My oldest son, now 6, was born in Mexico City because I was working there at the time (alas, because of his foreign birth, he’ll never make me First Mother to the President ... but he could make me First Mother-in-Law!). When he was still a wide-eyed ball of baby flesh nestled in a sling, my husband and I would take him for a walk along the esplanade near our apartment is the historic La Condesa neighborhood.
Our destination was La Michoachana, a Mexican chain that specializes in paletas, or popsicles. I hesitate even to translate the term because when we Americans think of popsicles, it’s usually the frozen sugar water with artificial colors like FD&C Red No. 40 and FD&C Blue No. 2 that pops to mind. These, in contrast, were loaded with chucks of fresh fruits like mango and papaya suspended in cream or fruit juice. The other thing we would get there was a giant cup of ice-cold horchata that we would take turns sipping as we slowly sauntered home (they’re pretty baby-craze in Mexico so being in public with a newborn is like being a minor-league celebrity. Once a group of old men playing cards on the sidewalk stopped mid-play to ogle and nod approvingly after one exclaimed, “Mira el guerito [Look at the little light skinned baby]!”)
Wikipedia tells me horchata is originally from Valencia, where it is made with tigernuts, which, interestingly, are tubers, not nuts. Unfortunately the species is considered a noxious weed in Colorado, so I guess I won’t be growing it next spring. Horchata dates back to when the Moors had pushed into southern Spain, cerca 800 AD. As an itinerant 20 year old, I spent nine months working as an au pair (European for nanny) in Alicante, about an hour down the Mediterranean coast from Valencia. The seaside ice cream vendors sold horchata that to me tasted identical to what we later got from La Michoachana, but I don’t know if it was made from tigernuts. (BTW, when it comes to the comportment of European children, I can testify that they are indistinguishable from their American counterparts, down to the outbursts they favor: “You’re not the boss of me” = “Tu no me mandas.”)
Today horchata is found throughout Latin America, where locally available options such as rice, sesame seeds, almonds, cashews and peanuts substitute for tigernuts. If you are thinking that for non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverage to have proliferated so far and wide, it must be pretty good, you are correct.
Of course, you can *buy* horchata is most health food stores here, and in truth it tastes pretty good, but where’s the fun in that? So here’s how to make it at home with a recipe adapted for The New York Times Magazine from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican cookbook. Trust me, it comes out so velvety, sweet and refreshing, you and your family, too, will be hooked.
- 1 1/4 cups raw almonds
- 6 tablespoons long-grain white rice, pulverized in the blender
- 1 1-inch stick cinnamon (I used a teaspoon ground instead)
- 1 cup sugar (could sub with honey or agave)
Blanche the almonds by soaking them for a couple minutes in boiling water. Rinse with cold water then pat dry. Remove skins (they’ll slide off easily by pinching them between your thumb and forefinger).
Soak the almonds, ground rice and cinnamon in 2 1/2 cups hot tap water for at least six hours. Puree the mixture in the blender, add two cups water and blend a little more. Strain through layered cheesecloth or flour sack material. Stir a bit to help the liquid pass through then gather the corners and squeeze excess liquid out. Add sugar and additional water to taste (I thought it was just right at two more cups). Serve cold over ice.
P.S. I fed the leftover solids to our chickens, but I have also used them to make smoothies by blending with honey, ice and banana.