Cooking Like A Mexican

Nieve raspada
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

In Mexico, a type of ice cream flavored with fresh fruit is called “nieve” (snow), and it is usually made with fresh fruit juice, water-based, opposed to the traditional ice cream, which is based on cream or milk. Nieve is more similar to a sorbet. And if my editor sticks in sno cone here, it’s not me writing. I have never seen a sno cone and don’t trust her food knowledge, it barely extends past waffles and pop tarts.

Nieves in Mexico date back to pre-Hispanic times. We can find various cultures like Teotihuacan, (first to introduce this delicacy), where it had a close relationship with the religious sphere as in religious ceremonies held to ask the gods for a good crop year, or praise for the day of the equinox. These things required preparing many delicacies. Among these was the nieve made from water, honey, and seasonal fruits.

Only the priests and great lords could eat this. In other parts like in Tlatelolco; the main Mexican market, noble warriors, lords and maidens, came to get varied, strange and exotic products; within these products was the nieve which cost as much as 20 cacao (chocolate) beans.

But how snow or ice for processing was achieved? This is an incredible way, because the snow was brought from the Popocatepetl and Ixtacihuatl volcanoes, that were around two days by walking. From the volcanoes the snow was carried to its final destination in the valley of Mexico and this was achieved with a task that required a lot of effort and fitness. Special runners who climb to different parts of the volcano and then run back non stop two days to deliver their precious cargo.  And how the snow was preserved to come to the valley? They used a rustic conservation method. These guys wrapped the snow in a piece of  leather or fur cured with salt  in a bulk form and leaving a gap for storing, then, they wrap this with a second leather piece, and sewed it up with maguey needles. After all this they carried it on the shoulders of each runner.

Arriving at their destination, this snow was received by a select group of priests chosen by the gods, and they were in charge of transforming it all into a prodigious delicacy with natural honey. The first one was to  offer it to the gods, and then it was served to the kings or great lords that were invited to the celebrations.

King Moctezuma liked his sweetened with honey and decorated with colorful flowers.

This dessert is of pre-Hispanic origin in Mexico and its development was favored by the variety of fruits endemic to this country.

snoconeguy.jpgDuring the times of the Spaniards’ conquer, the nieve was consumed more often in the hot season and especially during Lent, especially on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

The most popular flavors are: lime, guava, coconut, mango, and strawberry. Nowadays these are some of the most important exports Mexico has. Mexico is practically the only foreign supplier of fresh strawberries in the US market, with a share of 99.6% of total imports from that country. So is with raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, with a portion of 26.9 percent.

There are places in this country where the nieves production represents a culinary taste appeal, and held important gastronomic fairs and exhibitions. Among the most prominent locations is Tepotzotlán (in the state of Mexico), where nieves of the most diverse flavors, such as chewing gum, the flavor of flowers such as rose, and coffee are prepared. Also, in the state of Oaxaca traditional nieves of burnt milk, tequila and mezcal are made and enjoyed.

Other ancient cultures have something similar to this. The Chinese mixed snow from the mountains with fruit and honey and the caliphs of Baghdad, with fruit juice. There, this treat was given the name sharbets, meaning beverage, hence the word sorbet. Marco Polo brought ice cream recipes learned from his trips to Europe.

 

And now, without further ado, I bring you a strawberry nieve recipe:

 

4 cups of water

3 cups of cut and washed strawberries

2 cups of sugar

Combine the water with the strawberries and heat to a boil. Remove from heat. Strain and make a strawberry puree.

Add the sugar to the water where strawberries are boiled, and mix until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Stir in the strawberry puree and mix well. Put the mixture into a freezer container and freeze for one hour.

After this time, take it out and whisk in a blender and return it to the freezer. Leave  for another 2 hours, then beat one more time and freeze again. If necessary repeat again, until you have the desired consistency.

Once ready, serve the nieve in tall glasses and garnish with sliced strawberries or mint leaves.