arrived from the United States, Europe, and other parts of Mexico. Before 1820, there were just 650 people in the pueblo. By 1841, the population nearly tripled to 1,680.

During the rest of the 1820s the agriculture and cattle ranching expanded, as did the trade in hides and tallow. The new church was completed, and the political life of the city developed. The system of ditches which provided water from the river was rebuilt. Trade and commerce further increased with the secularization of the California missions by the Mexican Congress in 1833. Extensive mission lands suddenly became available to government officials, ranchers, and land speculators. The governor made more than 800 land grants during this period.

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In 1834, Governor Pico was married to Maria Ignacio Alvarado in the Plaza church. It was attended by the entire population of the pueblo, 800 people, plus hundreds from elsewhere in Alta California. In 1835, the Mexican Congress declared Los Angeles a city, making it the official capital of Alta California. It was now the region’s leading city. The same period also saw the continued arrival of many foreigners from the United States and Europe. They would play a pivotal role in the U.S. takeover

In May, 1846, the Mexican American War broke out. Because of Mexico’s inability to defend its northern territories, California was exposed to invasion. On August 6, 1846, Commodore Robert F. Stockton anchored off San Pedro and proceeded to march inland to occupy Los Angeles. On August 13, accompanied by John C. Frémont, Stockton marched into the Los Angeles Plaza with his brass band playing “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia.” Stockton’s troops occupied the headquarters and home of Governor Pico, who had fled to Mexico. After three weeks of occupation, Stockton left, leaving Lieutenant Archibald H. Gillespie in charge. Subsequent maltreatment by Gillespie and his troops caused a local force of 300 locals to rise up in protest, led by Captain José María Flores, José Antonio Carrillo, and Andrés Pico. Flores demanded the U.S. troops surrender, and promised safe passage to San Pedro. Gillespie accepted and departed, ending the first phase of the Battle of Los Angeles.

John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont

Full-scale warfare came to the area when Los Angeles residents dug up a colonial cannon that had been used for ceremonial purposes. They had buried it for safekeeping when Stockton approached the city. They used it to fire on American Navy troops on 8 October 1846, in the Battle of Dominguez Rancho. The victorious locals named the cannon el piedrero de la vieja (the old woman’s gun). In December, the Mexicans were again victorious at the Battle of San Pascual near present-day Escondido.

Determined to take Los Angeles, Stockton regrouped his men in San Diego and marched north with six hundred troops, along with U.S. Army General Stephen Watts Kearny and his guide Kit Carson. Captain Frémont marched south from Monterey with 400 troops. After a few skirmishes outside the city, the two forces entered Los Angeles, this time without bloodshed. Confronted with overwhelming force, Andrés Pico, who had succeeded Flores as military commander and acting as chief administrative officer, met with Captain Frémont. At a ranch in what is now Studio City, they signed the Treaty of Cahuenga on 13 January 1847. That formally ended the California phase of the Mexican–American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on 2 February 1848, ended the war and ceded California to the U.S.

In honor of the Mexican heritage of Los Angeles I have chosen a recipe for tamales adapted from the cooking of El Cholo restaurant in Irvine (the image is from their website).

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El Cholo Tamales

Ingredients:

12 ears yellow corn
¼ lb cornmeal
¼ cup butter
¼ cup lard (or vegetable shortening)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup half and half or light cream
Salt
12 (1 oz/28 g) strips Monterey Jack cheese, halved
1 (12 oz/340 g) can green chiles, cut into strips

Instructions:

Cut both ends off the ears of corn. Remove the husks, careful to keep them whole for wrapping. Put them to soak in warm water for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.  They must be pliable.

Cut the corn kernels off the cob and grind them with the cornmeal in a food processor. Set aside.

Beat the lard and butter in mixing bowl until creamy. Add the sugar, half and half, and corn mixture plus salt to taste and mix well. This is your masa (corn dough).

For each tamale, overlap 2 corn husks lengthwise. Spread ¼ cup layer of masa on the husks as thinly and evenly as possible to within 1 inch (2.5 cm) of the edges.

Place 1 cheese strip and 1 chile strip over the masa. Spread 2 tbsps of masa thinly over the top of the filling.

Bring the edges of the corn husks over the filling to cover completely, then fold the ends of the corn husks up. Place husks on square of parchment paper, then fold the sides of the parchment over the tamale and then fold up the ends. Tie string around the packages to hold them in place. Repeat for the rest of the tamales.

Place the packages on end on a steamer rack, and steam over water on a gentle boil for about 40 minutes.

Yield: 24 tamales