Museum travel experiences – Day of the Dead Part II

Fast forward almost twenty years to 1999 when the ethnographic museum group (ICME) held their annual meeting in Mexico. We were hosted by the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacan, just outside of Mexico City. And … the meeting coincided directly with Dia de los Muertos.

We quickly got down to work. Members delivered interesting papers and reports about The Role of Ethnological Museums in the Multicultural Society. Wow, how many times before and after 1998 has this subject matter been dissected? (For more information see Colleagues came from Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Israel, Kenya, Venezuela, Germany, U.S.A., and Mexico with interesting stories about the work of their museums.

I did not mention in Part I last week, that way back in 1980 I discovered an amazing bakery in Mexico City – Pasteleria Ideal ( It was all decked out for Day of the Dead. Breads and cookies and sugar skulls filled its entry. Don’t ask how, but after almost 20 years, I guided some friends straight there! Again, it was a showroom filled with ghoulish delights. My friends ventured upstairs where the most astounding cakes were on display. They were in bakery heaven!

Altar at Pasteleria Ideal

On the final day of our gathering, the museum courtyard was filled with intricate and different Day of the Dead altars installed by people from around the country.

Huasteca, Potosina
San Pedro Ixcatlan, Oaxaca

The best part of the ICME conference, like in previous years, was the outstanding post-conference tour. Our hostess, Yani Harriman, planned a special Day of the Dead tour to Morelia, Michoacan. We drove off out of town early one morning. And what a time we had.

Over two days, we visited local archeological sites and museums and had a stop at the city market. There was a concert in the Cathedral by the Michoacan Philharmonic. The best was the excursion to San Jose Huecoric, Patzcuaro, and Ojo de Agua including a boat trip to Pacanda Island to participate in Day of the Dead celebrations. There we viewed domestic “Ofrendas” or altars to the dead and visited the cemetery.

One of my favorite Mexican foods is posole/pozole, an amazing traditional stew made with meat vegetables and hominy – big kernels of puffy and chewy corn. In two homes, this tasty, sometimes piquant dish was being prepared over an open fired in the traditional clay olla (cooking pot). I had a dilemma; posole is usually made with chunks of pork. I don’t eat pork. But I had to taste the real homemade dish.  I was able to do so by avoiding the pork. Unbelievably good.

The entire experience was memorable. It was such a privilege to be invited into the homes and lives of people during this enduring community and family celebration.

I make my posole New Mexican style with Hatch chiles and turkey or chicken in place of pork. Here’s a variation recipe you might want to try. I use dried blue hominy from Santa Fe when I can beg a traveling friend to bring it back. Regular hominy is available in cans.

Soaked on the left, unsoaked on the right

Blue Corn Posole

Recipe from a number of sources.

12 oz of dried blue corn (hominy)

½ large white onion

1 stalk celery

1 parsnip (I did not have carrots)

3-4 cloves of garlic

3-4 thawed frozen cooked chicken breasts

1 –  cook hominy in about 4 cups of water for 2 hours, to prepare

2 – chop onion, celery and parsnip. Soften in a pan with olive oil (probably 2-3 tbsp).

3 – add chopped garlic

4 – add chopped chicken and about 4 cups of water.

Simmer for 45 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro.

Finished Posole topped with cilantro

Today, my daughter and I brought home a rotisserie chicken from COSTCO.  If I’d thought about it, I would not have brought the chicken out of the freezer; I’m sure we’ll eat today’s purchase over the next 2 days.  COSTCO chicken always has nice juices collected at the bottom of the container, I included this with the water I put into the stew.  I also boned the bird and put the bones, with some meat on them into the stew – add to the richness of the flavor.

If you have them you can add roasted and peeled chiles (Anaheim or Hatch) and roasted, chopped tomatillos when you add the chicken to the onions, etc. You can also serve with sour cream or, better yet, Mexican crema.

What better food for Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, coming next week. What a lovely way to relive wonderful memories.

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