In “Juicy Salvation” from our July/August 2011 issue, Lucy Burningham recalls the saving grace agua frescas offered her on a sweltering trip to the Amazon. Common throughout Latin America, these refreshing juices are made from the pureed pulp of fresh fruit, veggies or grains and cold water, but you don’t need to travel to across the border to get a taste for yourself.
You can spot a rainbow of flavorful aguas frescas at bars and restaurants across the U.S., like Por Qué No in Portland, Oregon. “I first tasted agua fresca while on a road trip in Mexico,” says Por Qué No owner Bryan Steelman. “I still remember the huge clear plastic jug of bright red agua de sandia (watermelon water)—it had black seeds floating around in it and was full of little pillows of watermelon fibers.” Steelman was immediately smitten with the juicy refreshers, and today, giant jugs of homemade frescas in flavors like cucumber-guava, pineapple-mango and strawberry-jalapeño line the counters at his two taquerias.
Thirsty to mix up your own batch? In her new book, Paletas, Mexican pastry chef Fany Gerson dedicates an entire chapter to the cool, fruity waters, offering tips to achieving agua fresca perfection. Among her pointers? Be sure to use seasonal fruits and veggies, and overripe is just fine. “The riper the fruit the tastier your beverage and the less sugar you’ll need,” she says. Also keep in mind that adding ice will further dilute your agua fresca, so prepare accordingly. Gerson suggests preventing overly watery results by freezing some of your agua fresca in ice trays and floating the cubes in your glass, refrigerating the juice fully before serving, or simply using less water while blending. And ultimately, Steelman says the beauty of aguas frescas is simplicity: “You’re trying to capture fruit at the top of its ripeness and drink its essence.”