Christmas dinner: the origin of fritters, punch and collation

23/02/2021

Among the liturgical components of the Christmas dinner is the fact that during Christmas Eve it was obligatory, at least in the colonial period, to keep the vigil, so when it was impossible to serve the traditional turkey reserved for December 25, fish and herbs such as cod and rosemary were gradually incorporated into the dishes of the celebration.

However, the turkey was an irreplaceable element of the colonial culinary art since the 17th century, since even in the regulations for students of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico it was specified that in order to pass the professional exams it was necessary to present specimens of the bird to the different synods.

The turkey was a symbol of elegance and wealth that replaced the peacock, a species that during the Middle Ages was not only a symbol of union, taste, and fortune, but also represented an element before which knights made the most varied oaths, such as conquering land or defeating an enemy. But undoubtedly, the liturgical aspect is fundamental. In some ancient recipe books, it is prescribed that the turkey stuffing must contain thyme, an herb that in the beliefs of the time had been used to cover the manger in which Jesus Christ was born.

The Mexican turkey is a worldwide symbol of Christmas. Its consumption gave way to a whole tradition regarding the purchase of the bird, its care, and finally its sacrifice and preparation to accompany the Christmas dinner. Still in the seventies, if not a little later, ladies would go from door to door with their turkeys, and people would buy them, feed them abundantly to fatten them up, and add an almond to their diet every day to give them flavor. Then their necks were cut, plucked, and put in the oven in a wonderful tradition.

Behind every dish, there is a story that shows how it has been transformed. For example, the rosemary, made with the traditional mole that bathes the quelite, in its beginnings the ahuautli -from atl which is water and huautli which means joy- was used to make the cakes that accompany them. Water amaranth, which is like the roe of the water bug that grows in the Texcoco area and was available at the San Juan market, was prepared in an egg pancake to accompany the first rosemary cakes; shrimp is much more recent.

However, although a great variety of dishes have a foreign origin, Mexican cuisine has given them their own personality. Punch has a certain English influence; the word ponch means tea with raisins and rum. But the Mexican people are more astute, since they add a great number of fruits of the season, such as tejocotes, lime, or guava, making an extraordinary broth.

And how can one forget in this tasty inventory, the buñuelos, a Christmas dessert that comes from an ancient tradition that has acquired local traits, since the Romans made a kind of balls that they kneaded with their fists, which they called puñuelo, explained chemist José Luis Curiel, a specialist in nutrition and gastronomy.

"Since the fourteenth century in Spain we find recipes that already speak of fritters, but here we do it in our style: wind fritters, knee, with cottage cheese; and if you go to Oaxaca they serve them sprinkled with piloncillo honey or anise; or if you prefer them soaked, they are dipped in honey and at the end, the clay dish is thrown into the street".

But undoubtedly, the traditional posadas and the snacks are two of the most important ingredients of the Christmas festivities in Mexico; the first ones arise ex profeso as a mechanism of evangelization in which, through the representation of the birth of Jesus Christ, the most important elements of Catholicism are taught.

Collation, on the other hand, comes from the Latin word collage, which denoted the food provided to the monks during the readings that Father Prior gave in the convents; therefore, a lecture or reading accompanied by food is a collation. But over time, the concept changes, and soon the term refers to a complete meal that is given on certain holidays, one of which is Christmas.

Christmas dinner foods are loaded with symbolism, such as the nut that alludes to hope or the pomegranate to love, in addition to the fact that at one time they represented the economic power of the diners. That is why it is no coincidence that at Hernán Cortés' second banquet in 1538, "ground hens and jowl roosters were served, with beaks and feet dotted as a symbol of wealth."

However, while all traditions undergo certain modifications over time, as happened with the rabbit and lamb that have fallen into disuse for these holidays, there are others that remain, that are part of our identity and our cuisines, so they will hardly have changes in the short term.

By Mexicanist, Source: INAH