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Cooking for the Day of the Dead

Dia de los Muertos

Adriano Snel via FreeImages.com

I bet you’ve seen plenty of booklets and magazine articles extolling their brand of Halloween cooking ideas. But have you seen any that talk about what to prepare for the following day?

The Day of the Dead or La Dia de los Muertos is an important holiday in Mexican culture. It is actually a three-day celebration, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2. It is an opportunity to honor those who have left us behind and a very healthy approach to death that many other cultures would do well to adopt. This is a family event and as such there is typically a good deal of great food involved.

If this is your first celebration of the Day of the Dead you are not alone. Most Americans never adopt this custom and those that are interested enough to try out some of the cuisine of this important day in Mexican society are very rarely versed in the tradition, which makes it difficult.

sugar skulls

By carmichaellibrary (Sugar Skulls Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Sugar skulls are a very important part of the Day of the dead festivities and can be decorated quite elaborately by skilled artisans. If this is a tradition you’d like to explore there are many recipes for the mixture as well as forms for the skulls that can be found online. Here are some resources:

This is a fun art project that takes place in the kitchen for kids and grown-ups alike that also happens to provide a somewhat unique peek at another culture. The painting of the skulls can be very simplistic or as elaborate as you wish to make it. You should note that days when it is either raining or very humid are not good days for trying to make the sugar skulls so plan ahead and pay attention to the weather reports.

pan oaxaquen

By Luisroj96 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pan de Muertos is a staple for cooking on the Day of the Dead. It has become known as day of the dead bread (pan de muertos literally means bread of the dead). There are many recipes ranging from simple in nature to extremely complex. They are all somewhat different and you may need to try a few before you find that one you like best. The best solution is probably to taste several different varieties and request the recipe for the one you prefer if you know the person who did the baking.

Here are some resources:

The last one is in both Spanish and English.


“Tamales de frijol” by GABIEGUIN – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Beef tamales are another excellent food for the Day of the Dead. They also are great to make ahead of time and freeze so that there is little actual prep work to be done on this day.

You can also make tamales with the help of your kids. It makes them feel important and allows them to be big kids and help in the kitchen. Not only that, but when all is said and done they will appreciate the tamales that their efforts produced even more than if they had taken no part in the preparation.

Here are some resources for tamale recipes:

Another great tradition is to serve foods that the departed family members considered favorites. This means that you may have quite a variety of foods on the table, depending on how large the family was and how many family members are dead. This is a tradition that was Indian in origin and is more strongly observed in areas that have the largest Indian population within Mexico and in some southwestern states within the United States. If you are looking to add a little excitement to your cooking feel free to do a little cooking for the Day of the Dead, which will be here in two weeks.

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About the author

Carma Spence has been experimenting in the kitchen since she was four years old and loves trying out new recipe ideas. She is the author of Bonkers for Bundt Cakes and Your Perfect Pie, as well as author and contributor to several more non-food-related books. With Carma's Cookery, she is taking her passion for empowering people and blending it with her passion for cooking, gift-giving and entertaining.

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