May 252016


Today is one of two national days of independence in Argentina. I have already covered the main events of 25 de Mayo here  The May Revolution of 1810 initiated the independence movement, but what followed was a bloody century in Argentina and throughout South America. First there were the wars of independence with Spain, followed by various internecine wars in South America to carve out national territories from the former vice royalties of Spain, coupled with civil wars inside Argentina between the forces in favor of federalism along the lines of the USA (Federales), and those who wanted a centralized government in Buenos Aires (Unitarios). Internal strife within Argentina did not end until 1880. War with foreign nations, especially Britain (seeking to colonize Argentina after independence from Spain), dribbled on mid-century. The 19th century in Argentina was an incredibly bloody and contentious century, that eventually forged the modern nation, the events of which are commemorated publicly, and drilled into the heads of all school children from an early age.

It is reasonable to argue, I think, that the horrendous blood letting of the 19th century led to a pacifist 20th century in Argentina, with no external wars excepting the Malvinas conflict, which was trumped up by the generals to bolster their fading hold on power during the Dirty War.  The Malvinas are the last vestige of 19th century British colonialism in the region, still a major sore spot in Argentine national consciousness.


In the early decades of the 19th century following independence, various efforts were made to draft national constitutions for Argentina. The Argentine Constitution of 1819 was drafted by the Congress of Tucumán and promulgated on this date because it was the anniversary of the May Revolution. It was promoted by Buenos Aires but rejected by the other provinces and did not come into force.

The Congress of Tucumán had moved to Buenos Aires, after having issued the Argentine Declaration of Independence in San Miguel de Tucumán (9 July 1816). The draft constitution of 1819 was based on the current laws ruling the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, as well as in foreign constitutions such as those of the US, France, and Spain. It was written by José Mariano Serrano, Diego Estanislao Zavaleta, Teodoro Sánchez de Bustamante, Juan José Paso and Antonio Sáenz.

The Constitution set the separation of powers into three distinct branches, with the executive power to be held by a “Supreme Director,” who would be elected by a majority of a Joint Session of Congress, and who would serve a 5-year term. Under the form of government established in 1814, the executive power had been exercised by the Supreme Director of the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, but there had been attempts to crown a Bourbon as King of the United Provinces. He would have had the authority to designate the governors of the provinces.

The legislative power was meant to be exercised by two chambers; one of Senators, the other of deputies. Besides a fixed number of Senators per province, the chamber of Senators would also be composed by three military officers (colonel or higher), one bishop, three clergymen, a representative of each University, and the former Supreme Director. Both senators and deputies had to show evidence of an estate of $8000 and $4000 respectively. The chamber of deputies was to have the initiative in issues related to taxes.


The constitution was promulgated on May 25, 1819. It was immediately rejected by the provinces, which then waged war against the Supreme Directorship. The national armies that were fighting the War of Independence refused to fight a civil war, so the diminished troops of Supreme Director José Rondeau were defeated in February 1820 at the Battle of Cepeda. The 1819 Constitution was subsequently repealed to be followed by a new constitution in 1826. And so on . . .

25May5 25May4

On this date, Argentinos celebrate the events of the May Revolution with locro and pastelitos de 25 de Mayo which I have described at length in other posts. Both are classics of Argentine cuisine.


Today I will probably make something resembling picada, a classic Argentine between-meals snack which can also serve as a light meal. It is influenced by the Italian antipasto, but in Argentina it consists of local products such as matambre, cheeses, and cured meats. Breakfast in Argentina is usually mate plus some pastries and the evening meal often does not start until 9pm or later. Lunch can be heavy, followed by a siesta (a grand tradition I follow), so something relatively substantial is necessary to fill the gaps. I have no chance of finding Argentine sausages and cheeses in Italy, so I will have to make do – you will too if you want to celebrate the day outside of Argentina. I will, at least, be able to drink mate (which I do every day), but, sadly will have no one to share with me. This is the tragedy of my current life. My friends keep reminding me: “Juan – se tiene que compartir los mates !!!” YA ENTIENDO !!! Voy a volver, eventualmente hermanos.

Oct 122013


On this date in 1492, Rodrigo de Triana, lookout on the Pinta in Columbus’ flotilla, sighted land in the New World. Columbus had first sailed to the Canary Islands, which belonged to Castile, where he restocked his provisions and made repairs. After stopping over in Gran Canaria, he departed from San Sebastián de La Gomera on 6 September, for what turned out to be a five-week voyage across the Atlantic.  Rodrigo de Triana (also known as Juan Rodríguez Bermeo), spotted land about 2:00 on the morning of 12 October, and immediately alerted the rest of the crew with a shout. Thereupon, the captain of the Pinta, Martín Alonso Pinzón, verified the discovery and alerted Columbus by firing a lombard. Columbus later maintained that he himself had already seen a light on the land a few hours earlier, thereby claiming for himself the lifetime pension promised by Ferdinand and Isabella to the first person to sight land. Gives you an inkling of the man’s character.


Columbus called the island (in what is now The Bahamas) San Salvador; the locals called it Guanahani. Exactly which island in the Bahamas this corresponds to is unresolved. Prime candidates are San Salvador Island (so named in 1925 on the theory that it was Columbus’s San Salvador), Samana Cay, and Plana Cays. The indigenous people he encountered, the Lucayan, Taíno, or Arawak, were peaceful and friendly. Noting their gold ear ornaments, Columbus took some of the Arawaks prisoner and insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. On 12 October 1492 he wrote in his journal:

Many of the men I have seen have scars on their bodies, and when I made signs to them to find out how this happened, they indicated that people from other nearby islands come to San Salvador to capture them; they defend themselves the best they can. I believe that people from the mainland come here to take them as slaves. They ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.

He remarked that their lack of modern weaponry and even metal-forged swords or pikes was a tactical vulnerability, saying, “I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased.”  Sign of things to come.


12 October is marked in many countries in the Americas and Europe (in the United States as Columbus Day). The most common name for the date in Spanish is Día de la Raza. The day under this name was first celebrated in Argentina in 1917 (since changed to Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural), Venezuela and Colombia in 1921, Chile in 1922, and Mexico in 1928. The day was also celebrated under this title in Spain until 1957, when it was changed to the Día de la Hispanidad, and in Venezuela until 2002, when it was changed to the Día de la Resistencia Indígena. In Uruguay it is called Día de las Américas.  Originally conceived of as a celebration of Hispanic influence in the Americas, as evidenced by the complementary celebrations in Spain and Latin America, Día de la Raza has come to be seen by many nations and individuals in Latin America as a counter to Columbus Day; a celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans to the Americas by indigenous peoples. In the U.S. Día de la Raza has served as a time of mobilization for pan-ethnic Hispano activists, particularly in the 1960s.

Opposition to Columbus Day dates to at least the 19th century when activists in the U.S. had sought to suppress Columbus Day celebrations because of its association with immigrants and the Knights of Columbus. They were afraid it was being used to expand Catholic influence. By far the more common opposition today, decrying Columbus’ and Europeans’ actions against the indigenous populations of the Americas, did not gain much traction until the latter half of the 20th century. This opposition has been spearheaded by indigenous groups, though it has spread into the mainstream.


There are two main strands of this critique, which are interrelated. The first refers primarily to the indigenous population collapse and cruel treatment towards indigenous peoples during the European colonization of the Americas which followed Columbus’ discovery. Some, such as the American Indian Movement, have argued that the responsibility of contemporary governments and their citizens for ongoing acts of genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus rhetoric and celebrations. These critics argue that a particular understanding of the legacy of Columbus has been used to legitimize their actions, and it is this misuse of history that must be exposed. F. David Peat in Blackfoot Physics: A Journey into the Native American Worldview asserts that many cultural legends of North America exclude or diminish the culture of Native Americans. These cultural legends include ideas expressed by Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute claiming that Western civilization brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition, and productive achievement” to a people who were based in “primitivism, mysticism, and collectivism”, and to a land that was “sparsely inhabited, unused, and underdeveloped.” The simple truth is that Europeans discovered magnificent cultures and civilizations, and systematically conquered and destroyed them for the sake of financial gain (under the thin veil of “civilizing” them).


U.S. anthropologist Jack Weatherford says that on Columbus Day people in the U.S. celebrate the greatest waves of genocide of the Indians known in history. American Indian Movement of Colorado leader and activist Ward Churchill takes this argument further, contending that the mythologizing and celebration of the European settlement of the Americas in Columbus Day make it easier for people today to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their governments regarding indigenous populations. He wrote in Bringing the Law Back Home:

Very high on the list of those expressions of non-indigenous sensibility [that] contribute to the perpetuation of genocidal policies against Indians are the annual Columbus Day celebration, events in which it is baldly asserted that the process, events, and circumstances described above [oppression, and genocide] are, at best, either acceptable or unimportant. More often, the sentiments expressed by the participants are, quite frankly, that the fate of Native America embodied in Columbus and the Columbian legacy is a matter to be openly and enthusiastically applauded as an unrivaled ‘boon to all mankind.’ Undeniably, the situation of American Indians will not — in fact cannot — change for the better so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace. Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped.

A second strain of the criticism of Columbus Day focuses on the character of Columbus himself. In time for the observation of Columbus Day in 2004, the final volume of a compendium of Columbus-era documents was published by the University of California, Los Angeles’s Medieval and Renaissance Center. Geoffrey Symcox, the general editor of the project, asserts:

While giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing— not even exploitation, slavery, or twisting Biblical scripture— to advance his ambitions . . . . Many of the unflattering documents have been known for the last century or more, but nobody paid much attention to them until recently. . . The fact that Columbus brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas used to be seen as a minor detail – if it was recognized at all – in light of his role as the great bringer of white man’s civilization to the benighted idolatrous American continent. But to historians today this information is very important. It changes our whole view of the enterprise.


Every country in the Americas, without exception, has a checkered history with indigenous peoples, which is ongoing.  I certainly approve of using this date to focus a little extra attention on their plight nowadays.  But I think we might also use the day to acknowledge the extraordinary benefits the European world gained by contact with various peoples from the Americas.  The so-called Columbian Exchange, the trade of ideas and biological items between Old and New Worlds was, let us say, uneven. Europeans got tomatoes and potatoes, and the Americas got smallpox and measles.  Obviously that is a cynically gross oversimplification, but it is true that the Old World got enormous gains, especially in the culinary world, out of the bargain. I can’t imagine an Old World cuisine that is not monumentally indebted to New World cultigens.  Where would southern Italy be without tomatoes, England without potatoes for fish and chips, or Thailand without hot peppers?

When I was teaching I used to ask my students once in a while to imagine the produce section of a supermarket without New World cultigens.  Pretty bare.  Pre-Columbian Old World food had its high points, but was very limited.  There’s only so much you can do with lentils, broad beans, cabbage, and carrots. Here’s a reasonably complete list of domesticated fruits and vegetables from the New World that spread globally:

Agave, amaranth (for pseudograin), arrowroot, avocado, common beans (pinto, lima, kidney, black, etc.), black raspberry, bell pepper, blueberry (not to be confused with bilberry, also called blueberry), canistel, cashew, chia, chicle, cherimoya, chile peppers, cranberries (large cranberry, or bearberry species), coca, cocoa, custard apple, guava (common), huckleberry, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, maize (corn), manioc (cassava, tapioca, yuca), papaya, passionfruit, peanut, pecan, pineapple, potato, prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica), pumpkin, quinoa, rubber, sapodilla, squash, strawberry (commercial varieties), sugar-apple, sunflower, sweet potato, tomato, vanilla, wild rice (not directly related to Asian rice), yerba mate, yucca.

Even this list tells only a small part of the story. Potatoes available in most of the world, for example, represent maybe a dozen out of over 5,000 varieties available (3,000 found only in the Andes). Likewise squashes, peppers, and beans, which come in immense varieties.

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Some species of plants found in the New World, strawberries for example, are found native to the Old World too. But it is the New World species that developed into commercial varieties.  Tomatoes took nearly 300 years to be accepted in Europe because they had been declared early on as poisonous. Furthermore the Old World was highly creative with New World products — chocolate being the shining example.

The so-called Three Sisters are the three main agricultural crops of various Native American groups in North America: squash, maize (corn), and climbing beans (typically tepary beans or common beans). In one technique known as companion planting, the three crops are planted close together. Flat-topped mounds of soil are built for each cluster of crops. Each mound is about 30 cm (12 in) high and 50 cm (20 in) wide, and several maize seeds are planted close together in the center of each mound. In parts of the Atlantic Northeast, rotten fish or eels are buried in the mound with the maize seeds, to act as additional fertilizer where the soil is poor. When the maize is 15 cm (6 inches) tall, beans and squash are planted around the maize, alternating between the two kinds of seeds. This process developed over 5,000-6,500 years ago in Mesoamerica. Squash was domesticated first, with maize second and then beans. Squash was first domesticated 8,000-10,000 years ago (the hot pepper (chile) was likely the first plant domesticated in the region).


The three crops benefit from each other. The maize provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the other plants use, and the squash spreads along the ground, blocking the sunlight, helping prevent establishment of weeds. The squash leaves also act as a”living mulch,” creating a microclimate to retain moisture in the soil, and the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests. Maize lacks the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, which the human body needs to make proteins and niacin, but beans contain both and therefore maize and beans together provide a balanced diet if eaten together.

Native Americans throughout North America are known for growing variations of Three Sisters gardens. The milpas of Mesoamerica are farms or gardens that employ companion planting on a larger scale. The Anasazi are known for adopting this garden design in a drier environment. The Tewa and other Southwestern United States groups often included a “fourth sister” known as “Rocky Mountain bee plant” (Cleome serrulata), which attracts bees to help pollinate the beans and squash.

Three Sisters’ recipes abound and are limited only by your imagination.  Think of tamales with a bean and squash filling, a steaming bowl of chilli with corn, beans, and squash, or a salad of the same.  Because of the immense varieties of beans and squash, and, to a lesser extent, corn, the combinations of colors, textures, and flavors are endless.

Here is a recipe from my home, Argentina.  I have mentioned locro before as a festive food.  It is perfect at this time of year in North and South America.  The base ingredients are white hominy (maize) and white beans simmered for hours with some meat.  Then various vegetables are added – notably squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.  Modern meats and spices are of Old World origin, making this dish representative of the Columbian Exchange. Commonly the dish is served in deep bowls with a bowl of sofrito made from crushed tomatoes, paprika, oregano, cumin, and chiles passed around for guests to add as desired. If you like you can use chopped fresh cilantro in place of the oregano, but Argentinos do not usually use it.  Neither do Argentinos in the Buenos Aires region and southern Argentina use hot peppers. In my version here (which I learnt from an old country woman, with my own wrinkles added), I use spices directly in the cooking in place of sofrito. I am going to give you a pictorial recipe without bothering with precise measurements.

© Tío Juan’s Locro


First ingredients: meat (bacon, stewing beef, and tripe), hominy, garlic, leeks (or onions), garlic, and beans. I used canned beans, but you can use dried and add them with the hominy. I took this set of photos 3 yrs ago when I was being lazy. Meats are your choice.  I’m a tripe nut, and it is very traditional here. You can omit it. Pigs’ feet are also common.


Bring water (or light stock) to a boil.


Add the first ingredients (chopping the meats into bite sized chunks), including beans if they are dried.  Simmer for about 2 hours or until the hominy is soft and fluffy.


Second ingredients: squash, sweet potato, bell pepper, and potatoes, plus spices. Here I use cumin and paprika. You can also use chile peppers, oregano, and cilantro — cook’s choice.


Simmer until the vegetables are well cooked.


Eat for a week.  Argentinos usually have a side salad of tomatoes, lettuce, and onions, and Italian bread.



May 252013


25 de Mayo


Open cabildo                     Cabildo


Today is a major national holiday in Argentina known as 25 de Mayo* marking the removal of the Spanish colonial viceroy, Baltasar Hidalgo Cisneros, on May 25, 1810, and his replacement by the Primera Junta (First Government), thus initiating the Argentine War of Independence.  The revolution began in Buenos Aires which was at the time the capital of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata, which included not only present day Argentina, but also (roughly) modern Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay. The viceroy was the ruler of the viceroyalty as agent of the Spanish crown. There is not a single town I know of in Argentina that does not have an avenida or calle 25 de Mayo, and, in addition, Buenos Aires has avenida de Mayo, and plaza de Mayo where the main events took place (it was plaza Victoria at the time).  Plaza de Mayo is to this day the epicenter of public displays of political support or dissent.  25 de Mayo is a BIG DEAL.

*[For today only my Spanish-speaking amigos you must pronounce it MA-zho as Argentinos do.]

The so-called May Revolution was precipitated by a number of events, chief of which was Napoleon’s replacement of king Ferdinand VII of Spain with his brother Joseph Bonaparte in 1808.  Spain had been an ally of France in the Napoleonic Wars, but a series of disputes, especially concerning the control of Portugal, turned Napoleon against Spain.  Viceroy Cisneros tried to keep the news secret and tried to maintain the status quo.  But news leaked out and a group of criollo lawyers and military leaders met and called an open cabildo to decide the future of the viceroyalty since Cisneros technically no longer had legal authority because he derived it from the now deposed king, Ferdinand. The criollos were people of Spanish descent born in South America.  There were two forms of cabildo (council) in colonial Latin America.  One was a standing body of officials, appointed by the viceroy, who governed cities throughout the viceroyalty and known simply as el cabildo. The other was the open cabildo which was a meeting of all the vecinos in the city. Vecino literally means “neighbor,” but in this context it means a city notable.  The vecinos were not aristocrats, but freemen with substantial property holdings within the city.  An open cabildo of vecinos could be called in times of emergency.

This open cabildo met on May 22 (pictured). It convened from morning to midnight to debate the question of whether in the absence of king Ferdinand the power of the viceroy devolved to the people.  The group was roughly equally split between those who wanted to maintain the status quo, and those who favored the installation of a junta, a governing council of the people, to replace the viceroy.  After midnight (that is, May 23), a vote was taken to either keep Cisneros in office or replace him with a junta.  Voting was open and public. The final tally was 155 votes to 69 in favor of a junta. At dawn on May 23, the cabildo informed the population that the viceroy would end his mandate. The highest authority would be transferred temporarily to the cabildo until the appointment of a governing junta. Then things turned ugly.

On May 24 debate turned to the composition of the junta, and the procurator of the cabildo, Julián de Leiva, suggested that Cisneros be its president.  It’s not entirely clear what were his motives in suggesting that the viceroy remain as head of government, but the suggestion had a very mixed reception. Meanwhile crowds of revolutionaries and soldiers were gathered in the plaza outside the cabildo building (pictured – on the right with a central tower – in a photograph from 1856, but substantially as it was in 1810). Leiva drew up a constitutional code for the establishment of the junta with Cisneros as the president.  Several prominent members of the cabildo resigned, and there was growing unrest in the plaza.  The military openly refused to accept Cisnernos as leader, knowing this would mean they would have to defend him against revolutionaries, and therefore fire on their own people.  By the afternoon of May 24 the new junta was sworn in with Cisneros at its head.

There was heavy rain on the morning of May 25 but even so a large crowd gathered in the plaza.  They demanded that the junta be dissolved and that Cisneros be forced to resign.  The cabildo met at 9 am and refused to accept Cisneros’ resignation.  Instead they summoned the military commanders with the intent of using force if necessary to suppress the mob in the plaza.  Almost all of the commanders refused the summons.  The few who did appear flatly refused to accept the cabildo’s orders saying there would be full scale mutiny if they ordered them to fire on the people.  At this point the crowd in the plaza stormed the cabildo house, although they did not get as far as the hall of deliberations.  Leiva invited representatives of the crowd and military commanders into the hall of deliberations, but the cabildo was still inclined to stand firm until the combination of the declaration of the military that they would fight with the revolutionaries against the new junta, and the noise of the crowd in the building  changed their minds.  They agreed to form a new junta without Cisneros and the crowd returned to the plaza.

Eventually the open cabildo drew up a new document in accord with the wishes of the revolutionaries and was signed by 411 members then submitted to the cabildo for ratification. But everything was taking too long for the crowd in the plaza, so they stormed the building again, this time reaching the hall of deliberations.  Antonio Beruti, militia leader, spoke on behalf of the people demanding that the junta be elected by the people, and if they were denied, the military and the revolutionaries would take arms against the cabildo. The cabildo agreed.  At that point the rain stopped and the sun burst out – seen as an omen by the people.  The so called Sun of May became a national symbol and is centered on the Argentine national flag.  Late in the evening of May 25 the cabildo moved to the balcony to read the new document to the people for voice ratification.  Thus the Primera Junta was formed, and the revolution had begun.

These facts are branded on the hearts and souls of every schoolchild in Argentina.  The leaders of the revolution and the subsequent wars against Spain are household words.  Streets, plazas, buildings, and railway stations are named for them.  They permeate the lifeblood of all Argentinos, myself included.   Power to the people!!!!!

25 de Mayo is a great day for festive food and partying. It is usual to eat locro today – a stew with a base of white beans, white hominy, mixed meats, and mixed root vegetables. There are as many versions as there are cooks in Argentina. I make mine with tripe, pig’s feet, zapallito redondo (like zucchini), sweet potato, corn, and potatoes with a sofrito of crushed tomatoes, paprika, oregano, cumin, and chiles. I use my own recipe of course, but it is based on one given to me by an abuelita in the provinces. For you I give a recipe for pastelitos de 25 de Mayo, fried pastries filled with quince preserves or dulce de membrillo (a thick paste of quince and sugar). I was half inclined to give the recipe in Spanish, but decided instead to take pity on the Spanish challenged.  However, I am going to give the measurements in metric as a compromise. The sugar syrup is a simple syrup made of equal parts sugar and water brought to a low boil and simmered about 15 minutes, or until thick.

pastelitos3       pastelitos4
Pastelitos de 25 de Mayo


1kg flour
400g of lard
4 eggs
pinch of salt
250cc water
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 jar of quince preserve or block of dulce de membrillo
sugar syrup to coat the pastelitos
colored sprinkles
oil for frying


Mix together the flour, lard, eggs, salt, and baking powder.

Add the water slowly a little at a time until the dough comes together but is not sticky. Use only enough water to bind the dough.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes.

Let the dough rest, covered, for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough to about  .5 cm thick.  Cut the dough into 5 x 5 cm squares.

Lay half the squares out and place a teaspoon of quince paste or preserve in the center of each. Place another square of dough on top at a diagonal to the first so that the pastelito has eight points. Press the dough around the filling to form a tight seal. Take the four corners of the bottom square, pinch each one together and fold upwards to form a square package (see photos).  The corners of the top square will fold up as well.

Deep fry the pastelitos a few at a time until they are golden brown, turning once to brown both sides.

Drain on a rack with a pan below it.

Drizzle the pastelitos with sugar syrup and decorate with sprinkles.

Yield: up to 30 or more depending on how thin the dough is rolled.

These are best eaten warm but will keep for a day, if there are any left!