Chai. Black. Green. White. Earl Grey. Tea is my year-round go-to beverage of choice, but thanks to the Aztecs, there’s a close second, especially in summer: Agua frescas.
Meaning “fresh water” in Spanish, it’s the refreshing and light drink originating from the ancient Mexican people, who, according to lore, muddled the first agua frescas from fruits gathered while paddling along the waterways of Tenochtitlán, present-day Mexico City. Legend also suggests ice from nearby dormant volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl was added to chill the beverages.
Fast forward, once discovered, the cold fruit infusions become popular throughout Mexico and Latin America and are sold by street food vendors and made in home kitchens. Sugar becomes an ingredient when the drinks reach Michoacán, Mexico’s sugarcane state.
According to some sources, by the 1940s, agua frescas and their close cousin, the paleta, migrated into the U.S. in vendors’ carts along with other sweet and savory treats. Some suggest Fresca, the sugar-free citrusy soft drink, was the first agua fresca introduced in the U.S. in 1966.
Depending on the season, flavors and colors change, with ingredients ranging from watermelon, pineapple, cucumber, cantaloupe, tamarind, horchata (the sweetened rice drink spiced with cinnamon), cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water.
What’s your favorite combination?
Mine is jamaica (hibiscus flower). I love the vibrant red color that results from steeping the dried flowers in hot water and its tart and tangy taste similar to cranberry juice. Jamaica agua fresca is not only delicious, but also healthy!
Hibiscus, rich in antioxidants, can help protect cells from free radical damage and support the immune system. Some studies show hibiscus can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Who doesn’t want to eat well and age gracefully? Thanks to our generous partnership with AARP, on June 27, take a free class with Chef Barry Infuso and make Fish en Papillote, a simple and elegant technique preserving the moisture and flavor of the fish; learn how to steam seasonal vegetables to retain their vitamins and minerals, and prepare fluffy quinoa, a high-protein grain that can replace rice or pasta. For dessert, you’ll enjoy fresh fruit and yogurt, a refreshing and satisfying combination that’s rich in calcium and antioxidants.
Do you know a teen who loves cooking and wants five days of action-packed hands-on experiences learning new skills from a professional chef? Maybe they dream of becoming a chef one day? If so, our Teen Chef Camp: Culinary Concepts & Skills is the perfect idea!
On July 17, 19, 20, 21 and 22, teens will learn everything they need to know to slice, dice, chop, and brunoise their way to stocks, sauces, soups, appetizers, salads, side dishes, dry and moist heat cooking, breads, and desserts; preparing delicious dishes using fresh and seasonal ingredients, and how to present them with flair and creativity.
Other classes are in the works for July, so stay tuned.
News & Notes
Maynards Kitchen, 400 N. Toole Ave., is reopening Thursday after undergoing a summer refresh. The restaurant and recently reopened market are now under the guidance of native Tucsonan, Chef Nick Creamer, and his “culinary collective” group of chefs with unique talents and perspectives they each bring to the table.
Alongside him in the collective are Chef Wyatt Carizzosa, a gastronomic science expert who works with the chemistry of each dish to enhance its subtle flavors; Chef Efrain Vasquez, a no-nonsense East Coaster who puts his heart and soul into every plate with results that must be tasted to be believed; and Pastry Chef Emily Stengel, with a passion and joy for sweets.
Fridays and Saturdays, now through September 2 from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., Tohono Chul, 7366 N. Paseo del Norte, features Chillin at the Chul with free admission, live music, refreshing spirits, and light bites from the Garden Bistro.
On Saturday, from 5:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Dr., Southern Arizona Arts & Cultural Alliance and Tucson Original Restaurants partner for the World Margarita Championship, an unforgettable evening of spirited cocktail competitions, tastings of world-class margaritas and tequilas, cuisine of the southwest, and more.
Tucson Original Restaurants’ chefs will battle it out with live judging and a People’s Choice award for the best Signature Margarita. Attendees will vote for their favorite margarita! Enjoy food samplings and margarita tastings from Tucson Originals restaurants and purveyors. There’s also live music, interactive arts experiences, and meeting the chefs. Cost: $75 per person; must be 21 to attend.
On Saturday, from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. at AlwaysPower Yoga, 3400 E. Speedway Blvd. #112, Tucson Foodie presents Solstice: A Journey of Cacao through Astrology, Ecstatic Dance, and Sound Healing presented by Ginger Parker (Cacao Ceremony), Lisa (Astrology), Lakshmi (Ecstatic Dance), and Christina (Sound Healing). This is a woman-only event; tickets are $80 per person.
On Sunday, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort’s Canyon Club, 7000 N. Resort Dr., is hosting Blues, Brews & BBQ brunch with some serious star power, too, featuring guest Tucson chefs. The star-studded list includes Javier Castro and Ryan Clark of Casino Del Sol Resort, Don Guerra of Barrio Bread, Daniel Thomas of Fukushu Restaurant Concepts (Obon and others), Kyle Nottingham of Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa, Chef Ramiro Scavo, and Tristan White of Dragoon Brewing Company. Reservations required; $65 per adult, $32 per child, and $16 for five and younger.
On June 25 at Café a la Cárt, 150 N. Main Ave., is a three-course Afternoon Cocktail Western Tipsy Tea, with seatings at 3:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tickets: $60 per person; call 520-273-8841 to purchase.
Wishing you joy in the kitchen,
Jamaica Agua Fresca
Recipe courtesy of Chef Devon Sanner
Yield: 2 quarts
2 quarts water
¾ – 1 cup granulated sugar, depending how sweet you like it
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
4 thin slices ginger, optional
2 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice, optional
3 allspice berries, optional
1. In a saucepan, combine water, sugar and spices; boil until sugar has fully dissolved. Remove pan from heat. Add dried hibiscus flowers and steep 20 minutes.
2. Strain, cool, and add lime juice, if using.
3. Serve chilled, over ice, with lime or orange slices for garnish.