Feasting for Junípero Serra

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jul 01, 2016

From the 2015 archives for the feast of St. Junipero Serra:

We have a brand new American saint, St. Junípero Serra; he is the first saint canonized on American soil. Our family is still enjoying celebrating this new saint. He is a new member of our Catholic Family, and we have been spending time in getting to know this new family member. One way is through food and drink. Last year I wrote a post on Restoring a Catholic Culture through Liturgical Cooking, pointing out that while there are so many ways to celebrate the Church year and feast days of saints, but I always return back to food and drink as a touchstone for connecting to the liturgy and the life of a saint within in the Domestic Church. Following the food trail for this Franciscan friar unfolds a brief biography and cultural history. 

WWJE: An abbreviation for What Would Junípero Eat? Half of his life was spent in Mallorca, and then the rest in the New World. Here are a few ideas, either traditional or authentic foods, or newer recipes that combine ingredients that Junípero would have known in his life from 1713-1784.

1) Traditional Foods from Mallorca (Majorca), Spain. 
Miguel Jose Serra i Ferrer (later to take the name Junípero) was born in Mallorca (Majorca), Spain, one of the Balearic Islands off the east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean. Here he lived on a humble farm until at the age 16 he joined the Franciscan Order at the Convento de San Francisco, located in Palma de Mallorca. Palma is still the largest city of the Balearic Islands. 

Mallorca traditionally has been rich in agriculture with foods that have made the Mediterranean famous: figs, almonds, oranges, lemons, limes, olives, wheat, grapes, juniper berries, etc. When Junípero was 36, he left the island of Mallorca to be a missionary in the New World, traveling 8000 miles from Mallorca. He would never see his family or homeland again.

Living a saintly life doesn't make a person less human. We all have certain foods or dishes, often referred as "comfort food" that bring us back to home, childhood, or happy memories. Saints were no different. I often return to the story of St. Francis of Assisi, who on his deathbed asking for one of his favorite sweet treat, Frangipane or Mostaccioli, from Lady Jacoba. Even the saints had comfort foods. I do wonder if Junípero longed for some favorite comfort foods from time to time.

Typical Mallorcan dishes include paella and gazpacho and various tapas, rich in fish, shellfish and fresh fruits and vegetables. Anise and juniper berries are popular flavorings. Instead of pasta and noodles, the emphasis is more on potatoes, rice and bread for starch:

Native American dishes, particularly of those tribes in Mexico.
Around Thanksgiving Americans remember in particular the foods that Native Americans shared that we use today. Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas, and opened up new worlds of food. These new foods were brought back to Europe, particularly Spain and Portugal. The list is long and includes tomatoes, melons, potatoes, chilies, green peppers, corn, sweet potatoes, avocados, peanuts, sunflower seeds, beans, squash, onions, and chocolate. Garlic and onions were already used in Europe, but there were other species used by the Native Americans in the New World. Outside of the typical Tex-Mex foods like tacos and tamales, there are other basic Mexican/Native American foods and dishes that one can serve.

3) Spanish-Mission Foods. Not only did the Spanish bring back foods from the Americas, but the Spanish brought their familiar foods from Europe, planting them in the Missions all along El Camino Real or The Royal Road. Olive trees were one of the first to be planted, because they take 5 years before they bear fruit. One of the earliest olive trees still stands today where Padre Juan Ugarte planted it near the Mission of San Francisco Xavier in Baja California in 1699, and it still produces freestone olives. Other foods include: citrus fruits, figs, grapes, wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, apricot, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, fig, walnut, almond, pepper, and palm.

By the time Junípero arrived in Upper California, many of these earlier plantings in Mexico and Baja California had long been established, making it easier to begin the newer missions with seeds and plantings for gardens, crops and orchards. The California Spanish Mission diet became a combination of Native American and Mediterranean foods. Below are traditional recipes, and modern interpretations of the simple foods from the missions.

4) Toasting Junípero Serra.
Within the above categories I've omitted the beverages, but each have their own particular flavors for drinks. 

Mallorca:

  • Famous for Sangria,
  • Mallorcan wines
  • Palo and Hierbas Ibicencas liqueurs, both with a medieval history. Hierbias is full of flavors from herbs and plants, hence the name. 
  • Gin, and gin cocktails, such as a Martini or Tom Collins Although Mallorca does not produce gin, they do produce the juniper berries which good quality gin still uses. Since Junípero's name is a derivation of the juniper berries, this seems like such an obvious choice!

Native American Drinks:

  • Atole (Hot Corn and Masa Beverage) 
  • Champurrado (a thick chocolate atole)
  • Pumpkin Spice Latte Pumpkin spice drinks and foods are all the rage, but that simple latte can bring to mind St. Junípero and his work with the Native Americans.

Spanish Mission Drinks:

  • Hot Chocolate Drink--Once chocolate was introduced to Spain, Spaniards loved drinking chocolate in the morning. This was a thick drink, not as sweet as modern hot chocolate.
  • Mission Wines--Wild grapes grew in California, but it was the Spanish missionaries who brought the cuttings to grow good wine grapes. These vines are still in operation, and the wines are still made.
  • Mimosa--This wouldn't be something the early missionaries would drink, but a way to drink the fruits of their work, wine and oranges.

For more information and recipe ideas, see Junípero Serra's feast day for July 1st. Outside CatholicCulture.org, my friends have shared some wonderful feasting ideas with more detailed photos and recipes, at Catholic Cuisine and Foods and Festivities of the Christian Year blogs. For cocktails and drinks, see also Drinking with the Saints book and blog.

No matter how simple or complicated, whether it be a drink or food, store-bought or homemade, it's not hard to tie-in special ingredients that connect with the life our new saint.

St. Junípero Serra, pray for us!

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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