In Mexico, September 16th is celebrated as the date of Mexico’s Independence from Spain. Late in the eighteenth century, the middle and upper classes in Mexico began to question the structure of their society. Influenced by the revolutions in the United States and France, they too decided they wanted freedom of speech, a representative government, and a restriction of the over bearing power of the Catholic Church. They determined that the only way to reform their society would be to gain independence from the Spanish, whom they felt had oppressed them for over 300 years. (Cinco de Mayo or May 5th, is when Mexico won a battle against the French in the city of Puebla, Mexico in 1862.)
In late hours of September 15, 1810, Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest in the town of Dolores, Guanajuato, led his people in rebellion against the Spanish. He rang the church bells, calling the Indians and Mestizos (those of mixed Spanish and Indian blood) to mass. He exhorted them to rebel against the Spaniards with cries of, “¡Viva México!” “¡Viva la independencia! (“Long live Mexico! Long live our independence!”), which is the now-famous “Grito de Dolores,” or cry of Dolores. Hidalgo then ordered the arrest of the town’s Spaniard population. With clubs, slings, axes, knives, machetes and intense hatred, the Indians took up his challenge.
The people’s army marched to Mexico City, fighting all the way. When they finally reached the capital, they hesitated, and many soldiers deserted. Before the year was over, Father Hidalgo was captured and executed. His army fought on, however, and his “Grito de Dolores” became the battle cry of the war. The bloody fighting raged on until 1821, when Mexico finally succeeded in winning its independence from Spain.
Every year, on September 15th, the Zócalo, or main square in Mexico City is decorated with flags, flowers and lights of green, white, and red. People sell confetti, whistles, horns, paper-machie helmets, and toys in the colors of green, white and red. Street vendors sell all their favorite foods. At 11:00 p.m. the crowd becomes silent, as the president of Mexico steps out on the palace balcony, and rings the historic bell that Father Hidalgo rang to call the people. Then the president gives the Grito de Dolores. He shouts “¡Viva Mexico!” and “¡Viva la independencia!” and the crowd roars the words back at him. Fiestas celebrating independence take place that night and the next day-throughout Mexico. The air is filled with confetti and streamers. The 16th is a fiesta day-full of music, bullfights, rodeos, parades, more fireworks and plenty of dancing, food and drink.
Authentic Mexican recipes to help you celebrate Mexican Independence Day:
Queso Fundido (Mexican Cheese Fondue)
This delicious fondue takes only about 20 minutes to make. It serves six and can be served on tortillas or scooped up with chips.
1 lb Mexican queso “Cacique” or “El Mexicano” or any other queso blanco (light white cheese), cut into small chunks
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
juice of 4 limes, or ¼ cup lime juice
6 to 8 drops of a Mexican Hot Sauce, or other hot pepper sauce
Slowly melt cheese in a medium saucepan over flow heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When almost melted, add the garlic, lime, and the hot sauce, and heat through. Serve immediately with tortillas or chips.
Birria de Borrego (Spiced Roasted Lamb)
You will love this one! While this Mexican delight takes nearly three hours to make, it will serve six to eight people, depending on their appetites.
2 pound lamb roast, boned
6 dried ancho chiles
3 chiles negros
3 Guajillo chiles
1 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp ground cinammon
1 teaspoon ground oregano
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp thyme
2 tsp cider or wine vinegar
3/4 tbsp water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
In Dutch oven, place lamb and cover with one (or a bit more) cups of water. Add garlic, pepper, cinnamon, oregano, bay leaves and vinegar. Bring to boil and let simmer for two hours, or until meat comes easily off the bone. Remove from heat. Cut into bite-sized chunks, or shred. Add salt to taste.
In medium saucepan, bring water to boil. Remove stems and most of seeds from the chiles. Put into water and boil for about two minutes, or until slightly tender. Drain and set aside. Mix chiles into lamb. Heat until warm and serve with piping hot tortillas and plenty of salsa verde.