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The Drinks of Mexico - Fruit Cooler Recipes

In a small sturdy barrow packed with ice stood huge jars of sparkling, brightly coloured liquids – fruit and vegetable juices which the marchanta had made early that morning at home before she set off on her long trek through the streets looking for customers. I can still see her so clearly in my mind’s eye, even after all these years. She would arrive at my school in good time to catch the flood of pupils at the end of the day’s lessons, ready to ladle her cool aguas frescas or fresh waters into paper cups. A glass of agua de tamarindo, tamarind water, or agua de limón, lemon water, was such a perfect pick-me-up after hours of sitting at a desk and staring at a blackboard.

A street barrow is no longer such a common sight and aguas frescas are more likely to come from a refrigerated van or stall, but the flavours have not changed and on a hot day, a fresh water is a taste of heaven. There are countless varieties on offer: pretty much any fruit, many vegetables and even flowers as in agua de jamaica or hibiscus water; and they are not as dense and rich as an actual juice, as water is often added to give the required lightness and breezy zest.

The best translation of agua fresca is perhaps not fresh water as this somehow fails to convey the right degree of magic; cooler is really not much better but does actually describe the drink more accurately.

Fruit-based aguas frescas are easy to make as there is little preparation involved other than blending and straining. Sugar is almost always included, even in the case of the watermelon version below, as it brings out the aroma; but since it seems such a shame to spoil the health-giving properties of the fruit, I prefer to use agave nectar which works extremely well.

Papaya Cooler Recipe – Receta de Agua Fresca de Papaya

The papaya, often known as pawpaw, is native to tropical Central America, and was probably first cultivated in southern Mexico. Rich in nutritional properties and powerful enzymes, it is a fruit borne not by a tree but by a large herb which can grow to a whopping ten metres in height.


Papaya © Philip Hood

From Mexico it spread across the world aboard the famous Manila Galleons and the Spanish Treasure Fleet and is now grown in most tropical areas. While in the Americas the papaya is eaten when soft and ripe and the flesh has turned anything from bright orange to pinky red, in Asia it is used green in savoury dishes – Thai green papaya salad is a good example. The shiny black seeds are edible, with a crisp texture and a strong hint of pepper which make them an interesting addition to a fruit salad – but they are a bit of an acquired taste so nibble one first to make sure you like it!

And if you have any papaya left over from your agua fresca, try giving yourself a facial as it is reputed to smooth the skin and brighten the complexion when rubbed all over the face……….

Makes about 900 ml/1 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups

600 g/1 lb 6 oz very ripe papaya
450 ml/3/4 pint/2 cups water
60 ml/4 tbsp agave nectar or to taste
60 ml/4 tbsp fresh lime juice or to taste

Peel the papaya, scrape out the seeds and cut the flesh into chunks. Place in a blender or food processor, add the water, agave nectar and lime juice and process until totally smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Taste and adjust the sweet/acid balance – the flavour should be fresh and tangy, not cloying or sharp.

Refrigerate until totally cold. The agua will keep well for 24 hours.

Pour into tall glasses and enjoy!

Watermelon Cooler Recipe – Receta de Agua Fresca de Sandía

The watermelon originated in Africa but like the papaya, it is found all over southern Mexico and probably reached the Americas aboard the slave ships which landed in the port of Veracruz on the Gulf coast.


Sandía © Philip Hood

Like most of its relatives in the Cucurbitaceae family (which includes cucumbers and squashes), la sandía grows on a vine and has a huge water content, about 91%; it does however redeem itself with some Vitamin C, carotenoids and lycopene! Watermelon and particularly its rind are used in savoury dishes in Asian cuisine, and I have heard of watermelon wine and beer although I have never managed to lay my hands on either of them.

Makes about 900 ml/1 1/2 pints/3 3/4 cups

2 kg/4 1/2 lb watermelon
60 ml/4 tbsp fresh lemon juice or to taste
30 ml/2 tbsp agave nectar or to taste

Cut the watermelon up into wedges and slice off the thick green and white skin. Cut the red flesh into chunks. Place in a blender or food processor, add the agave and lemon juice and process until totally smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Taste and adjust the sweet/acid balance – the flavour should be sweet but not flat, with a good zestiness in the background.

Refrigerate until totally cold. The agua will keep well for 24 hours.

Pour into tall glasses and enjoy!

Buén provecho!

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