Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the January 19, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO


Passage to and from the lookout point took us through a maguey plantation. Remember that magueys are any of several agaves from which the alcoholic pulque, mezcal and tequila drinks are made. On our return trip a fellow was waiting for us with sweet slices of maguey heart, as shown above with a small maguey in the background.

When you want to make pulque or the other drinks you begin by cutting away a maguey's heart so that a hole is formed where the center leaves arose. The maguey's sweet sap slowly fills the hole, then is removed and fermented. Of course, removing a maguey's heart kills the plant.

The removed spongy pith is full of sweet sap and can be chewed just like sugarcane stems. The picture shows a student digging into her purse to pay ten pesos, about 90 cents, for her slice, and so did several others. The fellow made a few dollars out of us that day. As I followed the students downslope I kept seeing white balls of what looked like chewed-up burlap, which was almost what it was. You take a bite of the pith, chew it until the sweetness is gone, and spit it out. The students loved it.

from the Newsletter of June 29, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

This week Don Gonzalo appeared at my door with yet another local delicacy, which you can see below:


He'd brought immature, unopened maguey flowers, maguey being the giant agave grown here mostly for pulque production, pulque being the local poor-man's fermented drink. In the picture, between my fingers I'm holding a sliced-open blossom inside which you can see one of the six long, yellow anthers full of developing pollen. Just to the right of the flower-half in my fingers is the other flower-half containing a long, slender, pale green, round-ended object, which is the style -- part of the female pistil. On the bowl's left side you see flowers still attached to the branching inflorescence Don Gonzalo macheted from the flower stalk, which can grow up to 40 feet high. The right side of the bowl is filled with blossoms with their bitter bottoms, or ovaries, pinched off.

Don Gonzalo told me how the flowers should be prepared and it sounded pretty good. However, I had no spices so I just dumped them atop eggs frying in my solar oven. Well, simply cooked in a solar oven and eaten alone they're OK but not great, a tad bitter.

A Spanish-language web page on traditional Mexican food-flowers says that Maguey flowers properly cooked have a delicate chicken-like flavor. The flowers make good enchilada and toasted-taco filling, after being baked and lightly salted. They can be sprinkled raw atop certain salads and are tasty in certain soups. If you read Spanish and have some Maguey flowers handy, the page describing ways to prepare the flowers is at http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/notas/721-El-sabor-de-las-flores.