This post is for Sonia Bañuelos, who fondly remembers candied fruits, and her little one, who is yet to learn about them.
To encounter Mexican frutas cristalizadas or cubiertas is to be whisked to another world on a magic carpet, a world where sugar magically transforms perishable fruit into (nearly) everlasting succulent treats.
To drift around this collection, start with dark quince at bottom left, then move to golden sweet potato, lime stuffed with white threads of coconut, lime, sugary crystalline chilacayote, dark, tiny peach, shiny black fig, sunny pumpkin, sugar-dusted xoconostle (sour cactus fruit), brown pear with its stem, chunky pineapple, and, in the middle orange dripping with sugary juice.
I bought these today in Dulces de Cubilete, a candy store here in Guanajuato. They are made just a couple of miles away in an enchanting if efficient little factory. I took Ricardo Muñoz who should know about these things there three or four years ago and he pronounced their angled copper kettles an inventive little conveyor belts some of the best he had seen in the entire country.
The fruits are all nearly all local. The quinces and pears come from the mountains, the Sierra, just ten miles up the road, and are small and aromatic, not big and juicy. The xoconostle is the signature souring agent of this state in the middle of Mexico. They are fresh and soft, gleaming and glittering as the light hits them. No one buys them if they have been sitting on the shelf and have gone hard and dry as they do after a week or two.
What do you do with them? Well, they are wonderful as candy. Lime stuffed with coconut is one of the inspired candies of the world. Most do well as after-dinner nibbles with coffee. A rather less candied sweet potato is an essential street food in Mexico and one of the few made in the home to be served with a touch of condensed milk. And they are equally essential to the rich breads of Day of the Dead and Epiphany, some lending a touch of acid, others crunch, others color, and all taste. Some are essential in savory dishes to give crunch and flavor, as in a ground meat dish of picadillo with chiles and nuts.
I like to make English-style buns–a few of these chopped up make these lightly sweetened breads special for breakfast or a bite with tea or coffee. And if you think you don’t like fruit cake, well think about the rubbish that sells for candied fruit in American grocery stores. Every neighborhood here seems to have someone who makes fruit cake for Christmas and with these fruits, it is a revelation.
And what did I spend? US4.50. If you live in a country where such gems are not available, it’s time to storm the barricades.