Also known as century plant, American aloe, and maguey, this succulent plant (agave americana), a relative of yucca and aloe, is native to Mexico and grows abundantly there, as well as areas of the southwestern United States. It has large, long, thick leaves with spiny sharp edges that taper to a sharp point. The leaves sprout out from the root like a green fountain. After a decade of development, the flower majestically sprouts like a tree from the center just once during the plant’s life, hence its pseudonym, century plant. The plant is poisonous if eaten raw, but sweet fruit, sap, or nectar is extracted from the stem.
Native tribes used this sap to make a ceremonial fermented drink called pulque. Pulque is still enjoyed in Mexico, but because it has a short shelf life, it’s rarely seen outside that country. Some canned versions see limited import into the United States, but most agree that pulque is best enjoyed fresh in pulqueria cantinas.
The sap from agave is also distilled into a spirit known in Mexico as Mescal. Mescal is any distillation of agave that is not tequila. To be called tequila, the juice must come from the blue agave (agave tequilana) and be produced under strict guidelines in specific regions surrounding the town of Tequila in the central western state of Jalisco.
Many batter recipes call for the dry and wet ingredients to be added alternately into creamy butter and eggs. The term alternately means that the dry and wet ingredients are divided into 3 or 4 batches, and added into the batter one at a time, first the dry, then the wet, then the dry, and so on. This is an important method to insure the ingredients are well incorporated. It is also a smart way to avoid making a mess on your counter top, which usually happens when large amounts of anything are added into a recipe.
Strawberries are ripe in the spring, but can usually be found in most markets year-round, although the quality never as good as it is in the peak months. They are generally sandy, and should be rinsed thoroughly. If you want to prolong the life of your strawberries, remove them from their basket and store them on a paper towel in a single layer. Stacking them promotes mold.
Blackberries and Raspberries
Blackberries and raspberries peak in the hottest months, depending on which part of the country you’re in. Both berries come in a range of colors, including purple-black, violet, red, pink, and gold. Look for plump, dark, heavy berries. Pick through them to remove any leaves or stems, but avoid washing them. Berries come to the market cleaned, and any more water used on them will be absorbed like a sponge into the juicy drupelets, only to be released later into your recipe.
Blueberries, related to the cranberry and the huckleberry, range in size from tiny and sweet to plump and juicy. Avoid wrinkled berries, or berries with hints of green. They also peak in the hotter months.
All berries are easy to preserve by freezing, although only the blueberry retains anything resembling its natural form once thawed. Moldy berries are gross to look at, but harmless. Use these for jams, sauces, and sorbet. Less-than-ideal berries are also perfect for creating berry vinegar. Add them to red or white wine vinegar and macerated for several.