CINCO DE MAYO Most people believe Cinco de Mayo, or the 5th of May, to be Mexico's Independence Day, however, this is not true. At midnight on September 15, 1810 is when the country actually gained its independence from Spain. So, what did happen on May 5, 1862 to cause such a holiday? Well, my friends, it was the Battle of Puebla. As a new country just recently claiming independence from Spain, things weren't always easy. You know, with war around every corner: the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), the Mexican Civil War of 1858 & many other political uprisings left the fledgling country with only a few coins in the bank. The summer of 1861 saw President Benito Juarez issue a two year moratorium on foreign debt payments, which hoped to restore financial progress. Of course, this didn't go over so well. The English, Spanish & French were not wiling to allow Mexico this two year delay and instead invaded to get their monies by whatever means necessary. While the Spanish & English, being the good guys they are, eventually withdrew, the stubborn French patriots stuck with their financial goals and added establish an empire in Mexico under Napoleon III in the pot. The tricky French also had their eyes on the US states and were seeking aiming to help the Southern rebels in the Civil War. Which now leaves us to the answer to our Cinco de Mayo query? A most important battle took place on May 5, 1862 when the French army was defeated by a small army of Mestizo & Zapotec Indians under the command of General Ignacio Zaragoza. This battle victory symbolized freedom to the Mexican people and gave them hope. After the end of the US Civil War, the Union sent support to the Mexican army and succeeded in driving out the French. And there you have it, the Cinco de Mayo history. The reasons behind this wonderful holiday. And what would a holiday be without festivals & food? Cinco de Mayo festivals are known for their delicious food & drinks as well as music & dancing. I cannot give you the dancing, but let's step into my kitchen for food & drinks! SHRIMP & FRESH TOMATO TEQUILA COCKTAIL INGREDIENTS 2 lbs. fully ripened fresh Florida tomatoes (about 4 large) 1 jalape-o pepper, seeded, finely chopped (about 1 T) 1 T grated lime zest tsp. salt tsp. ground black pepper 2 T tequila 2 T lime juice 1 T orange-flavored liqueur (optional) 1 lbs cooked large or jumbo shrimp, cleaned Serves 6 METHOD Remove stem ends from tomatoes and finely chop. In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, jalape-o, lime zest, salt, pepper, tequila, lime juice and liqueur (if using) until blended. Chill. Spoon an equal amount of the tomato salsa into 6 margarita or wine glasses. Surround with chilled shrimp, dividing evenly. MEXICAN-STYLE BEAN DIP INGREDIENTS 1 can (15 oz.) pinto beans, rinsed and drained 1 med. fresh tomato, seeded 2 T lime juice 3 garlic cloves 2 scallions 1/3 C cilantro (more or less to taste) jalapeno pepper Salt and pepper to taste Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Serve this dip with tortilla chips or veggies, Guacamole or Low Fat Guacamole and fresh Salsa. AND FINALLY... Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellmann's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico. But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost. The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo. "Hasta luego Chef Gilligan"