¿Pistachee?

 

 

There is a row of beautiful trees lining Avenida Mexico in front of Parque Hidalgo here in Puerto Vallarta. I walk by these trees several times each week and right now they are heavy with a fruit I mistook for olives.

I asked an old man sitting in the park what kind of tree this was—“¿Qué  tipo de árbol es este?

Arrayan,” he replied.

I thought he was wrong. So I took a couple of pictures and pulled down a high branch to examine the fruit.

A short woman from a shop across the street ran up and asked me if I would pull down a branch for her. I did and she began filling her apron with the fruit.

Up close the fruits she picked still appeared to me to be black olives.

“¿Qué tipo de frutos son?—What kind of fruits are these?”

“Pistachees,” she replied, “Hacen una muy buena aguas frescas.—They make very good cool or sweet waters.”

Aguas frescas are common here. They are made with fruits, flowers, nuts, seeds mixed with sugar and water. The result is a light non-alcoholic drink.

Some of the more common aguas frescas are Jamaica—Hibiscus, Tamarindo—Tamarind, and Horchata—a mix of ground almonds, rice and barley in many variations.

Pistachios? Is that what she meant? I didn’t think so. So I bit into one I judged was ripe by its dark purple color. It was sweetish, but was certainly nothing like the hard-shelled pistachio nut I am familiar with. It had a pit in the middle a bit like an olive, but it sure didn’t taste like an olive.

When I got home, I wrote a note to Bob Price at Jardín Botaníco Vallarta. I sent him my pictures and asked for his help identifying the tree.

His reply:

That is a pistashio tree, or as they call it here, pistachee.

 It is not the Mediterranean pistachio but a local variety.  I have never tried the nuts to know if they are edible.  Good luck!

 Robert Price
Curator
Vallarta Botanical Gardens

 That made me wonder what part was the ‘nut’. The seed?

Does anyone out there know what’s what about this tree and its fruit?

Please let me know.

Way Down Yonder in the Pawpaw Patch

Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.

– Charles R. Swindoll

I suppose my first grade teacher deposited this one.

 

My son recently sent me a note with a couple of photos he took of Pawpaws he picked “in the wild” from an island in the Potomac River near Washington, DC.

When I looked at his pictures, a flood of memories from the public elementary school I attended hit me. And this song we sang magically reappeared:

                         Where, oh where is my dear sister Bethy?
                         Where, oh where is dear sister Frances?
                         Where, oh where is my dear Mother Mary?

                         Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch

                         Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in a basket
                         Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in a basket
                         Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in a basket

                         Way down yonder in the pawpaw patch

After working through the words and melody, I realized I really never knew what a Pawpaw was—except that it’s a fruit, maybe like an apple. I’d never knowingly seen one.

So I Googled it. I read about them, and then thought, Maybe I do know what these are.

I looked out of the window from the room where I write here in Puerto Vallarta and there—directly in my sight-line—is a tall evergreen tree. Right now, near the end of February, it is heavy with ripe and ripening Guanabanas. They look suspiciously like Pawpaws, just not smooth-skinned.

Back to Google.

Guanabanas, I found, are native to Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America. They are called Soursop in English. Their dark green to whitish-green speckled skin has a diamond pattern with each diamond sporting a soft, curved spine. The white to yellowish interior pulp is full of large seeds surrounded by soft juicy flesh with a unique sweet flavor. I drank a big cup of aguas frescas made from Guanabana and Chia at my favorite fish taco stand yesterday. 

Aha! Now I see. The Pawpaw is the smooth northern cousin to the bumpy delicious Mexican Guanabana. Both  belong to the same plant family, Annonceae

 

Guanabana from the tree outside my window

Tamales, tamales, tamales….

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Un tamal rojo y un tamal verde

Every night around seven, an old truck rumbles down our street in colonia Emiliano Zapata in Puerto Vallarta. The truck’s makeshift sound system blares, “tamales, tamales, tamales…tamales rojo, tamales verde, tamales d’elote…tamales, tamales.”

It is a song I love to hear. The chant and rhythm remind me of seafood vendors I heard in coastal North Carolina when I was young.

The word tamal derives from the Nahuatl, one of the core indigenous languages of Mexico, word for wrapper. Tamales is the plural form.

A good argument can be made that tamales are the New World’s first portable fast food.  Anthropologists studying Mayan eating habits believe they were eating tamales as early as 8,000 BC.

Their wrappers are fully biodegradable and their contents are basic real food—plastics and processed food products need not apply. You can put a couple of tamales in your pocket, eat them on a hike and drop the wrapper in the forest with little harm to our environment. Tamales are the perfect food for the traveler, warrior or someone just trying to carry supper home.

The wrappers are usually made of cornhusks or plantain leaves, but may be other things. For example, the Purepecha Indians of the state of Michoacan and nearby areas have a tamales variation called corundas. They wrap these tamales in acelga, chard. Usually, they are served covered with crema and salsa verde—not so portable, but delicious.

Inside the wrapper, there is a layer of masa, a corn mush dough, and a filling of pork, chicken, fish, iguana, or other surprises. The filling may include cheese, chiles and one of many sauces, salsas. They cook in a tamalera, a big covered steam pot, until done.

corundas-fs

Corundas

A Mexican friend and his wife came to our kitchen one evening and made vegetarian tamales. They mixed most of the veggies into the masa with a filling of cheese and strips of jalapeño peppers.

We frequently make big batches of tamales and freeze them in four packs for lunches. We have made our own chicken, pork and vegetarian tamales—all are delicious.

 

 

Chickens in Mexico

hen-with-chicks-2-fs

On my first visit to our little neighborhood grocery, tienda de comestibles, I carefully requested in Spanish, “Quisiera una docena de huevos, por favor.” I believed this to mean, I would like a dozen eggs, please. I was surprised by the reply, “¿Te gusta blanco o rojo? Rojo? I was stumped. I thought rojo was red. It is, of course. Yet, it took me a minute to realize the patient shopkeeper referred to what I have always called brown eggs.

When it comes to chickens, Mexicans have viewpoints different from most US citizens. Actual contact with chickens for most in the US generally consists of buying chicken parts wrapped in plastic. Mexicans, on the other hand, are not fazed when a flock of hens and biddies strut down a public street—even in the middle of a city. They don’t find it unusual if roving chickens poach a couple of bugs from their gardens, or if a rooster crows at any time of day or night.

Perhaps the reason for their higher tolerance of live birds is Mexico’s long history of tending chickens.

It had been widely thought that the first import of chickens to the New World arrived from Europe with the early voyages of Columbus and others. However, recent scientific investigations have revealed that bones found in Chile followed the same DNA sequence as prehistoric Polynesian chickens from Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Hawaii and Easter Island indicating an earlier introduction of Asian chickens perhaps via Polynesian explorers. Radio carbon dating of recently unearthed Chilean chicken bones indicated a date of between 1321 and 1407 AD. So, introduction of the Asian chickens to the New World must have taken place at least 100 years before the arrival of European chickens on the continent.

Likely, the arrival of chickens came much earlier as evidenced by language references. Also, Gavin Menzies’ book, 1421, suggested another introduction of Asian chickens may have taken place when the Chinese undertook to map the world from a huge fleet of junks around 1421. He believes there is evidence of the Chinese sailing into New World harbors including Acapulco. He also notes the easily discerned difference in crowing by European and Asian roosters—both heard throughout Mexico today. Menzies believes the Chinese left behind Asian chickens as well as other strange animals.

Here in Puerto Vallarta, we see chickens on roofs, chickens in yards, chickens in the neighborhood and chickens on the table. Mexicans love chicken. Chicken eggs are an important protein source for many Mexicans.

Neighborhood tiendas sell unrefrigerated fresh-that-day eggs by weight—not dozens by size. These eggs vary wildly in size—ahh, that’s why they weigh them. The yolks are a rich orange color and don’t break when you crack them into a pan to fry.

Mexico abounds with chicken restaurants. There are chains and Mom ‘n Pops. Pollo Feliz—why is that chicken happy?—El Pechugón—the Bustier, huh?—are examples of chains. In addition, the US, thanks to NAFTA, has introduced the Colonel’s contribution to chicken in Mexico—KFC/Kentucky Fried Chicken. Some Mom ‘n Pops offer awesome hardwood-fire roasted chickens. You will see them along the streets. They are relatively inexpensive and well worth trying.

Perhaps it is time for us to all embrace chickens in a more natural way and adjust our history books.

rooster-fs

 

Chorizo Almendrado

As a trained lifetime recreational eater as opposed to a refueler (you know the type), I like to eat, drink, record recipes for food I enjoy, and poke fun at food pretension.

chorizo-almendrado-fs

A chorizo is a fat spicy Mexican pork sausage. There are many variations to the spicing mix. Most feature a lot of paprika.

When we were living in Ciudad de Guanajuato, Alice taught English to school teachers in the nearby city of Silao. During that time, we had an opportunity to get to know that beautiful city. It is about the same size as Guanajuato, around 150,000 people, but there are some major differences. Due to the remarkable history and iconic landmarks of Guanajuato, it is more a national museum and tourist destination than Silao. Silao is better known as a manufacturing center anchored by a gigantic General Motors plant. The city is also flat! Bicycles abound. Guanajuato is only a pleasant half-hour drive away, yet it is up and down, hanging onto the sides of a bowl on the edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Many of our friends in Guanajuato went to shop in Silao each week as the price of high quality food there is cheaper than in Guanajuato. One day, our friend, Poncho Medina, introduced us to a carniceria, butcher shop, in Silao where he goes to buy a special chorizo, Chorizo Almendrado. What a gift! These sausages are unusual and delicious. We became addicted.

The name of the shop is La Unica, Carniceria y Tocineria. The operators of the shop, Luis and Diego, are incredibly patient with Gringos struggling with Spanish. Further, their meats, bacons and sausages are all awesome!

luis-la-unica-fs

Luis is very serious about his trade. He told me his chorizo has a complicated list of ingredients. They are stuffed with pork, lard, several kinds of chiles, garlic, Mexican oregano, cloves, pineapple vinegar, dried fruits, almonds and more. The mixture is stuffed into cleaned intestines, la tripa, and tied off into individual sausages with strips of corn husk.

We like them best grilled over charcoal. The fat bastes them and the slight sweet and sour flavor is punctuated by the dried fruit and almonds.

I highly recommend this shop with one caveat; call before you go to buy Chorizo Almendrado. Once I made the drive but didn’t call ahead. I got no chorizossold out! All was not lost. I bought a beautiful custom-cut (leaving the fat on) pork shoulder and a rack of the prettiest and best tasting pork chops we’ve ever eaten. Taking a cue from Luis, we grilled the chops with a pineapple/vinegar basting sauce.

We have purchased enough Chorizo Almendrado there to sink a boat.

La Unica
Luis and Diego are located in the back left-hand corner of the Silao City Market. Their phone number is 01 (472)722 2366