The Sugar Plum Fairy in Mexico

Frutas cubiertas

Frutas cubiertas

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.

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16 thoughts on “The Sugar Plum Fairy in Mexico

  1. Anita Alfaro

    Well, RL, what’s the difference between these and the frutas citronadas used in conventual cuisine, like poblanos rellenos for example? Did you get my private mail with the thing in Spanish? a

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan

      Well others may know better than I, but in this region acritron refers to candied barrel cactus, biznaga. And that’s often used as an ingredient. It’s just one of this big family.

      Reply
  2. Sonia

    Ah, Rachel, gracias. What a beautiful, and tasty, assortment. Makes me homesick… Yes, my mother always had these, except for the citrus, for us when we lived in Mexico, eaten in the evening with some bread and coffee, or as an after school snack with a glass of milk. When I close my eyes I can still taste the quince, sweet potato, fig, chilacayote, and pumpkin… bright, sweet, scented, melting crystals of sunshine. Can’t wait to properly introduce the little miss to these very special dulces.

    Lucky you!

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan

      Hi Sonia, there’s a whole story about what goes with a bolillo in the evening and you’ve just added to it. Candied fruits instead of (say) cajeta. What a way to see out the day.

      Reply
  3. maria v

    reminds me of the fruit spoons sweets (baby eggplant included) in syrup that are served all over greece and other mediterranean/middle eastern countries

    Reply
  4. Judith Klinger, Aroma Cucina

    Ruth A. introduced us to these gems in New Orleans.. oh my. Its hard to explain to someone who has never tasted them and is turning up their nose at the thought of candied fruit.
    Need to know more about the effects of sugar and fruit shape retention….one of these days!

    Reply
  5. Karen

    Florian online sells French candied fruit – gorgeous stuff. Also Lenotre tells how to candy fruit in his candy and ice cream book – good simple instructions, very workable.

    Reply
  6. Karen

    Florian the confisueurs! :D
    Here’s the link: Florian
    Ignorance of upmarket food sites could be thought of as intelligence, though.

    Lentore’s book is old, Rachel. You’ll find it for el cheapo prices at Amazon probably!

    P.S. ‘Old’, of course being relative as always

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Recipe for what? For candied fruits or for how to use them? Candied fruits are not really home cooking. Using them, yes.

      Reply
  7. Pingback: Mexican Candied Fruit | Sasso Candy Company | Sasso Candy Company

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