Mexican Lenten Meals

My grandmother remembers folk Lenten meals prepared for her by her mother while growing up in Gomez Palacio, Durango, Mexico.  She believes she was about 7 when she had her first memory of these Lenten foods, extremely important to her as a young Catholic girl in Mexico.

She recalls, “We were supposed to eat only certain food during Lent, like no meat on Friday. My mother used to make like 7 seven different types of dishes on Fridays.

Fish and shrimp were some of them.

The shrimp was like shrimp croquettes, because it was dried shrimp, into like a powder, and they make croquettes like that with the egg, I remember they used to make it like that, with the powdered shrimp.

She used to, we used to, uh, eat something that I guess in English is like, “bread pudding,” [capirotada], but my mother made it homemade and she used to put a lot of different things in it. Like peanuts, and, um, pecans and brown sugar. I guess the English version is slightly different but it was so good. And actually the brown sugar wasn’t like the sugar we buy here. It’s comes like little cones of brown sugar, piloncillo.

And also she made like 7 different dishes, so there were a lot of different things. She would slice a zucchini, and then she hang the slices on a string to dry up, in the kitchen. And after they were dried, she bread them, sugar and egg them, and then fry them. Those were called orejones.

And um, a greens, like watercress, it’s like spinach, you know, you boil them and then put a little onion and tomato, acelgas. Something like…. Well, they don’t make it here.

Pipian, it was a paste, they grind everything on a – you know the mocahete that I gave your mom like a rock? This was like a long one, it has three legs and a big long hand like a rolling pin – and she would grind everything in there. So everything was homemade, you didn’t buy anything. It was kind of sweet, like chocolate, and dried red peppers, and um – but they were not hot – and pumpkin seeds, she would toast them and then grind them, too. And I think peanuts also. And it was so good, I haven’t tasted it since I was little.”

When she spoke about the foods of her childhood prepared for her by her mother (who died when she was very young), my grandmother spoke with happy nostalgia. When I asked her, however, if she continued making those foods for her children, I was surprised by her answer. She said, “I didn’t really do the dishes for the kids because they don’t like half of them. But after I had my kids, I would fix some of them, like, the bread pudding. And the cactus, nobody really liked it but Aaron Jr., he still likes it, I’ll still fix it, he’ll eat it. They don’t know what pipian is or any of the other stuff because they never fix it when they were little. They don’t have the ingredients here that they did in Mexico when I was growing up. I came to the United States when I was 14 years old, so I remember the time when I was little and my Mother was living then. But I never fixed everything after I got married.” I believe the combination of Grandma moving from Mexico to the United States, as well as the trauma of her mother dying so young and having the be the head of the family lead her to abandon an old tradition that, otherwise, she might have continued in Mexico with her family. As far as the foods prepared, they are mostly indigenous to Mexico; some of the ingredients can’t be found in America and make these recipes impossible to make. My grandmother moved to America and tried to assimilate as quickly and easily as possible, perhaps she didn’t find it important to continue such an authentically Mexican meal tradition in a new home.