(The following is a submission from a guest writer who bears a close resemblance to a certain great Hispanic lady known personally to the editor of Speroforum.)
My cousin Asunción, she lives in Guatemala and is very religious. Every year on the first day of November, she goes to the General Cemetery in the capital city and prays for her parents and her dead husband (God bless him!) She talks to them, like they are still alive or something. When I visit Chon, as I call her, I always tell her on that day, “Chon, I am not feeling too good today. You go and pray, and I will stay home and finish making the fiambre.” And Chon always says, “But Maria! You know I don’t like going alone! So many people there, washing the mausoleums and placing wreaths and flowers. Please come! It is too much for me!”
Chon is very dramatic. You know, she misses her parents, Don Onofrio and Doña Tilde. I am not so certain she misses her husband, José del Transito. But she prays for him anyway, God bless him! Uyyy, he needs it. My American friends tell me, “Hey, Maria. Why did your brother-in-law have such a funny name? Doesn’t ‘transito’ mean ‘traffic’ in English?” Yeah, it does, I tell them. Maybe he got that name because he was always in the street, coming and going, you know. He made Chon so unhappy. Ahh, such a sad story. ‘Tancho’, as we called him, was a very handsome man, you know. I remember. But he was so bad. You know, in Spanish we say “Candil de la calle, oscuridad de su casa.” That means, I don’t know how to translate exactly, but it means that Tancho did not shed much light at home. Ahh, it’s a sad story.
But back to the food! On November 1, we mark the day called ‘El Dia de Todos los Santos.” You know, All Saints Day. The day after Halloween. We go to the cemetery because it is a holy day to ask for help from all of the saints, like San Blas, Santa Inés, Santa Monica, you know. And we pray that the dead in our families might become saints too. Even Transito. On the second day comes el Dia de la Conmemoracion de los Fieles Difuntos, "All Souls Day", and we can pray for Transito again. He needs it!
So, in Guatemala we go home to eat after praying at the cemetery and washing the mausoleums and headstones. It is a little like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, when families get together, but in Guatemala they include the dead.
So at home, we eat a special meal that takes some time to prepare and feeds a lot of people. That’s why I got to hear so much about Chon’s sad life. ¡Ay, Dios mio! Together we chopped and cooked and we got ready for the Todos Santos meal.
Sometimes the men drink a little at the bars near the cemetery before coming home. Transito used to stop at a bar called Todos saludan al Rey “Everyone salutes the king.” Or maybe it was Donde lloran los hombres, “Where men go to cry.” I don’t know. So Transito would come back and want to eat a lot. Sometimes he would cry and call out to someone named Milcah. Who Milcah was I don’t know.
Here is the recipe for fiambre, the special super salad. There are lots of recipes. Some are for white fiambre, or red fiambre, or fiambre with fish. Everybody has different recipes.
‘Fiambre’ means cold cuts or charcuterie. Maybe that is because there are sausages and chicken in the salad. Or maybe it got that name because on All Saints Day we visit the dead people. Cold cuts, get it? Ha ha. Oh well.
Fiambre de Todos Santos
1 pound fresh or frozen peas (snow peas are good, too)
1 pound green snap beans, cut into one-inch pieces
1 pound carrots, cut into ¼ inch slices, diagonally
1 pound cauliflower, broken into florets
2 cups white vinegar
1 chicken, 5 or 6 pounds
4 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
2 stalks of celery
1 ½ pounds butifarra sausages (You can use mortadella or salami)
3 pounds Italian sausage or Spanish chorizo (not the Mexican chorizo!) Cook these and cut into 1-inch pieces
4 pounds cooked beef tongue, sliced very thin
2 bunches scallions or green onions, finely chopped
4 cups chopped parsley
¼ cup finely chopped capers
3 cups red or yellow or orange or green peppers, sliced
2 tablespoons minced ginger-root
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (Dijon is okay)
2 cups chicken broth (homemade is always better!)
¾ cup olive oil (Spanish, please!)
½ cup white vinegar
1 cup pickled onions (the little ones)
1 cup olives stuffed with pimientos
Lettuce leaves (Romaine is nice)
6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
24 radishes, cut into flowers
1 cup sliced cooked beets
½ pound mild American style Cheddar cheese or Mexican Queso Blanco.
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1. Cook each of the vegetables separately in boiling water for no more than 5 minutes. No mushy vegetables allowed! Mix these together with 2 cups of white vinegar on the day before the salad is assembled. Cover and refrigerate.
2. Split the chicken in half along the backbone. Cook it in the water with the salt and the celery (Oh, I forgot. Maybe a little bay leaf is nice, too). Cook it in a covered pan for about 45 minutes or so until it is cooked through. Then let it rest covered in the pan for another 30 minutes.
3. Remove the meat from the chicken in large pieces. Throw out the skin and bones. Cut the breast meat into strips about one inch wide. Cut up the dark meat into cubes. Reduce the broth now to 2 cups by boiling it. Strain it and reserve. Cook the butifarra if you are using it. Slice it and fry in a little olive oil. Otherwise, use the mortadella or salami.
4. Now make the sauce. Use a food processor like a Cuisinart or a blender and grind to a paste: the scallions, parsley, capers, sweet peppers, ginger root, salt and mustard. Now add the chicken broth, oil oil and vinegar. Save one or two sweet peppers. Put it aside.
5. Now, mix the marinated vegetables (peas, beans, carrots and cauliflower). Arrange the dark meat of the chicken, butifarra (or salami), tongue and sausages on top of the vegetables. Add the pickled onions and olives.
6. Make ready the other garnishes.
7. Put together the fiambre. I like to have several plates or big bowls of fiambre ready. When people serve themselves, the fiambre gets all mixed up. So if you have several platters of fiambre ready, it looks nice. Maybe use a platter from Thanksgiving Day!
On the platter, place the lettuce leaves so they hang over the edge a little. Now, spoon the meat and vegetable mixture over the lettuce. Now decorate with the white chicken meat, the egg slices, and radish flowers. Put the sliced beets around the edge. Decorate with fresh sliced red bell peppers. Sprinkle the cheese over the top. Parmesan cheese is last. You might like to have a small separate plate for sardines or anchovies, for people who like them.
Serve this with French baguette bread and maybe a red wine. Personally, I like to drink white sparkling wine, like a Spanish Cava. But Transito always liked rum on Todos Santos. Enjoy!
Copyright, Martin M. Barillas M, 2011.