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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Take the cake with Cinco de Mayo treat

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One of my and my husband’s favorite places to visit is Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. We love the ocean (of course), but also we love the language, the history, the beautiful old buildings and the food.

I don’t speak much Español, however Don is fluent enough to get us what we need – sometimes with a few laughs. Since Cinco de Mayo is coming up, I decided to honor our Hispanic population by explaining the reason for the celebration. I didn’t know much about the history of the day myself, so most of my information comes from the Encyclopedia Encarta and Encyclopedia Britanica.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo has become increasingly popular in cities with people with a Mexican heritage. It is a celebration of Mexican culture: food, music, beverage and customs unique to Mexico.

Cinco de Mayo, the fifth of May, commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia against the French army at the battle of Puebla in 1862. It is not, however, Mexico’s Independence Day, which is actually Sept. 1.

The battle at Puebla happened at a violent time in Mexico’s history. Mexico had finally gained independence from Spain in 1821, and a number of internal political takeovers and wars, including the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Mexican Civil War of 1858, had ruined its economy.

During this era, Mexico accumulated large debts to several nations, including Spain, England and France. All were demanding repayment, but France was eager to expand its empire and used the debt issue to move forward with establishing its own leadership in Mexico.

Pastel de Tres leches Cake

1 prepared white cake (per directions on box) for 13 x 9 cake
Three Milks:
   2 cups heavy whipping cream
   1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
   1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
Icing:
   1 large container of Cool Whip
   Strawberries for garnish (sliced)

After baking cake, allow to stand five minutes. In a large bowl, mix the three milks together. Pierce top of hot cake every 1/2 inch with fork, wiping fork occasionally to reduce sticking. Pour milk mixture evenly over top of cake. Cover and refrigerate about three hours or until chilled and most of whipping cream mixture has been absorbed into cake. To finish, top cake with Cool Whip and strawberries. Muy bueno!

Realizing France’s intent, Spain and England withdrew their support. When Mexico finally stopped making any loan payments, France took action on its own to instate Archduke Maximilian of Austria as ruler of Mexico.

France invaded at the gulf coast of Mexico along the state of Veracruz and began marching toward Mexico City. President Abraham Lincoln was sympathetic to Mexico’s cause, but the U.S. was involved in its own Civil War and unable to provide much assistance.

The French army encountered strong resistance near Puebla at the forts of Loreto and Guadalupe. A small, poorly armed militia of about 4,500 men led by Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguin was able to defeat the well-outfitted French army of 6,500 soldiers, halting the invasion.

The victory was a glorious moment for Mexican patriots, which helped to develop a needed sense of national unity and is the reason for the historical celebration.

The story continues with Napoleon III sending more invading troops. The French were able to depose the Mexican army a year later, take over Mexico City and install Maximilian as the ruler.

However, Maximilian’s rule was short-lived. With the American Civil War over, the U.S. provided political and military assistance to Mexico to expel the French, after which Maximilian was executed by the Mexicans.

So despite the eventual French invasion of Mexico City, Cinco de Mayo honors the bravery and victory of General Zaragoza’s smaller, outnumbered militia at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Commercial interests in the United States and Mexico also have had a hand in promoting the holiday, with products and services focused on Mexican food, beverages and festivities.

Tres leches cake, or pastel de tres leches (Spanish for “three milk cake”), is a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk.

The cake recipe I am using today is much simpler because it uses a boxed cake mix and Cool Whip for the topping. These are huge time-savers. I have featured this cake before, but I feel it is certainly worth repeating.

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