Did de los Muertos (Day of the Dead),
aka All Saints Day, All Souls Day
is celebrated throughout the world, especially in Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and is associated with American Halloween. Here are some highlights:
Oct. 31-Nov. 2; traditional Aztec dancers, parades with costumed figures, regional Mexican music, and other Mexican artisans celebrate the day, and honor the dead.
As part of a promotion by the Mexican embassy in Prague, Czech Republic, since the late 20th century, some local citizens join in a Mexican-style Day of the Dead. A theatre group produces events featuring masks, candles, and sugar skulls.(Wikipedia)
In Ecuador the Day of the Dead is observed to some extent by all parts of society, though it is especially important to the indigenous Kichwa peoples, who make up an estimated quarter of the population.
Guatemalan celebrations of the Day of the Dead, on November 1, are highlighted by the construction and flying of giant kites in addition to the traditional visits to grave sites of ancestors. A big event also is the consumption of fiambre, which is made only for this day during the year.
Mexican-style Day of the Dead celebrations occur in major cities in Australia, Fiji, and Indonesia. Additionally, prominent celebrations are held in Wellington, New Zealand, complete with altars celebrating the deceased with flowers and gifts.
Ognissanti (All Saints) is celebrated on 1st November, and the 2nd of November, commonly called “i Morti” in Italian, is the day dedicated to the dear ones who passed away. People start visiting the cemeteries already some days before, so that on the two festive days fresh flowers, also left on the old forgotten tombs, not visited any more for decades, give to the Italian cemeteries an explosion of colors.
Traditions for Ognissanti
Folk traditions include lighting on the window sills at sunset a “lumino” (red candle) and laying a table for the dear ones deceased who would come and visit and leave the children confetti and green beans to teach them that they were keeping an eye on them too (the tradition emphasized the importance of a connection between past and younger generations). Then on November 1st almost everywhere the first “caldarroste” (roasted chestnuts) of the season appeared for the enjoyment of young and old.
All Saints Day, which honored the early Christian martyrs, was established on the 1st of November to merge with the ancient Druid rituals of October 31st, which was the Eve of New Year’s Day in the Celtic calendar, a rite of passage, that is why the return of Dead Ones to the earth. The day of the Dead Ones means a closer dialogue with them, forgetting about everyday problems and looking to them for comfort and strength.
Special foods are prepared according to each country and each region’s traditions and often trays of food are left at altars commemorating the dead or in cemeteries. A special empty seat may be left at the dinner table commemorating the dead; and the house left open when all go to church after dinner so that souls of the dead may visit. Children go door to door collecting candy and special treats. In Lombardi, the “oss de mord” (=bones of the dead) cookies are made in long shapes with dough and almond, baked, with a faint taste of cinnamon. *(see recipe below)
In Liguria and Piedmont, a specialty for All Saints’ Day is ceci con le costine, a soup made of chickpea, celery, carrot, onion, tomato, and pork rib. Il pane de morti, a sweet made of crumbled biscuits, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate, is also popular on this day.
In Sicily, the Martorana fruit is a traditional, typical sweet, similar to marzipan, made with ground almonds and sugar into the shape of fruit, vegetables or fish. Prepared in celebrations of the dead, or for the visit of the pope or other important person, it was prepared and sold in the Santa Caterina monastery of Palermo by nuns until the mid 1900’s.
In France during the 1590’s, it is reported that starving Parisians ground human bones into bread to stay alive. The web site Atlas Obscura (2yGBkof) brings to light much amazing data. They blog this morose bit of history occurred about the same time Marie Antoinette is to have said something like if they can’t afford bread, let them eat cake, which isn’t apparently true—it was a popular phrase to attribute to the aristocracy and written often by philosopher Rousseau.
Again, complex history reigns as the King Henris mark their winning wars until 40-50,000 deaths decided Henri to provide food, lift the siege and convert to Catholicism himself!
BONES OF THE DEAD (Ossi dei Morte)
makes about 50 cookies
I adapted this recipe from Paola’s Pan dei Morti recipe of Lombardy http://www.passionandcooking.com/2012/10/28/pan-dei-morti-bread-of-the-dead/.
As in many recipes throughout Italy and beyond, there are hints of pre-Christian traditions, myths, legends, foods, recipes and ingredients. In this one, the figs (dried fruit) represent offerings to the dead, chocolate for the burial site, nuts for the bones, a cross on the grave, etc.
150 g (5-6 oz) dry amaretti cookies
350 g (12 oz) ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best)
130 g (1 cup) blanched whole almonds, toasted
130 g (1 cup) pine nuts, toasted
120 g (4 ¼ oz) dried figs or chopped dates
120 g (4 ¼ oz) raisins, and 5 oz. candied orange peel
300 g (2 cups) all-purpose flour
300 g (1 ½ cups) sugar
10 g (2 tsp) baking powder
60 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
6 large eggs
120 ml (½ cup) Amaretto
1/2 tsp almond extract
Powdered sugar or chocolate and pine nuts topping with piped royal icing
Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)
- Toast the pine nuts and the almonds separately for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove. Keep separate and set aside. Chop figs finely.
- Soak the figs or dates, raisins and candied peel in 1/2 cup Amaretto
- Using a food processor, finely grind the ladyfingers and amaretti cookies, and place them in a very large mixing bowl
- Finely grind the almonds. Add to the cookie mix. Drain fruits and reserve Amaretto.
- Whisk together the flour and the baking powder, then add to the cookie-almond-fig mixture. Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts. Toss until completely blended.
- Pour the eggs and the Amaretto over the dry ingredients. Add drained fruit and candied peel. Mix well by hand until smooth and doughy.
- Line the baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.
- To form the cookies, first flour your fingers. Scoop out a small ball of dough about the size of a golf ball. It would be nice if the dough were conducive to a bone shape cookie cutter, but that is not in the cards. Using as little flour as possible, flatten the ball into an oblong shape with pointed edges, about 2-3″ inches long. Use just enough flour to work the dough and keep the cookies from sticking to the baking paper.
- Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving some space between each. Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly puffed, with a brown color and crisp look. How do you tell when chocolate turns a brown color? Beats me.
- Dip into semi-sweet melted chocolate (about 1 package of 1 oz. squares melted at 50% power in microwave, if desired. Sprinkle with more pine nuts and pipe a cross on top with royal icing (2 cups powdered sugar, 2 T water, 2 tsp. orange extract).
- Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.