Food from El Campo

Milpa en Jalpa

Queso, pulque, tunas, nopalitos, y frjoles en la La Joyita

Ganado en La joyita

Juanita and Alex

Doña Helena

Juanita

Don Manuel and son Dante

By Jesús Aguado

Puerta del Aire, El Águila, and Membrillo are just some of the communities founded south of the San Miguel de Allende, close to Jalpa. There, it is easy to see the corn growing as it was in the beginning, free of chemicals.

Corn, beans, and pumpkins grow among endemic plants like nopales (cactuses) that provide prickly pears or agave. From these two plants it is easy to make pulque.

With the products from these crops, the natives are able not only to prepare the authentic food from el campo, but also to survive for another year and even to sell some of their surpluses.

La Puerta del Aire

Those who visit the communities can often hear the stories from the people who live there. If you visit Puerta del Aire, you may come across a river with crystalline water running from the mountain, water that can be drunk without fear of getting sick. This is one of the few natural rivers that has not been reached and polluted by the big developments.

Adjacent to the river are milpas (small fields of corn, beans, and pumpkins). There are also small organic orchards; however, the recent excessive rainfall has killed these comestible plants.

It is almost certain that at noon, a person on the road to this community will come across doña Helena, wearing jeans, checkered shirt, and a hat and carrying a machete in her right hand. She could be on her way to the milpa to help her husband keep it alive and free of weeds or to collect some quelites (pigweed).

She may share her recipe for cooking the quelites. “Look, we cut the roots and then wash and disinfect the plant in a pot of boiling water with salt and a little bit of bicarbonate of soda. When they are well cooked and drained, we put oil in a pan and caramelize some onion and then add the quelites. At the same time we can roast tomatoes and peppers on a hot plate to make a salsa. When the quelites are ready, we put them on a plate. We add beans from a pot and, on the side, serve salsa and goat cheese.”

Doña Helena was happy with the visit. She responded to any question we asked. Later, she took us to see the land behind her home. There was a small rustic building with a ceiling made of straw and some walls built of stones without mortar. That is where she raised her ten children. Now that is but a distant memory. There is still an old tortilla press there and a mechanical tool to grind corn. “I lived in the mountains. I got married there. My wedding was very simple. At that time you did not rent tables or chairs. The family used to make an enramada (a house with sticks and straw), and they put in a bedroll. The newly married couple would eat there with the guests, and since there was no money for music, everybody went home early.

She was carrying a bucket, and we headed to the agave land, where she extracted the aguamiel, a syrup made from magueys, to add it to the pulque (a Mexican alcoholic drink made from fermentation of the maguey sap) in process. It can be ready after 30 minutes. There were some clients waiting to buy pulque. “I sell a liter for 15 pesos, and sometimes when people are not from here, for 20 pesos. The campo is very noble, and if we take care of it, it takes care of us,” she noted.

La Joyita

Along the road that takes us from Puerta del Aire to Jalpa, we look up to the mountains to see goats, sheep, and horses grazing. We may think that in the mountains there is nothing, but in the middle of trees, agaves, milpas, and cactuses we find the house of Juanita and Alex.

Juanita is a strong, hardworking, intelligent woman who loves the campo. She knows how to make pulque from red prickly pears and from the agave. With Alex and her four children, she plants corn, beans, and pumpkins that give them food for the entire year. They sell the surplus.

Juanita milks her goats and makes artisanal cheese. She also grows different varieties of hot peppers next to her patio. For an authentic food from the campo, she says, “You need red salsa from a molcajete. You need the corn tortilla, beans, nopalitos with onion, and cheese.” She did not forget to offer a cup of pulque during our visit.

Juanita is eight months pregnant, but it is not an obstacle for her to walk on the irregular traces in her field to show us how to cut the cactus with the crown of prickly pears, to make pulque, or to climb into the agaves to take the aguamiel out.

“I have lived a long time in the campo, and I love it. My uncle took me illegally to the US when I was 13. I babysat for two years and then I came back. All the things that I know, I learned from my parents, my grandfather, and my mother-in-law, who lives next door. I prefer the campo to the city. Here, if you work the land, it will give you your food. Here in the campo, we are happy; we do not need anything. You can sing, you can scream, there is no stress. You are one with nature.”

If a visitor makes arrangements in advance, Juanita, Alex and their children will prepares Mexican rural food.

El Tigre

In this community lives another farmer, don Manuel García. Now he is close to 70 years old, but he remembers that there were no schools when he was a child. The children at that time had to do whatever needed to be done. “We had to go to the campo to graze 10 donkeys, 10 horses, and 30 cows and goats.” His parents always took care of the campo, and from them he learned not only how to plant the milpa, but also how to make the pulque. “We had always had pulque. I remember that I did not drink water. After grazing the livestock, we came home and my father was waiting for me and my brother with a glass of pulque.”

He planted his first agave when he was 12, and after five years, going through an artisanal process of fermentation, he harvested his first aguamiel that would turn into pulque. He has had close to 200 agaves “for all my life and I keep planting.” While his son Dante was cleaning out weeds from the crops in the rain, he invited us to go to collect the aguamiel. The hole in the agave was covered with a rock and a sack. “Now it is raining, and I will not extract the aguamiel with a cup, but with an acocote (calabash gourds,)” he said, “because if the water gets in the agave, then the aguamiel will be ruined.” Later, he added the aguamiel to pulque in process, and it was ready in 30 minutes.

To contact any of these producers, contact Rosana Álvarez at Via Orgánica. 152 8042

 

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