14 December, 2013

Tastes like ... Tejocote

 "Crataegus mexicana is a species of hawthorn known by the common names tejocote, manzanita, tejocotera and Mexican hawthorn. It is native to the mountains of Mexico and parts of Guatemala, and has been introduced in the Andes." 

It is hard to pick a favorite season to visit the market here in Mexico when every season has its own abundance of unique and interesting flavors.  So maybe it is just safer to say that in the Fall/Winter one of my favorite ingredients is Tejocote.

 Tejocotes grow between October and January.  Many have described it as similar to a crab apple but they are not even in the same family nor do they taste in any way similar. The only similarity they may have is in appearance but once you look up close they do not look anything alike either! Tejocote is a small round yellow and speckled fruit with a thick, wazy skin, a dense flesh and small seeds.  It is usually eaten after it has been boiled.  You can eat it with or without the skins.  It is loaded with pectin.  Most popular uses are in Ponche and Ate.  You can purchased canned Tejocote in Mexican stores in the US but it is hard to find due to a ban concerning a small insect that threatened US Agriculture.

You cannot say Tejocote without someone sparking up a conversation about Ponche.  Ponche is a staple in Mexican households for Christmas Dinner.  You can even find Ponche sold at street stands at night in the late fall sold with Buñuelos.  Another favorite Tejocote dish is called Ate.  Many of you are familiar with the Spanish Quice Paste known as Membrillo.  In Mexico we call the "paste" Ate, pronounced ah-tay. It is almost the same consistency as a thick slab of fruit leather but possibly a little softer.  You want to be able to cut slices of it to serve with Manchego. Ate is not limited to just Quince and my personal favorite is Tejocote.  Since the tejocote is so rich in pectin it is very easy to make Ate from it.  Google away at some recipes, you will certainly be tempted to try a few!



Ate de Tejocote

Growing up every Thanksgiving my mom would buy a jug of apple cider.  She would pour it into a big pot on the stove and float chunks of cinnamon stick and orange slices pricked with whole clove.  It would simmer away the whole night as we would fill up cup after warm cup on spiced cider and the smell would make the whole house feel warm and cozy... Ponche is a million times better than THAT!  Yup, I said it... Sorry mom!



Ponche is best served in a wide rimmed mug with a spoon,
so that you may nibble the fruit as you sip the warm drink.

Just as every American mom has her own spiced cider recipe each Mexican family has their own idea of what goes into Ponche also known as Ponche Navideño.  In our house we add tejocotes, apples, guavas, raisins, prunes, sugar cane, piloncillo, cinnamon sticks, cloves and jamaica blossoms.  It is hard to explain the incredible smell that wafts through the house.  Especially after I have just described growing up experiencing the delectable smell of my moms Spiced Cider making me feel warm and cozy through the cloudy Thanksgiving weather.  But ponche is a whole other mix of smells and spices.  I don`t know what sugar plums are but it is not hard for me to imagine that tejocotes could be the Mexican version because they certainly "dance in my head" as they simmer on our stove.


Check out this fun video on Ponche.  Do not feel that you need to pre-boil the jamaica (hybiscus blossom) just add a handful to your pot.  Also, our family does not remove the tejocote skin but I can see the appeal as the skin of the tejocote is waxy feeling and LOADED with pectin. 




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