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Day of the Dead livens up business for Echo Park bakeries and flower vendors

Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead)

Pan de Muerto (bread of the dead) | Connie Acosta

By CONNIE ACOSTA

ECHO PARK — Mexican bakeries in Echo Park have been busy providing their customers with Pan de Muerto while sidewalk vendors have been selling marigolds in preparation for the ancient tradition of honoring departed loved ones during the Day of the Dead holiday.

Guillermina Cruz, owner of La Espiga Bakery at the corner of Glendale Boulevard and Scott Avenue, has been making Pan de Muerto, a dome-shaped sweet bread, for Día de los Muertos since 2000. Cruz bakes two types of bread, one topped with sesame seeds and another filled with pumpkin puree.

“I have been following this tradition since I was a child in Mexico from my grandparents,” she said. “Bread is placed in the family altar with candles, fruit, and orange marigolds specifically for this traditional day.”

Over on Sunset Boulevard and Coronado Street, Oscar Monroy of Cuscatleca Bakery has also been busy baking Pan de Muerto.

“The bread has the form of a four-pointed [Aztec] calendar. It’s supposed to symbolize la calavera ” (or skull), Monroy said. “It’s traditional bread. You can eat it or offer it in the family altar.”

Patricia Olvera, cashier of the K Bakery, which has been in the same location on Temple Street for 30 years, said that up to three generations of clients come looking for their Pan de Muerto.

“People use a bread for each departed soul on their altars,” Olvera said. “For that reason we don’t make large [pieces] bread.”

Different varieties of Pan de Muerto | Connie Acosta

Different varieties of Pan de Muerto | Connie Acosta

What constitutes traditional Day of the Dead bread can vary widely. For Echo Park resident Tina Alvarado, who stepped out of Celaya Bakery on Sunset Boulevard with her Pan de Muerto,  the traditional  bread does not have fillings of any kind, only sesame seeds sprinkled on top. No colorings, either. She said that in Mexico there are only two sizes: the small, about four inches-wide, and the traditional, eight to ten inches in diameter.

Now, Mexican bakeries sell Pan de Muerto that are sixteen to twenty inches in diameter with different colors sprinkled on top. “That size and decoration is not the tradition,” she said.

Another common Day of the Dead item is the marigold.

“On November 2, we take the cempazuchitl  [marigolds] down from the altar and to the cemetery in memory of all the departed,” Alvarado said .
The marigold is also known as “flor de muerto” (flower of the dead), and its vibrant color is said to represent and symbolize the fragility of life. The flower blooms in time for the holiday, playing a vital part in home altars, churches, and cemeteries.

This past weekend, Pedro Suarez of Echo Park sold marigolds on Sunset Boulevard near Echo Park Avenue at $5 a bunch. He started with 20 bunches on Sunday but was empty handed by the late afternoon.

“They’re all gone” he said.

The marigold adorns Day of the Dead altars | Connie Acosta

The marigold adorns Day of the Dead altars | Connie Acosta

Connie Acosta is a resident of Echo Park who enjoys writing and doing research on ancient civilizations.

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One comment

  1. A few of my neighbors’ kids and I made a “panteón de muñecas” which I put on display right inside the doorway for Halloween night. It was a big hit in my colonia. Unfortunately, there were no jack-o-lantern pumpkins for sale this year, not at the big U.S. style super mercado, nor at the Tuesday market. I chalk that up to the drought you’re having in Cali. Not enough pumpkins to export, maybe.

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