It was a night of 1,000 homemade cookies. They were baked with love for our daughter’s pre-wedding celebration, piled into colorful baskets, and placed on big, round tables under the mango trees in my sister-in-law’s front yard in Cohuibampo, Sinaloa, Mexico.
White tablecloths reflected light from the near-full moon in the sky and all the little paper moons on lights strung overhead. This was not the wedding. Not the “I do, I do” ceremony and official reception that would be held the next day in an air-conditioned hall in the city. This was the Despedida. That’s what my husband called it: The farewell to single life.
We’d arrived in Mexico with 34 people on a bus from the United States the day before. Our group included me, my husband Sixto, our daughter Lucy, her groom-to-be Nico, along with family members and friends from north of the line. We filled up the gracious lobby of the Hotel Santa Anita in Los Mochis when we were checking in, surrounded by suitcases, boxes, and one impossibly big cloud of a bag that contained her wedding dress. We brought so much energy that the hotel’s electricity went out as people began filing off to their rooms — at least, that’s how the hotel staff explained it.
My cell phone rang. It was the maid or honor calling to say she and my daughter were trapped in an elevator full of people. Not to worry, I told them, they’re working on it. At least I hoped they were.
A few minutes later, the lights flicked back on. Lucy’s father, who’d raced up the stairs, was there when the elevator doors opened and released them. At the Despedida, our group, which looked so big in that lobby and had such an overpowering effect on the electricity, became a small handful of people among the 150 family and friends who gathered in the village of Cohuibampo, which is 40 minutes from the city.
This is rural Mexico where my husband grew up. The people who were there that night watched our daughter grow up as we visited year after year. Most attended her Quinceañera 11 years before. They came to wish her well again as she began a new life.
My sister-in-law Toñita fattened up a pig for the occasion. The meat cooked all day in a huge pot over coals half buried in the ground. There were tortillas. Beans. Fresh salsa. And the cookies, of course.
A band playing and some people danced. A group of young women from a Mennonite church in Obregón did interpretive dancing while my kindergarten-aged niece from Flagstaff watched intently and mirrored their movements from across the yard. Then my husband told everybody to get up and form a circle. It was a very big circle and he put Lucy and Nico in the middle.
Sixto taught us a simple dance step. We began slowly, increasing the speed at his direction after each verse of a song he sang, faster and faster. He called it “The Song of the Virgin.” It was about being transformed and finding joy in life. His singing always gets to me.
In fact, I fell in love with him nearly 30 years ago when I was an American tourist and he sang to me in the bell tower of an old mission in Cerocahui, Chihuahua. Now he was singing to our daughter. A young woman. A bride. It was a gift only he could give.
I repeated to myself: “I must not cry, I must not cry.” The next day, at the wedding, there were other breathtaking moments in a far more formal setting with mounds of flowers, draped organdy, colored lights, and mariachis playing to a young man in a tuxedo and a young woman in an elegant white dress. It was a bright and shining event. A glorious climax to a year of planning.
But it did not outshine that night under the one big moon and all the little paper moons. The night of 1,000 homemade cookies.
Empanadas de Cerveza Recipe
- 1 kilo flour (2.2 pounds)
- 1/2 kilo lard or shortening
- 1 can beer
- Sugar to sprinkle on top before cooking
- Soften lard, mix in flour, then add beer. Roll out dough and cut circles about 2 or 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Spread cajeta on half of the circle, fold over and pinch the edge closed. Dust with sugar.
- Bake until browned.
Take the label off a can of sweetened condensed milk and place the unopened can in a large pot with enough water to cover the can by a few inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 3 hours.
Make sure the can remains fully submerged in the water. Check from time to time and add more water if necessary. The can must remain under water.
Remove the can from water with tongs and allow it to fully cool to room temperature before opening.
Cajeta can be reheated later if necessary to make it more spreadable.