September 09, 2008

Day of the dead and food memories


I'm reading this book.....It talks about the Mexican day of the Dead. Its not a holiday I know much about but it was interesting to read about it. The author used to live in AZ. and so celebrated it with Mexican friends. She talks about how it was for people to spend time with the ancestors. But because it was a celebration the Catholic church frowned on it. They didn't understand why they were celebrating. The church thought it was about paganism and you know they always tried to eliminate that by changing it. So they changed the date from June to Nov. to coincide with All Saints day. They hoped it would change them since its a somber day. But it didn't, they still celebrated , just on the different day. The author tho spoke of it, not as a death/pagan type thing but that people did it as a way of remembering those who passed on. They would share the family stories but because sometimes the parties were at the gravesite on top of those very graves, the church thought it was sacrilegious.

One catholic priest started to write a Treatise on the Superstitions and Heathen Customs that today live Among the Indian Native to This New Spain. He meant it as a guide to other priests to recognize and exterminate the native practices. As he wrote tho he grew sympathetic. He realized that the people celebrated sacred in the ordinary and encouraged living and spirit realities to meet up in the here and now. Death as an ending didn't exist for them. They just figured the ancestors were in a different body on a trip thru the ether. They felt it was a way of visiting them. The peoples sadness was not for them but for themselves, so it became ritual visiting.

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The author tho realized for us today we have no rituals to do this but we do it anyway in many ways and she mentioned several memories of family members. I thought about this and I like this .......our memories really are a celebration of sorts. When we remember gramma cooking over a stove, shes not really dead, she lives in our thoughts and hearts still. So I thought about some of my own ...day of the dead memories.

My Mothers mom was Hungarian. As a little girl I spent many summers there. Grampa would ask me what I wanted to eat for dinner and I would say Palasintas! These were very thin crepes filled with jam and such. Grampa would command that the lil princess wants Palasintas and by the end of the day, I had them. As a child I didn't realize the work that went into them but I do now. Poor gramma in the middle of summer with no AC, standing over the stove making many Palasintas for me, sweating alot but doing it anyway. I miss gramma, and I miss Palasintas but now as an adult, I feel so guilty for asking that of her. But its a great memory. It brings her back to me.

And grampa, he had his big garden and I loved to be in it and help him. And when I garden now, that memory comes back to me. Of running fast past the dog cuz it barked all the time and scared me. He was tied up but he could get close to the entrance of the garden and as a child it scared me. And then running under the grape arbor which was the entrance to the garden. I ran thru that too cuz there were tons of creepy Japanese Beetles on it that grampa would pick off by hand. He would drown them in a jar of water. Once I got past that tho, I was in heaven. Rows of all kinds of veggies and grampa would fill a watering can for me and let me go crazy there.

Grampa would let me pick a tomato right off the vine to eat. Ill never forget that, so warm and juicy. To this day the first tomato of the year when I grow them, brings back that memory. And he would grow kohlrabi a weird veggie that tasted like broccoli. He would pick one and peel it like an apple for me to eat. I loved it , so crunchy and crispy. So when I garden, many times I think of grampa in his. I think this is where my love it it started and I'm carrying on a tradition.

I remember holidays as a kid. A big table filled with aunts and uncles and the kids running around. And after the dinner all the women and girls ended up in the kitchen doing dishes. I hated doing the dishes but at least with all hands on deck it went much faster. It was interesting tho because the women would of course talk about everything and anything and you could learn alot. Ive been away from family a long time now and all those aunts are gone now. And since most holidays have been here at my house by the time I'm done cooking and feeding everyone, I'm exhausted so I don't do my dishes till the next day. I just put the food away and crash. But because of that I started to wait till my daughter and grand daughter got here to set my table. I would have them do that and in a way it became a reverse tradition.

Unless I have a huge group and food is buffet style, then we always eat at the dining room table. I grew up eating together at the table. My own life didn't quite go that way with the ex on the road so I made sure holidays were like that or when the grandchildren come to visit. My granddaughter just loved that tho. She made my daughter change her ways because of that. They used to sit with TV trays and watch tv. Her table was cluttered with the usual daily stuff. But one day after being here my lil one told her mom she wants to eat at the table like we do at grammas. I was happy to hear that, to know that she wanted those family traditions already at her age.

My grandkids and I have made cookies for the holidays over the yrs. Even me and my children have done that. And there are certain things that must be had for certain holidays or no one is happy. I like to think when I'm gone.........my own will have their own Day of the Dead memories of me and smile. I would love for them to visit me often.

Palasintas (Hungarian pancakes)

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt
6 eggs
1½ cups milk
6 tablespoons melted butter
About 1½ cups sparkling mineral water
3 tablespoons cooking oil

Put the milk, eggs, salt, flour and melted butter in a blender, in that order. Blend at top speed for about 1 minute, then scrape down the sides of the jar and blend another few seconds. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight. Just before making the palacsinta, shake or stir the batter and add just enough sparkling water to make a thin batter, the consistency of light cream. Heat a small frying pan with sloping sides until very hot, then brush with cooking oil. When it starts to smoke, remove from the heat and pour a few tablespoons of batter into the pan (work with a ladle the right size, if possible). Quickly turn the pan around so the batter flows to the sides, thinly coating the entire bottom. A palacsinta is supposed to be very thin, as thin as it can be without getting lacy. Put the pan back on the heat for about a minute, then give it a couple of good jerks to loosen the palacsinta, then turn it over by hand, using a spatula to lift it up out of the pan first. Cook briefly on the second side and slide it into a warm dish or pie plate. These can be made several hours ahead.

From “The Hungarian Cookbook” by Susan Derecskey. 1972.

My Grandmother would fill these with levar or prune butter, jams , or even cottage cheese. I could sit and eat them all afternoon while she was making them.

4 comments:

Mikey said...

Wow, Great post, thanks a lot for healthy Palasintas (Hungarian pancakes), mmmmm, tasty, I wanna try it out...

Thanks a lot,
Mikey

Scherzo said...

Such a lovely story, Seanymph! My grandmother had lots of blackberry bushes, and our task as kids was to go outside and pick berries for pies and jams...and always, pancakes! Do you have photos of your grandparents and their garden? You painted such a vivid picture that there is tomato juice running down my chin(s)!

Mystery Ranch said...

I love the story of your childhood that you put with this recipe. Thank you so much for that. My grandparents were from Sicily on my mom's side and Poland and the Ukraine on my dad's side. I learned so much from them. Another time. I feel lucky that I knew them. Things are so different now.

Makka said...

Greetings from Hungary, Seanymph!

First of all I apologize for my really bad English, I haven't spoken or written for about 15-16 years. But I try to get back my knowledge, I started my English blog therefore.

My Mom's cottage cheese filling for palasintas, if you are interested:
500 g cottage cheese – or "túró" in Hungarian (it's known as "quark" for example in Austria)
4 large eggs, separated
120-150 g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla paste or extract
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in rum

Beat the egg yolks with sugar and vanilla paste till fluffy and pale. Stir in the cottage cheese and raisins. Beat the egg whites till firm peaks, fold into the cottage cheese mixture carefully.
Fill the palasintas, roll them, and put them in a 180 C preheated oven for about 25-35 minutes.
Serve dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Thank you for following my blog!:)