In the heart of South Texas, where the traditions of Mexican heritage intertwine with Texan culture, Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead is celebrated. This vibrant and poignant holiday holds a special place in the community, offering a unique opportunity to remember and honor loved ones who have passed away. Believe it or not, the simple act of preparing and sharing recipes can help keep the memory of ancestors alive during Dia de los Muertos and the rest of the year.
Dia de los Muertos: A Mexican Tradition
Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, is a time-honored Mexican tradition that has become an integral part of the Texan cultural tapestry. Observed from November 1 to November 2, it is a time when families come together to celebrate the lives of their dearly departed.
The celebration is marked by colorful altars or ofrendas, marigold flowers, sugar skulls, and, of course, traditional foods and drinks. The roots of this holiday stretch back an astonishing 3,000 years to pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, when Aztecs and other indigenous people in Mexico helped the dead on their journey to Mitclán, the final resting place, by providing useful food, water, and tools.
During Dia de los Muertos, it’s a common practice to cook the favorite foods of loved ones who have passed on. This affinity for food and its ability to bring people together is an important facet of Mexican culture overall. Dishes are left on the graves of those who are gone or on ofrendas within the home.
In the Texas community, Dia de los Muertos is an opportunity to pay tribute to ancestors, preserving their memory through food, music, and storytelling. For Adrian Davila, this celebration is deeply personal, as his new book, “Cowboy Barbecue: Fire and Smoke from the Original Texas Vaqueros,” pays homage to the culinary heritage of his ancestors. Through the pages of this book, Davila shares not only recipes but also the stories and memories that have been passed down through generations.
Cooking as a Connection to the Past
The significance of Dia de los Muertos is a reminder of the power that recipes hold in our lives. Each dish passed down through the generations carries with it a piece of a family’s history, a connection to their roots, and a way to keep loved ones close even after they have departed. Cooking becomes a form of storytelling, a way to remember and celebrate those who have shaped and fed us.
One of the most cherished recipes in the Davila family is “Grandpa Davila’s Potato Salad.” This dish has been a guest favorite at Davila’s BBQ for decades and holds a special place in not only Adrian’s heart but also for generations of family members. Dating back to the 1950s, this recipe has been a staple at Davila family gatherings. It’s a timeless dish that combines the comforting flavors of potatoes, eggs, celery, pickles, and just a touch of sweetness, creating a perfect addition to any Dia de los Muertos meal.
Grandpa Davila’s Potato Salad
- 3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 large egg
- 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
- 1⁄4 green bell pepper, diced
- 1⁄4 medium yellow onion, diced
- 1⁄4 cup sweet relish
- 1⁄4 cup diced sweet pepper
- 1⁄4 cup sugar
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
- Bring the potatoes to a boil in a large pot of water and boil until soft, 25 to 30 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes, mash them slightly (you want them to remain slightly lumpy), and set them aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and boil the egg for 15 minutes. Allow the egg to cool, then peel and finely chop it.
- Stir together the egg, celery, bell pepper, onion, sweet relish, and sweet pepper in a medium bowl.
- Stir the sugar, salt, and pepper into the cooled mashed potatoes.
- Stir the vegetable mixture, mayonnaise, and mustard into the potatoes. Mix thoroughly and serve.
This potato salad embodies the essence of Davila family gatherings. Adrian states, “Making it is like inviting the spirit of my grandfather back into the kitchen where he once stood, sharing his love for food and family.”
As we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, I encourage you to embrace the power of recipes in preserving the memory of your loved ones. Whether it’s a cherished family dish or a traditional recipe from your culture, the act of cooking and sharing these meals can keep the spirit of your ancestors alive. This Dia de los Muertos, don’t forget to unite as a community to remember, honor, and celebrate those who have left us, knowing that their legacy lives on in the flavors and stories we pass down through the generations.