AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE PIÑA

During my last visit to Mexico City, I was a bit rushed to squeeze in my favorite places to eat since I was only in town for a few days before and after our family trip to Aguascalientes for Abuelita Ana’s birthday.

After visiting the Frida Kahlo museum with my suegra in the late morning and a quick stop at the mercado Coyoacán to pick up a few goodies to take back to Chicago, we headed to El Bajío in Polanco for lunch.

As we pulled up to the restaurant on the corner of Campos Elíseos and Alejandro Dumas, the afternoon sky turned gray and it looked as if it was going to rain. Just as we were seated it began to sprinkle and the dining room, usually bright with sunlight thanks to its large plate glass windows and a few skylights, grew a bit dim. One of the many things I love about Mexico City is how it sometimes rains in the afternoon just for a few hours and then the sun comes out shining again. The afternoon rain somehow always appears just at the right time for a siesta and reminds me to take it easy. It’s like mother nature’s way of telling us to rest and relax; to take respite from the daily grind to refresh our spirits.

Since we were in no hurry, what with the rain and all, we settled in to a cozy little table for two in the back near the beverage bar where they make the coffee and juices. We each decided to have agua de piña to drink, so when it came time to order we asked for a large pitcher to share. The pitchers used at El Bajío, and common all over Mexico, are made of a thick hand-blown glass with a cobalt blue rim. Sometimes there are little bubbles still in the glass – one of those slight imperfections that makes them so beautiful to begin with; a reminder that they’re handmade and each is unique.

My suegra has a set of these cobalt-rimmed drinking glasses as well as little tequila glasses in the liquor cabinet in the living room. I’ve always wanted to bring a set of these glasses home with me, but since my suitcase is usually full of other goodies, I never quite have the room. Someday I’ll reserve a spot in my suitcase for them to travel back with me, but until then I’ll just have to dream about it. And I’ve got many memories to choose from – every place I’ve ever been in Mexico, from Baja California Sur all the way east to Quintana Roo, I’ve been served aguas frescas in a cobalt-rimmed glass…. 

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AGUA FRESCA: AGUA DE JAMAICA

Flor de Jamaica WEB

flor de jamaica

Aguas frescas—literally, “fresh water” fruit drinks—are very common all over Mexico. They come in many flavors: horchata (made with a rice-base), sandía (watermelon), piña (pineapple), limón (lime), tamarindo (tamarind), naranja (orange), mango and so on. There are a lot of places in Mexico where you can buy aguas frescas out on the street, in the market, as pre-made powder mixes (also sold in the U.S.), etc., and many people make them at home from scratch because it’s so easy. Everytime we visit family in Mexico, nearly every meal made at home is accompanied by some kind of agua fresca. One of our favorite flavors is called jamaica—pronounced HAH-MY-CAH in English.

Jamaica is made like tea, infusing the flavor and purple-red color of hibiscus calyces. Like tea, jamaica is also a natural diuretic so don’t go drinking the whole pitcher in one day. (Yes, I once did that. I don’t think I need to explain what happened.) The only real variation among recipes are the ratios used of sugar to water, and whether or not you dilute the juice (and if so, how much) when serving.

Some households serve their jamaica a bit more tart like cranberry juice; we like ours a little sweeter (but not syrupy-sweet) and I dilute it by adding half a glass of water to half a glass of juice. I use granulated cane sugar because regular processed white sugar is too sweet.

RECETA:

AGUA DE JAMAICA

  • 2 cups (about 2 ounces) dried flor de jamaica (hibiscus flower calyces)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup granulated cane sugar
  • 8 cups water
Jamaica WEB

agua fresca de jamaica

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a non-corrosive pot and add the flowers and the sugar. Stir to wet all the flowers and dissolve the sugar, and allow to boil for 3-5 minutes undisturbed.

Remove from heat, stir, and allow to steep and cool to room temperature for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Using a sieve over a pitcher, pour the liquid (with the flowers still in it) through the sieve to filter the flowers out. The flowers will have plumped up during rehydration. Press them against the sieve with your fingers or a spoon to extract any extra juice left inside.

Refrigerate. Yields about 6 cups of concentrated juice. When serving, cut with 50 percent water to dilute.

  • How do you make your jamaica?
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