Our heat wave has hit, the one we have been expecting since the end of July, bringing our typical Indian summer weather. I spent part of the weekend in a park in downtown Berkeley listening to an old-time string band contest, part of it at a hostel down the coast at Montara and part of it sitting on the outdoor patio of Jupiter alehouse back in Berkeley listening to more old-time music.
Before I left for the weekend, I had to prepare food for the overnight at the hostel. I had been asked to bring salad and juice. The abundant peppers and tomatoes made Greek salad a no-brainer, with the last of the Armenian cukes. so I packed tomatoes, red peppers and quartered cucumber into a small beverage cooler with some blue ice, adding a small jar of olive oil, a clove of garlic, two small Meyer lemons and a pre-mixed jar of red wine vinegar, dry mustard and black pepper. plus a package of feta in brine.
Juice presented a problem: I don’t drink juice and don’t keep it around and I don’t go out and buy things for potlucks — I use what I have. But I had two large melons from the veggie box, problematic in themselves since neither of us in this house enjoy orange melons, so I decided to make liquada or agua fresca.
Saturday morning found me seeding a large muskmelon and an even larger orange honeydew, paring away the rinds and dropping chunks of the flesh into the blender with a little water in the first batch. I squeezed in one lime and blended several batches, straining the pulp over a large mixing bowl. I have never made proper agua fresca before and was surprised by the amount of time that it took to force the liquid from the melon pulp through a strainer, perhaps half an hour for the two melons. Because I tasted the flesh of the melons beforehand and they were very sweet I didn’t add any sugar. After a taste test I threw in a dash of salt — less than a quarter teaspoon — to intensify the flavor, squeezed in one more lime and added a little crushed cardamom because I can’t resist messing with things. I poured the strained liquada into a five gallon jar and added two trays of ice cubes to keep it cold on its journey southward along the coast.
When I arrived at the hostel, I put the liquada in the refrigerator for Sunday’s breakfast and made a quick Greek salad. I had forgotten the kalamata olives. Oh well. All of the salad was eaten anyway. As for the liquada, or agua fresca, when there was still a cup or two of it in the jar I announced that I was ready to pour it down the sink and a couple of people said, “Oh no. Don’t do that” and rushed to get empty yogurt containers to take it home. Apparently liquified melon is popular with my friends.
You can, of course, make liquada out of other things — cucumbers, watermelon, berries, stone fruits. The important steps are to taste the fruit before and after liquefying it, to strain the pulp, to add lime for piquancy, and to serve it well-chilled, If I had not added two trays of ice cubes to mine I could have diluted it with plain water or served it cut with sparkling water. This is a hands-on, low-to-no-measurement recipe where you have to taste and adjust, taste and adjust, to get something you like.
I was tempted to add some juice from crushed ginger to the melon version, but the hostess of the potluck suggested that I make two batches if I wanted to do that. There are limits to what I will do and I didn’t want to carry two five gallon jars, along with my sleeping bag, backpack and cooler. I could have brought some ginger juice to spike the melon with in the cooler, but I didn’t think of that.
Melon Liquada or Agua Fresca
Seed melon or melons and remove rind. Chop flesh into pieces.
Taste melon flesh — if it is very sweet you will not need to add sugar.
Fill blender jar with melon chunks. Add a couple of tablespoons of water.
Blend until liquid. Season with juice of one lime and a dash of salt (1/8 tsp, perhaps).
Pour through large metal strainer set over a large mixing bowl. Push on solids to extract liquid (Try using a potato masher to push with).
Repeat until all melon has been blended and strained.
Taste and adjust seasoning with lime, salt, or sugar. It should be full-flavored because you are going to dilute it with ice or water.
Add optional flavorings — chopped mint, basil, crushed cardamom, juice extracted from fresh ginger, dark rum, etc. Taste again.
Pour into five gallon glass jar. Add two trays of ice and set jar in refrigerator to chill. The ice will melt and dilute the liquid. Or skip the ice and dilute to taste with water or sparkling water.
Agua fresca is best drunk on a hot day when you will appreciate it, perhaps outside on a patio in the shade. Please write in to comment if you invent some splendid variation.