Felipe’s mother, Socorro is a great resource of information about the what and when to harvest from the forest. She raised nine children with subsistence farming and foraging. She put Felipe through high school (education is only paid for by the state thru 9th grade in Morelos) with money she made scouring the mountain trails with her burro gathering firewood, native plants and wild honey. Though she refuses to eat much of it herself any longer, she says she’s done eating weeds, she does continue to forage for remedy ingredients such as ballas de cuatecomate ,(fruit of calabash tree) y cascara de cauchalalate (bark of the Mexican Cauchalalate tree) Most of the plants used for remedies bare indigenous Nahuatal names, which makes me believe, simply by virtue of their etymology, that they are more effective than traditional medicines. My friend Patrick classifies this type of conjecture as Abbytific.
In February and March guajes and tamarindo are plentiful in Morelos. When I first arrived I wasn’t particularly fond of guajes. They were either flavorless or bitter, thought they were fun to eat by stripping the seeds off the pod with your teeth. This season I developed and obsession for them. I actually went out in the middle of the night and pulled them off the tree with my chicol (a device made of a sunflower stalk, designed to pull fruits from trees) for a midnight snack. I wondered if I had a vitamin deficiency or parasite that could be treated with guajes. I think the body asks for what it needs. I once had an iron deficiency that I believe prompted a craving of weird intensity for arugula and parsley. My roommate would find me squatting in front of the vegetable drawer stuffing unwashed fistfuls in my mouth like a feral child.
Guajes are generally eaten as a garnish with eggs or beans. I also like them dry and toasted in a salsa that is similar to the cacalas recipe in My Mexico by Dianna Kennedy. I don’t think I would have survived Mexico without Dianna Kennedy; she was my bridge to embracing the culture. Page 231 gives a bittersweet and accurate description of the area we live in and extensive information and recipes for guajes which as far as I know are not available in the US.
Foraging is a treasure hunt, and the map is knowledge. Both Felipe and I were taught to forage by our parents. This kind of knowledge is a legacy; what is edible and when is it available, what conditions does your prize like, and what setting are you most likely to find your treasure in. My father taught me to look near the base of trees under the leaf litter for morels. My mother decided the days we would go; always on a hot morning after an evening rain. We had secret places that only we knew about where the mushrooms grew year after year. Everyone in rural Iowa foraged for morels when I was growing up there. This knowledge was guarded like a teenage girl’s chastity. We also picked gooseberries as we searched for morels and I hunted jack in the pulpits, just because I liked them. I have never seen a forest more beautiful than Iowa woodlands in the spring. Nor have I had a better meal than my mothers’ morels—flour dusted and fried in butter. If we found enough that was all we ate, with a handful of gooseberries for desert. Foraging makes me feel close to my father, who is gone now. I keep hunting with the skills he gave me, and I think of him always when I make a great find. This ongoing series about foraging is dedicated to my father, Dean Morris.