Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Everything you ever wanted to know about Pitayas

Today is the last day of May and that can only mean two things:
  1. The sticky, stuffy, can't breathe, eat or sleep heatwave is down to its last weeks.  Rain season should be here soon, offering relief from the unbearable, mid-90 degree temperatures that are the highest temps my small town has seen in 50 years (or so I'm told). 
  2. Pitaya season is also coming to an end.  (Hangs head in extreme sadness)   

What is a pitaya? 
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Pitayas, they are a delicious cactus fruit only available during the hottest month of the year, which happens to be May, where I live. 

Not to be confused with tunas (prickly pears), Pitayas are the sweet, sometimes sour, fruit of the organ pipe cactus, also known as a pitayo  
 
A Pitayo Cactus

This particular pitayo is located at El Rancho and is at least 100 years old.  During our Semana Santa camping trip, you could already see the pitayas starting to bloom.

Pitayo in bloom


Pitaya Picking 101
Now that you know what pitayas are, you may be wondering how the pitaya gets from the cactus to the market or in my case, my front door. 

Campesinos (farmers/farm workers), wake up before dawn to start picking pitayas.  You see, as the sun rises, the ripe pitayas open up, attracting the attention of the early birds looking for the proverbial worm.  But that old saying has it all wrong.  It should be, "The early bird catches the pitaya."

Pitayas are covered with hundreds of thin, little needles that serve to protect the fruit from birds and animals.  These espinas can make pitaya picking rather difficult.  Most campesinos use a rustic tool that they fashion out of dried reeds.  Locally this tool is called a chicole

Chicole hanging on the wall at El Rancho

Since pitayos can grow to be several meters high, most chicoles are very long.  The tip of the chicole is separated into three or four sections, creating a sort of nest or basket for a single pitaya to fit into snuggly.



Again, organ pipe cacti are very tall and it's darn near impossible for the campesinos who are standing underneath the cactus to see whether or not a certain pitaya is ripe.  A ripe pitaya can be easily plucked from the cactus when touched with the chicole.  Unripe pitayas can't be budged. 

The pitayas are then placed in a large basket and the small group of campesinos head to town in the back of a pick-up truck.  During the drive in to town, the campesinos remove all of the needles from the pitayas.

Basket full of freshly picked pitayas

The pitayas are then carefully stacked inside a large basket called a quilihua and are now ready to be sold to the public.

Quilihua filled with pitayas

Prices vary from town to town.  The average price here is about 5 or 6 pesos per pitaya, which isn't expensive considering all of the hard work involved.  Some pitayeros (pitaya vendors) prefer to sell door to door.  If you happen to be a preferred customer who buys large quantities of pitayas, like 30 to 40 at a time, the price drops down to 3 pesos per pitaya.  Not bad considering that they are delivered right to  my  your front door.   


How to eat a pitaya 
Underneath the hundreds of needles, pitayas are also protected by their cascara (peel).  To eat your pitaya, one must carefully remove the peel.  I say "carefully", because many times you'll find a stray needle or two in each pitaya.

Pitaya con cascara

Removing the cascara is our favorite part of sitting down to enjoy a pitaya.  We are always amazed to see the assortment of brightly colored fruits.  Pitayas come in various shades of yellow, orange, red, purple and pink.  The rarest of all is the white pitaya



As for texture, I liken pitayas to kiwis.  Maybe it's because of the tiny black seeds. 



Pitayas for the most part are sweet.  The first pitayas of the season tend to be more sour, as are the white ones.   It is this blogger's opinion that the yellow and orange pitayas are the sweetest and best tasting pitayas of all.


Pitayas are one of the rare fruits that are eaten without salt and lime juice.  Pitayas can also be used to make agua fresca, sorbet or almibar (syrup) for nieve raspada (snow cones).

And now you know just about everything there is to know about pitayas.






*Note: A very special Thank You to my Hubby, my suegro and my brother-in-law Gerry for sharing this valuable information that they learned from first-hand experience about pitayas.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cucumber Limeade {Agua de Pepino}

No need to adjust your computer screens.  Today's recipe really is a Cucumber Limeade, also known as Agua de Pepino.

Now, I know that your all thinking that drinking a cucumber flavored beverage isn't something that appeals to you.  I felt the same way when I first heard of Agua de Pepino.  I remember thinking, "Cucumber water, really?  That's just wrong!"

But once I tasted it, I was completely won over by the refreshing combination of the two flavors, that just seem to complement each other so well.

Agua de Pepino is my go-to beverage when the temperatures and humidity are soaring.  I really hope you will give this recipe a try.   

Agua de Pepino

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut in large chunks
  • 3 limes or 6 key limes, cut in half
  • 1-1/3 cups sugar
  • Water
  • Ice


Directions:
Place the cucumber in a blender cup.  Fill the blender cup with water.




Puree until smooth.



Strain the cucumber puree into a 4-quart pitcher. 



Rinse out the blender cup, if desired.  Place the lime halves in the blender cup.  I was only able to find small limes, so I used 6 of them.  But if you're lucky enough to find large limes, you'll only need three.

Fill the blender cup with water. 



Now, with this next step, you HAVE to follow directions, so read the instructions carefully.

You're only going to pulse the blender for 3 to 4 seconds.  (I've mentioned this trick before in my recipe for Easy Agua de Limon.)  If you puree it too long, you'll end up grinding up the white part of the zest, which will result in a very bitter agua fresca.  And we really don't want that to happen.



Strain the lime puree into the pitcher with the cucumber puree.  Add enough water to the pitcher to fill it.  Sweeten your Agua de Pepino with sugar.  Refrigerate until ready to use.




Before serving, wet the rim of your serving glasses with lime or lemon juice, then dip the rim in granulated sugar.  (This step is completely optional, but doesn't it look pretty?)



Serve with or without ice and garnish with a lime or cucumber slice.  Enjoy!!!

agua de pepino-cucumber limeade

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Monday, May 16, 2011

The Great Strawberry Debate {Agua de Fresa}

The six years that Hubby and I lived together in the United States, we had one recurring argument.

It happened every year during Strawberry season.

As soon as Hubby bit into the first strawberry of the season he would always say, "The strawberries in Mexico are better."

"The strawberries in Mexico are bigger."

"The strawberries in Mexico are sweeter."

He felt the same way about peaches too.

I didn't recall ever eating a strawberry in Mexico, so I had no idea if he was right or not.  But I felt it was my duty as a proud American to defend my country's strawberries.   

"You don't know what you're talking about!  The strawberries in the U.S. are sweet and delicious.  And well, we all know that size doesn't matter."

It was the same exact argument every time we bought strawberries.  It even became a running joke between one of my best friends from high school and me.

The first letter I received from my friend G, she asked me about the strawberries.  It was almost winter, so there were no strawberries in sight.  But I could not wait until Spring to find out once and for all, which strawberries were the best.

Hubby often argued that the strawberries in the U.S. weren't sweet at all and that he needed to sprinkle sugar on top to be able to eat them.

Well, imagine my surprise when I bit into my very first Mexican strawberry.

It wasn't anything like I expected.  I'll give Hubby this, the strawberries were big.  Very big.  But they didn't have the sweet strawberry aroma that I was used to and they weren't sweet at all.

Hubby was the first to bring out the sugar bowl. 



Now, I'm not saying that all of the strawberries in Mexico are awful.  The state of Irapuato is famous for it's strawberries.  I don't need to travel so far to find a good strawberry.  There is a little ranch community not far from where I live that grows organic strawberries.  They're not as big as the first strawberries I tasted, but they are deliciously sweet and smell absolutely delightful. 

No matter where your strawberries are from, they are always delicious in a tall glass of Agua de Fresa. 


Agua de Fresa

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 pounds strawberries (stems removed)
  • 12 to 15 cups water
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cups sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)


Directions:
Before you start, rinse the strawberries to remove any dirt.  Remove the stems if you haven't done so already.  Place the strawberries in a blender cup.  Fill the blender cup with enough water to cover strawberries.  Puree until smooth. 



Strain strawberry puree into a 4-quart pitcher.  Add enough water to fill the pitcher.  Sweeten the Agua de Fresa with sugar.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.



Serve with or without ice.  Garnish the glass with a fresh strawberry.  Enjoy!!!


Yields 4 quarts


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Linking up with Gooseberry Patch Strawberry Recipe Round-Up


Monday, May 2, 2011

Mystery Ingredient: Pinguica {Agua de Pinguica}


Today I'm going to introduce you to an ingredient that I always keep on hand in my pantry.

So what is this mystery ingredient?  Pinguica!

Pinguica is dried manzanita that has been ground into a fine powder.  This powder is used to make a delicious Agua Fresca called Agua de Pinguica.  Think of pinguica as being an all natural instant iced tea mix.   That's exactly what I thought Agua de Pinguica tasted like the first time I tried it...Iced Tea.

I know pinguica is readily available here in Mexico, but I'm not sure if it's available in the U.S.  Is it available where you live?

 
Agua de Pinguica

Ingredients:

  • 2 heaping tablespoons pinguica powder
  • 2 quarts water (8 cups)
  • 2/3 to 1 cup sugar


Directions:
In a 2-quart pitcher, dissolve the 2 heaping tablespoons of pinguica powder in 8 cups of water.  (A little pinguica powder goes a long way!)



 Stir in the sugar, making sure that both the pinguica and sugar have dissolved.



 Serve en las rocas (on the rocks).  Enjoy!!! 




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