Agua frescas are one of the great joys of the Mexican kitchen. There’s not a really good English translation. Sometimes you see fruit waters, sometimes you see coolers, but both are awkward renditions.
So what are they? They are lightly sweetened drinks, usually fruit based but not always. They are the standard accompaniment to a Mexican meal, offered to visitors to the house, and on sale on street corners and small eateries. They are not juices. The word for that is jugo. Juices, and there are wonderful juices, are usually drunk for breakfast not as thirst quenchers though even knowledgeable tourists, such as the NY Times food writer Mark Bittman, sometimes confuse the two.
An agua fresca, a fresh water, is welcome in a country that is often dry and dusty. Up on the high plains of central and northern Mexico you run across sad little place names, Agua Salada, where the well water is too salty to drink. The fruits or other flavorings are delicious and, I suspect, in the past covered up various disagreeable tastes lingering in the sparse water brought to the house in a huge pottery jar on the back of a water carrier.
So how about an agua fresca for every week of the year? That’s my plan. Because travel and other interruptions mean I won’t be able to offer one weekly, I’m just going to number them 1-52. Sometimes I won’t comment because they are so easy to make. But lot’s lead into wonderfully interesting territory: forgotten grains, the Islamic connection that I’m always nattering on about, English candies, American icecreams. That’s all to come.
I’m starting with the one agua fresca that most people in the US and Europe know: lemonade. Or actually, I’m not quite starting with that because lemons are scarcer than hen’s teeth in Mexico. So what I am offering is limonada, a citrus drink of what in the US are called key limes and go for a fortune and here are called limones and are in everyone’s backyard or go for a few pesos a kilo.
Nothing to it. Everyone knows how to do this.
Cut your limes in half, squeeze them, pour juice into a pitcher and add water and sugar to taste, serve.
Just two points. Mexican lime squeezers are great. Just remember the lime goes in convex side up and is squeezed inside out. And you’re going to drink lots of this so not too much lime. Here we’re using about 8 limes for a big pitcher.