The evening of September 15, Mexicans gather to celebrate Independence, their most important fiesta with music, song and dance, food, drink and fireworks. They listen to their President strike the liberty bell at the National Palace in Mexico City and give El Grito, the resounding shout: “Viva Mexico,” honoring the heroes of Independence. The following day is a national holiday, marked by parades throughout the country. This year the traditional festivities take on a special significance as Mexico celebrates the Bicentenary of its Independence from Spain. And 2010 is a doubly important year because it is also the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, which began on November 20, 1910.
Celebrating Mexican Independence Day, Mexico City
More Mexican Independence Day Fiesta, Mexico City
A Little History
At the dawn of the 19th century, inspired by the breakaway of the American colonies and the French Revolution, Mexican born Spaniards or criollos hungered for equality with the handful of Spanish families (known as peninsulares or gachupines) that ruled the country, and for a greater say in the running of the colony. Discontent grew and political gatherings disguised as literary clubs flourished. Finally, economic mismanagement, high taxes and a period of political instability and confusion in Spain after the 1808 invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte proved the catalyst for open revolt against the Spanish Crown.
A group of criollo liberals, military officers, government clerks and priests in Querétaro had gone beyond mere talk of Independence and were plotting a rebellion. The colonial authorities got wind of their activities and they were forced to act immediately. On September 16, 1810, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla tolled the bell in Dolores, Guanajuato, summoning his parishioners to church where he exhorted them to join the fledgling Independence movement and throw off the shackles of Spanish rule. His exact words are lost but the spirit of the message was, “My children: a new dispensation comes to us this day. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen 300 years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once…Will you not defend your religion and rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe…” El Grito commemorates the rallying cry he gave.
Artistic representation of "El Grito"
Largely Indians and mestizos, they obeyed his call, joining ranks behind a standard bearing the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and marching on the colonial heartland, home of their hated Spanish overlords. City after city fell, Mexico erupted in flames and eleven years of strife ensued.
By 1821, the early leaders of the uprising – Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende and José María Morelos – were all dead, and their army had split into several rebel forces using guerrilla tactics to strike at the battle-weary Spanish army from their mountain strongholds in Puebla, Veracruz and Oaxaca. Agustín de Iturbide, a Creole soldier in the service of the Spanish crown, had been charged with crushing the remaining freedom fighters. In 1820, He changed sides, allying himself to Vicente Guerrero, the leader of one of the remaining rebel bands. Together they announced the Plan de Iguala, which had three basic guarantees: Roman Catholicism would be the country’s religion, all Mexican citizens were to be equal and there was to be a constitutional monarchy. After months of debate, the Spaniards finally accepted the plan, which was ratified by the Treaty of Córdoba, and Mexico won its Independence. Iturbide subsequently took control of the newly independent country in 1822 as Emperor Agustín.
Why is El Grito given on the evening of September 15 and not on the morning of September 16, Independence Day? Simple, President Porfírio Díaz who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1877-80 and 1884-1911 is credited with changing the date. September 15 just happened to be his birthday and what better than a nationwide celebration led by the President!
Celebrate 200 years of Mexican Independence at Hacienda Sisal
The stage is set at Hacienda Sisal to celebrate Independence Day in true Mexican style. The tequila is flowing and the mariachis are tuning up. If you are in Cancún on September 15, join us for tasty traditional fare, a colorful show featuring music and dances from all over the country and a rousing mariachi serenade. At 11 p.m., you’ll be able to see the live broadcast from the Zocalo (main square) in Mexico City as President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa gives El Grito (the traditional shout “Viva Mexico). Be sure to join in and raise your glass of tequila in a salute to this beautiful country and its people.
Festive Food, Chiles en Nogada
Chiles en Nogada
Although September fiesta menus invariably include tacos, guacamole and other delicious finger food, one dish is synonymous with Mexican Independence, Chiles en Nogada (Chilies in Walnut Sauce). It has an interesting story.
In 1821, General Agustín de Iturbide visited Puebla after signing the Treaty of Córdoba, the document that gave Mexico its Independence, with the last Spanish Viceroy, Juan de O’Donoju. He decided to celebrate his saint’s day in the city: August 28, the day of St Augustine, and the city’s elders held a banquet in his honor. The nuns of Santa Monica Convent were caught up in the fervor of his visit and invented a special dish to commemorate his visit and the birth of a nation, using the colors of the new flag: red, white and green.
They served Iturbide their colorful new creation, calling it chiles en nogada. This savory-sweet dish features green chili poblano, a milder variety of chili about the size of a hand, stuffed with a mixture of minced beef and pork, onion, garlic, almonds, raisins, peach, apple and spices. The chilies are then topped with a creamy white sauce made from walnuts, almonds and sherry and garnished with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander and parsley, thus all the colors of the flag are present in the recipe.
To this day, the inhabitants of Puebla pride themselves on this patriotic dish and every August chefs compete in a contest to prepare the best Chiles en Nogada.
Recipes for Chiles en Nogada vary from family to family, some cooks put pears and apple in the stuffing or use citron peel, pineapple, prunes or banana. Some swear by nutmeg, pine nuts and add rum to the sauce, while others scorn the use of cream or cheese in the sauce, relying on nuts to create the creamy consistency. The staples, however, are pomegranates and walnuts and these are only in season during late August and September, coinciding with Independence month. And whatever the interpretation, the results are always delicious.
Chiles en Nogada, the Hacienda Sisal Recipe
Every September, Hacienda Sisal serves up this classic Mexican dish and the chef has been good enough to share his recipe with us.
1 poblano chili per person (peeled)
1/2 oz flour
2 oz beaten egg
5 oz meat filling for each chili
90 ml walnut sauce for each chili
Preparing the Chilis
Gently fry the chilies or put them on fork and toast them over a low gas flame until the skin blisters. You should then put them in a plastic bag to sweat, something that makes it much easier to remove the skin. Remember to wear rubber gloves while doing this and avoid touching your eyes or skin. Rinse the chilies and make a small slit in the side, remove the seeds and veins, rinse them again and drain. If you think that they may be very spicy, soaking them in water with a tablespoon of white vinegar and salt for 30 minutes removes some of the heat.
Rinse the chilies and pat them dry. Stuff them with the meat filling, dust with flour and then coat in the egg. Fry the chilies lightly in hot oil until the egg is golden, the skin softens and the filling is heated through.
Making the Meat Filling
Makes around 1.9 kg filling
2 oz olive oil
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
2 ½ oz chopped onion
1 lb minced pork
1 lb minced beef
3 ½ oz chopped carrot
3 ½ oz chopped potato
3 bay leaves
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
3 oz raisins
2 oz chopped pecan nuts
1 ½ oz sliced almonds
5 oz chopped candied citron peel
1 lb 3 oz chopped tomatoes
½ tsp ground black pepper
7 oz chicken stock
Heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic and onion; add the minced pork and beef and fry until completely cooked through and brown. Mix in the carrot, potato, citron peel, herbs, raisins, nuts, tomato and stock. Cover and cook at a slow heat for up to two hours or until the filling thickens. Leave to cool.
The Walnut Sauce
Makes just over 2 kg sauce
1 quart semi-skimmed milk
2 lb fresh ranchero cheese (soft, creamy cheese)
10 oz sliced almonds
7 oz chopped walnuts
2 cinnamon sticks
½ oz sherry
¼ oz nut concentrate
4 oz Bacardi Añejo rum
¼ oz vanilla
1 ½ oz sugar
1 ½ oz brandy
Soak the walnuts overnight in a little milk to soften them. Blend the almonds and nuts until they resemble breadcrumbs and place in a saucepan; then add the milk gradually stirring continuously. Add the cheese, cinnamon and the remaining ingredients and stir continuously until sauce thickens, season with salt to taste.
Assembling your Chiles en Nogada
1 oz of pomegranate seeds
½ oz chopped parsley
2 oz green rice (cooked in stock with green peppers and coriander to color it)
2 oz g white rice
2 oz of Mexican red rice (cooked in tomato stock)
½ oz chopped coriander
Serve one chili per plate and pour the walnut sauce over it. Sprinkle it with pomegranate seeds and chopped coriander. Serve with rice and sprinkle chopped parsley around the rim of the plate. As an extra special patriotic touch you could prepare three different kinds of rice: red, white and green.