Few customs are now more ensconced in Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations than the pan de muerto, the traditional bread, rich in eggs and sugar, and decorated with bread bones, sold in every bakery and supermarket (though this is my effort, tastes better with real butter and orange flower water and anise water, looks clunkier).
So it was fascinating to run across a fleeting reference in Claudio Lomnitz’s invaluable Death and the Idea of Mexico (New York: Zone, 2005) to the origins of this bread. According to him (page 430), it appeared sometime between 1930 and 1960. At the time, it was widely criticized as the product of commercial interests, in particular the bakers, who in addition were Spanish and not Mexican. Ah ha, the commercialization of Day of the Dead by Basque bakers in wool vests and berets. I hope Robbie Weiss says something about this in his upcoming book on the history of baking in Mexico.
For next year I want to follow up this and some of the rest of the up and down, tangled history of Day of the Dead celebrations, which have changed even more than those of Halloween, nicely laid out here by Samira Kawash and reported on Amanda Benson’s Food and Think, an aptly named and always intriguing blog under the auspices of the Smithsonian.
In the meantime, two photographs to illustrate the current stretch of Day of the Dead. The first is of an utterly elegant and totally modern sugar skull (calavera) given to us by a friend a couple of days ago and now adorning out dining room. It was made in Irapuato in the state of Guanajuato.
The second shows a cemetery in rural Guanajuato a a few days after the Day of the Dead, the people gone, the flowers fading.