The New Year Begins with Twelve Grapes, Carefully Peeled

Keep in mind that I’d already been in a restaurant for fourteen hours. I didn’t really need anything else to eat. “Just come over to our apartment for some beer and “doce uvas”- twelve grapes.” It’s the custom in the Spanish speaking world to eat twelve green grapes at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. You’re supposed to pay attention to each one.  If the fourth one is too sour, for instance, it may make for a rough April. I had gone to Sebastian and Maria’s to quickly observe this custom, then go quickly home to bed. Dream on. The grapes were preceded by four large chicken toastadas, a bowl of spaghetti with strips of luncheon meat, seared skirt steak with grilled nopales, very dry cider and ponche. I should have expected this. When I took Loli (my  nieta) her Christmas present at three o’clock one afternoon last week, I had to sit down and eat a big plate of beef shanks in red chili sauce. You may as well face facts when you visit a Mexican household. There’s no escaping food. This used to be true in the South when I was growing up. Grandmothers and aunts were sure you must be sick if you wouldn’t eat immediately upon arrival. Now when you say “No thanks, I don’t really want anything”, people believe you. Sebastian peeled the grapes for Bryant, his little boy.

A little about ponche. The word loosely translates as punch and it is in fact a fruit based drink served at parties and holidays. Mexican ponches are made with guayabas (which I love), sugar cane, apples, cinnamon sticks and a fruit called a tecajote. It is cooked, then chilled. Generally it is  served unspiked, but the men will add a little tequila when the gather out in the back yard. I never could figure what the tecajote was. I’m glad that it wasn’t what I first thought they had said which was “tecalote”. This is the Nahuatl word for owl. In Mexico plants and animals are often called by indigenous names rather than European ones.

One more transplanted holiday custom. Tomorrow is Twelfth Night or the Feast of the Epiphany. When I was growing up it was a Holy Day of Obligation. In a lot of the Latin world it is called the Feast of the Three Kings. It commemorates the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem and is the day that Christmas gifts are given. And of course it has food.
Here is a lovely “rosca” that I bought this afternoon at the tienda.

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