Typical May weather seems to have kicked in with full force this year. Within a few hours of sunrise the heat becomes so intense that it’s a challenge to accomplish anything beyond absolutely essential daily tasks.
Phooey to going out to shop and drag home groceries, much less holing up in the kitchen to cook a regular meal. ‘Tis the season for a diet of salads and chilled soups and stocking the fridge with copious supplies of cool drinks.
I’m inclined to opt for iced tea and agua fresca made with tart and refreshing ingredients like limón (lime), tamarindo (tamarind pulp), jamaica (hibiscus flowers), arrayán (myrtle berries), piña (pineapple), maracuyá (passion fruit), ciruela amarilla (native plums), hierbabuena (mint), or even pepino (cucumber). If you really want to take the edge off, stick with one of Mexico’s excellent varieties of beer or dedicate time to experimenting to concoct awesome margaritas in assorted flavors.
Anyone who spends time surfing on local social media will have noticed that crankiness has been rising on a par with the thermometer. The level of complaints and bickering on every topic is a yardstick for how folks are not coping well with the area’s annual hot spell. It might be a good time to cast off ingrained Anglo ways and take the lead from your more relaxed Mexican neighbors.
Food-wise, one way to counteract a prickly mood is to indulge in gobbling down pitayas, the wild fruits of the Stenocereus cacti that grow in abundance in the arid zones of Jalisco, briefly coming to market during April and May. The plump cactus plum comes wrapped in a leathery skin colored dark green or deep ruby red, riddled with sharp spines that are easily scraped off when fully ripe. The surprise inside is a dense flesh in rainbow hues of yellow, orange, pink, red, purple or white, dotted with tiny seeds.
Sink your teeth into pitaya for a burst of luscious juice of indescribable flavor, fresh on the tongue, just right to quench a parched palate and soothe a troubled soul. Pitayas are scrumptious all by themselves or to add an exotic flavor to salads, sushi or homemade sherbert.
These days pitaya vendors wander the streets of downtown Guadalajara, carrying the fruit in broad baskets, usually tucked under a layer of fresh alfalfa or other leaves that keep the fruit cool in the blistering heat. On the home front you’ll find them for sale just outside Chapala’s central mercado and along the nearby sidewalks of Avenida Madero.
Other natural treats in May are guamuchiles, the coiled pods of an endemic tree that are filled with a sweetish pulp relished by the local populace.
You’ll see folks cruising the streets on lazy afternoons, armed with coat hanger hooks attached to long poles to snare a guamuchil fix. They know the fruit is ripe when the green pods turn pink at the edges and pop open to expose the white pulp enveloping and fat, black inedible seeds.
Guamuchil munching is said to stave off seasonal maladies like dysentery, although excess consumption can cause a bout of flatulence. Like your potent margarita, it’s something to enjoy in moderation to avoid unwanted side effects.