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The Food of Día de los Muertos

The Food of Día de los Muertos

Every aspect of the elaborate celebration acknowledges how mortality enriches the human experience; death is the necessary completion of our cyclical lifespans.


Here in New Mexico, Día de los Muertos is at least as culturally relevant as Halloween. In part, our city owes its multifaceted heritage to the same synthesis of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cultures that created the holiday.

Unlike Halloween, Día de los Muertos is not a celebration of grotesquerie and gore, but of mysticism and mestizaje. Its festivities combine Mesoamerican spirituality with traditional Catholic feast days that coincide with the seasonal harvest. In nature – as in any cycle – expiration and renewal intermingle, and it is this ouroboran fusion that provides the ideological foundation for Día de los Muertos.

Día de los Muertos is a reunion in the truest sense, a simultaneous bienvenido and despedida that reawakens both living and deceased roots of the family tree. At midnight on October 31, the boundary between the spiritual and physical worlds blurs – like early morning fog over the Río Grande. The gates of heaven dissolve, and Día de los Angelitos begins; children who have passed on migrate home for the holidays. November 2 is Día de los Muertos, when deceased adults return home to complete a gathering together with their welcoming descendants.

Every aspect of the elaborate celebration acknowledges how mortality enriches the human experience; death is the necessary completion of our cyclical lifespans. Life-affirming joy and generosity characterize the ritual; grief and desolation would offend the honored guests. Families festoon graves with orange marigolds for adults and white orchids for children. Close-knit communities invite departed members to sing and dance alongside their extant families. Intermingling spirits repay this hospitality with luck, protection, insight and spiritual goodwill.

In the spirit of a warm reception, celebrants build colorful ofrendas aka altars in their homes. These altars lavish incorporeal loved ones with tributes of refreshment and supply them with delights to aid comfortable transit. The cheerful tributes of an ofrenda represent the four elements that anchor the physical world: a jug of water, colorful streamers of papel picado that catch the wind, candles and food harvested from the earth.

Delicious dishes are an essential aspect of any reunion feast. Below is a quintessential plato for you to whip up in your casa. Introduce your own personal spin on time-honored, classic recipes. Create aromas that evoke the lives and loves of visiting ancestors, and write down secret recipes you’ll pass down to your children. Don’t forget the vital garnish: reflective gratitude and heartfelt toasts to your entire bloodline. ¡Brindémonos a todos!

Juani Hopwood is a nature lover/hater and a polymath. You can reach her at juani@freeabq.com

Pan de Muerto


1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons anise seed
1/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons orange zest

1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
2 tablespoons white sugar (optional)


Make the dough:

1) Heat milk and butter in a medium saucepan until the butter melts. Remove from heat and add the warm water. The resulting mixture should be around 110 degrees F (43 degrees C).

2) In a large bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of the sugar with yeast, salt and anise seed. Beat in the warm milk mixture, then add eggs and orange zest. Continue mixing until well combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of flour and blend; continue adding more flour until the dough is soft.

3) Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

4) Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow the mixture to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size. This takes between 1 to 2 hours.

5) Once risen, punch the dough down and shape into a large round loaf with a round knob on top.

6) Place dough on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about hour or until again doubled in size.

7) On a lightly greased baking sheet, bake in a oven preheated 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for between 35 to 45 minutes.

8) Remove from oven, allow bread to cool slightly before brushing with glaze.

Make the glaze:

1) In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup sugar, orange juice and orange zest. Bring to a boil on medium heat and continue boiling for 2 minutes. Brush over bread while it’s still warm. Optional: Sprinkle glazed bread with white sugar.

Adapted by Ariane Jarocki from allrecipes.com


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Juani Hopwood is Online Editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach her at juani@freeabq.com.
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Albuquerque’s definitive alternative newspaper publishing an inquisitive, modern approach to the news and entertainment stories that matter most to New Mexicans. ABQ Free Press’ fresh voice speaks to insightful and involved professionals who care deeply about our community.