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Magic Aguamiel at Rancho Guadalupe de Támbula

Cristina Orcí Fernández and Soledad Rodríguez

By Amy Cotler

If there is one plant that embodies Mexico it is the maguey, which has offered sustenance for thousands of years to its peoples. Yet it’s endangered, as is the ancient tradition of drinking its juice, the nutritious aguamiel (or “honey water”). Happily, aguamiel is experiencing a resurgence of fans, new and old. It is a valued component of traditional Mexican cuisine that is delicious hot, cold, and at room temperature, raw or pasteurized. It can be found at Mercado Sano, El Charco del Ingenio, the Tuesday and Sunday tianguis, and the Ignacio Ramírez market.

Recently I visited Rancho Guadalupe de Támbula, inspired by the enthusiasm of Cristina Orcí Fernández who has spearhead promotion and sales of aguamiel since 2007. Cristina partners with the Rodríguez family—Soledad, known as Doña Chole, her husband, Fidel, and their extended family, who farm the magueys and produce aguamiel, pulque, and agave syrup. The syrup, much like maple syrup, is boiled down to reduce it, but is unlike the highly-processed agave syrup commonly sold. It can be used to sweeten foods, but has also been prescribed for numerous health problems.

Maguey is indigenous, well-adapted to this climate, and relatively easy to grow. But it takes nurturing to thrive and space to spread out. The plants are propagated from suckers that are transplanted in rows. Then, time and patience is needed as it takes 8 to 10 years before they can be harvested.

Producers look for signs indicating that the flowering stalk is beginning to form within the plant, to begin harvesting its sweet juices. I watched Doña Chole climb into the center of the plant, where a bowl is carved to collect the precious juices. After the harvesting, the family shared the refreshing, sweet drink with me. I can’t imagine a better morning beverage—sweet and bright, healthy, and eye-opening. It probably is energizing because it contains all essential amino acids, most B vitamins, and lots of soluble fiber.

Guadalupe de Támbula was once filled with maguey fields. Now, few remain. But new fields are popping up everywhere, many inspired by the success of Rancho Guadalupe’s business, as well as by Cristina’s documentary, The Wisdom of the Maguey Workers (Spanish with English subtitles). The film was selected for the 2010 GIFF festival. It features the maguey’s prehispanic history, health benefits, and harvesting techniques, along with interviews with local producers. The Rodriquez family harvests between 10 to 20 plants at a time, each averaging 5 to10 liters a day for four to six months. Because it’s a live food, aguamiel begins to ferment rapidly and needs to be harvested two to three times a day depending on the weather. Currently, the ranch is producing about 160 liters a day. Soon this will increase tremendously as more plants grow to maturity.

Cristina advocates that we take a break from soda and replace it with this sweet, nutritious elixir.

 

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