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Food & History

Emperor Maximilian of Mexico —

Jeff Cheek —

I am indebted to Neil Stewart of Ashland for this column. — He sent me a recipe and a question. After I wrote Mr. Stewart, I decided — to follow up with this column. His question was: "When one goes to Mexico, — you hear polka music. (Music de Ranchero). Where does this Germanic influence — arise?" The answer is in early Mexican history.

Mexico won her independence from Spain in 1821, but did — not immediately form a stable, democratic government. She lost land when — the Texas Revolution succeeded in 1836 and more territory in the Mexican-American — War of 1846-48.

Corruption was rampant. The national treasury was empty — in 1861 when President Jaurez stopped payment of debts to foreign powers. — Emperor Napoleon III sent troops to collect money owed to European investors. — We were embroiled in our Civil War, temporarily unable to enforce the — Monroe Doctrine which prohibited foreign meddling in American affairs.

A few wealthy Mexicans and church leaders wanted stability — enough to support European intervention. When French General Forey captured — Mexico City, Napoleon III had him conduct a plebiscite, in which the Mexican — people supposedly voted to ask Prince Maximilian von Hapsburg, younger — brother of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, to accept the crown as Emperor — of Mexico.

Maximilian was an affable, incompetent leader who had — been removed from his provincial governorship by his brother. He was gullible — enough to believe the faked vote. Rejecting his brother's advice, he accepted.

When he sailed from the (then Austrian, now Italian) port — of Trieste his advisors provided books for him to read about the history, — culture and people of Mexico. He ignored these books.

Instead, he and his Empress, Charlotte (Carlotta) spent — the whole voyage writing a manuel on court etiquette. How their subjects — would address Their Majesties. What music would be played at grand balls. — They wanted to create a court that would be as glittering as the one in — Vienna. Naturally, waltzes and polkas were included. He even designed — gaudy uniforms and medals for his army.

The Royal Couple were childless so they adopted a Mexican — boy as the Crown Prince. Whatever benefit this gained was squandered when — he ordered all followers of President Juarez, who held Northern Mexico, — be executed. His empire was being carried on French bayonets.

By 1866, the United States was reunited. Pressure was — put on France to remove their troops. Napoleon bowed to the pressure. — His native country would not help. Two thousand Austrian volunteers, already — on ships, were told to disembark.

Napoleon told his protege:"Abdicate and get out," but — Maximilian did not listen. He took personal command of his dwindling army, — but without success. He surrendered on May 15, 1867. He was tried and — executed. He made a final grand gesture. He awarded each member of the — firing squad 20 pesos in gold before they shot him.

President Juarez used his body as a bargaining chip. He — refused to surrender it until Austria recognized his government. It was — released In September 1867 and reburied in the royal Hapsburg family tomb — in Vienna. Maximilian's empire vanished but the music he brought lives — on.

Mr. Stewart's Jalapeno Bread is delicious, but very hot.


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Slice loaf lengthwise. Add a little mayo if needed to — make a paste of other ingredients, spread on bread. Broil until cheese — browns slightly and serve immediately.