Cooking Like A Mexican

Cucumber, lemon and ginger fresh drink.
BY: ALEJANDRA SARACHAGA

April 30 in Mexico is children’s day, and it’s a big damn deal. It honors all the children, although it is not a state holiday. Every school throws a party with cake, presents, balloons and munchies. Oh, and we can’t leave out the piñatas.

I am not proud that you, precious readers, see our children selling bubble gum in the streets and I know that many of you call them Chiclet kids. Anyway, that is a reality here in Cabo but not so common on the mainland. I have to say, that because this city is a tourist destination, irresponsible parents of these kids use them to evoke pity so you will give them money. Money that will be taken away from the kids. No, don’t think that it is going to be used to buy food or to help them to go to school (they don’t go to school, they work,) And the money is almost always used by the parents to buy beer and in the worst case, drugs. Many programs had been launched by Mexicans and Americans concerned about the plight of these children, but unfortunately they don’t have the government enforcing the laws behind them, and they have failed. Of course if you foreigners would just say no to the cutie pie kids, it would stop overnight, but programs to get you to do that have failed, also.

I didn’t mean to make a sad article from this, but it was on my chest and I had to take it out! Sorry about that.

Now, the word chiclet, has a fun origin that involves Mexico in a surprising way. The origin of this substance is Mexican and it comes from a tree named chico zapote that grows majorly in the south east of Mexico.  The Mayan knew this gum with the name sicte that means vital fluid and they used it among other things, to clean their teeth, as a product for commerce and when it got to the Aztecs, they called it tzictli, which means sticky and from there it went to the Spanish and came out as chicle. Be patient, soon I will tell you how it was commercialized as Chiclet for English.

Probably the last gum you chewed was an American brand, it was sweetened with a sugar substitute, and it tasted like an artificial and exotic fruit. Maybe it even contained an appetite inhibitor drug, or nicotine, to relieve the urge to smoke.  And maybe you did not think or even know the origin of gum.

It was the Mayan who began collecting sap from the Chicozapote, one of the most abundant trees in the area, making zigzag incisions on its bark for it to flow into the containers placed at the base of the tree. After a drying process, they used this chewing gum to clean their teeth and mouth or inhibit hunger in the rituals of fasting.

It seems that the launch of the gum to the international mass markets originated in a curious story of former president of Mexico Antonio López de Santa Ana who had the then strange habit of chewing tzicli balls that he always carried in his pocket. They say that during his exile in New York, Santa Anna met a witty photographer named Adams. When Adams noted that Santa Anna pulled out something from his pocket that was brought to his mouth and then chewed for hours, Adams asked him what it was. When Santa Anna showed them to Adams, he noticed the funny consistency of the material that was produced in large quantities in Mexico. Santa Anna told him this resin had been chewed by Mexicans for centuries. Both man then thought that some type of rubber could be produced with a more elastic and cheap material for tires  for carriages. The conversation lasted for hours, and many small balls of tzicle were chewed by both man.

This first idea was a failure and after a year of testing, Mr. Adams gave up, although there was plenty of gum left. To avoid waste, Mr. Adams’ son decided to sell this “chewing gum” along the East coast of the United States with dental hygiene purposes. The first pack of this gum that Adams Jr. sold was with the original color (kind of light brown) and tasteless, but people liked it. Yet the business grew very successfully and in 1879 a merchant from Louisville, Kentucky who was selling some kind of sweetened resin liked tzicle so much that he ordered a shipment of the Mexican product and sweetened it and named it Colgan. A trial and error story started. The flavor was difficult to add because the gum absorbed sugar but not flavors. So he went to a popcorn seller in Cleveland, Ohio and in 1880, they tried for the first time to mix the gum with corn syrup which also added some texture.

As the syrup is basically sugar, the experiment succeeded, becoming the first spearmint gum and they named it Yucatan in a nod to its Mexican roots.

Since then, sweet refreshing chewing gum began to invade America and England. This new  habit was often called distasteful, especially among ladies, but they marketed to attract more customers of both genders and managed to create more flavors, especially fruit flavors.

But it was not until WW II when this gum reached the four corners of the world. American soldiers took it with them because it was good to relax the stress, exercise the muscles of neck and face, stimulate the saliva production and inhibit hunger momentarily.

After the war, in the 1950’s, a synthetic polymer production at a much lower cost marked the decline of the tzicle exports. Nowadays the production of chewing gum based on the Mexican tree resin is coming back, thanks to people’s preference for natural and organic products.

So is our recipe today going to be about chicle? I am afraid not, but as this article started with children’s day, here is a recipe that even a kid can prepare unless you’ve got a complete moron, and it becomes very nice for these hot days: 

Cucumber, lemon and ginger fresh drink.

Ingredients

• 2 pieces of medium cucumbers without skin or seeds

• 1 cup lime juice

• 3 cups water

• 1 tablespoon grated ginger

• 1 cup ice

• 1 piece of sliced lemon

• 1 pinch of salt

PREPARATION

1. Put in your blender cucumbers, lemon, salt, ginger and water. Blend until integrated. Serve in tall glasses with ice and enjoy. Pop can add a splash of Tequila.