Everything is just a little tougher in rural Mexico; the meat is chewy but tasty, the pit is usually bigger than the flesh, and we eat field corn just like the livestock. This is not a place for those who care much for comfort. The area’s wild food is an interesting metaphor for what our life is like.
You must work hard to find and harvest your reward.
There will likely be more cascara (peel) than sustenance.
There is a lot of competition for your prize, but when you find what you’re looking for it will be unique, beautiful, challenging, colorful and nourishing.
April and May are the hottest months of the year and oddly, though we have not had any significant rain since October there are many lovely offerings from the forest during this time.
Parota seed pods are beautiful objects. They are harvested young for parboiling, and the mature pods are toasted in ashen coals. I prefer them from the coals, they taste like corn nuts.
Huamuchiles are odd fruits. To eat them you must remove the white pith of the seed from the pod, and then the seed from the pith; the pith is the fruit. They are like a cross between marshmallows and Styrofoam. There are two kinds, sweet and bitter. The sweet are simply munched as a snack, and they’re addictive, the bitter are used to make atole. Huamuchiles are well-loved treats and I often see families on the camino (path) behind my house, riding burros, carrying cubetas (buckets), dragging chicoles on their way to gather huamuchiles and spend an afternoon in the campo (country).
There are many kinds of ciruelas (wild plums), but the type harvested in May is my favorite. They are like a sour plum, that is about half seed. Thankfully, they are small enough to pop the whole thing in your mouth, and spit out the seed. They are sweet, tart and juicy, with just a touch of tannin, really delicious. My preference is to make purée and use it to make an aqua or a margarita.
We gather our green mangos from a mammoth mango tree about 1/3 of the way up Cerro Frio, (the mountain we live on) on a plot of land owned by Felipe’s family called El Sabino. There is a Sabino next to the mango and it is speculated that there is an underground river flowing below them, accounting for the Sabino’s presence. It is the only one we have seen that is not on the river bank.
Before the advent of chemical fertilizer in this area, which Felipe remembers occurring during his 8th (1984) year when they quit going to up the mountain to plant via a method of farming called slash and burn. Each year during the rains, the family moved from their small village in the lowlands to El Sabino to cut out a new plot by hand. They planted crops of corn, beans, cucumbers, squash and peanut’s all by hand, using what I like to call the pokey stick, a chuso. This is the tool that Felipe uses to plant our seven acres of corn.
At their home camp near the mango, Felipe’s father built a small shack made of sunflower stalks and tar paper. Three times a week before bed, Felipe’s mother Socorro burned copal in the house, causing the scorpions to drop from the ceiling and walls. Felipe remembers it sounded like a short, soft rain in the house.
Socorro had a bread oven in El Sabino, she always shows it to me when we visit, it is now a pile of rocks with a trace of intent. When the family began planting there, the road was being cut out of the mountain. She baked bread in the mornings and hauled it down to the road to sell to the workmen, with a cup of hot atole (beverage made of corn meal) often flavored with a foraged fruit like bitter huamuchil, but Felipe’s favorite was bean atole. The work was hard and the lifestyle primitive, but both Felipe and Socorro remember this time fondly.
Green Mango Salad
I like the way Dianna Kennedy describes the green mango she uses for green mango roll in My Mexico , “ the meanest –looking, hard, little green mangos” that is what you want for this recipe. It is and Mex-ed up version of Jennifer Brennan’s Green Mango Salad recipe from The Original Thai cookbook. My dear friend and excellent editor, Cheryl Larson gave me this book, lo, so many years ago. I love it so much it’s in three pieces.
2 -3 green mangos, peeled and thinly sliced
¼ pound jicama peeled and thinly sliced, I like match sticks for both
1-3 chili Serrano, seeded and thinly sliced
Salt and a juicy lime
Put these vegetables in a bowl with salt and lime, chill
3 cloves thinly sliced garlic
Three green onions chopped including some green
¼ ground pork, I have made this with soy “ground beef” and it is very good too
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
A pinch of sugar
A good helping of black pepper
1/3 cup ground peanuts with some extra for garnish
1/3 Chopped cilantro, it’s very good with some basil and mint thrown in too
Sauté garlic in oil 2-3 minutes. Add meat cook until the pink disappears. Add sugar, soy, green onion and peanuts, cook until sugar dissolves. Stir well, remove from heat and combine cooked ingredients with salad, mix in black pepper, and most of the cilantro, chill. Serve with extra peanuts and cilantro.
It makes a really good ‘taco’ with iceberg lettuce leaves as the tortilla.
PS. This recipe may sound a bit involved, but it really is vsvevg