No, it’s not the newest silly cartoon on Nickelodeon, although it would make a cool update to Strawberry Shortcake, which I understand is undergoing some kind of revival. To this I can only respond, “Dear god, why? If you’re going to dredge up crappy 80s cartoons, don’t start at the bottom. This is just one step above Care Bears.” But again, and in my usual fashion, I digress.
Mutant peach and zarzamora is the flavor of agua fresca I made mid-week, as a refuge from the appalling late-July hellwave we’ve been suffering through. The mutant peaches are actually nectarines, from the label I saw on the nectarine trellises at Longwood Gardens last weekend. Their fuzzless state is the result of a mutation in peaches, and apparently Pierre du Pont was a fiend for them and demanded his gardeners keep them in constant supply. (There, you’ve picked up your RDA of useless trivia for today.) Zarzamora, besides being one of my long-standing favorite words in Spanish by virtue of its soft, sibilant roundness and languid meter, is also one of my favorite fruits, the blackberry.
Both of them were beckoning compellingly at the mid-week farmers’ market, so I decided to pair them in a cooling drink. We’ve been favoring iced tea all summer, particularly made from yerba mate, which His Lordship acquired a taste for during the aforementioned ancestral homeland trip, so I could just have made a simple puree to flavor iced tea with. Instead, I continued the agua fresca kick of the past couple of weeks, a byproduct of all the reminiscing about my angst-ridden teenage sojourn in Mexico, which triggered the memory of how passionately I used to love the fruit drinks even when I hated life, the universe and everything.
Making aguas frescas is a matter of method more than of recipes. Choose good ripe fruit and blend it with a small amount of water until perfectly smooth, adjusting the acidity and sweetness as required. Strain out the pulpy and seedy bits, and thin the juice further to achieve a light, easy-drinking consistency. You don’t want a smoothie; you want a fruit-infused water.
The combination of nectarines and blackberries worked really nicely, as stone fruit and berries generally get along splendidly, and had a lovely dusky pink color. You can use any other fruit or combination you find appealing, and even certain vegetables, like cucumber. My favorite of all time is watermelon, and any other kind of melon is also great.
White Nectarine and Blackberry Agua Fresca
Serves 2-4 thirsty people and 6-8 less parched individuals
3 white nectarines, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 pint of blackberries
Juice of 1/2 a lemon, or more as needed
Agave nectar, simple syrup or honey, as needed
3-6 cups water
Place nectarines and berries in a blender with 1 cup of water and whiz until completely smooth. Taste the puree and add lemon as necessary to brighten the fruit, and sweetener to taste.
Strain the puree through mesh sieve into a large pitcher and stir in more water to dilute to the consistency and approximate transparency of iced tea.
Chill thoroughly and keep in the fridge to be pulled out, icy cold, when you can’t take the 90-plus temps any more.
Lime is more common in agua fresca, but it would have competed with the nectarine, while the less-assertive lemon just adds a sparkle and fades into the background. You could easily use orange, grapefruit, tangerine, etc. instead.
Although agua fresca is fundamentally unpretentious, you can play with additional flavorings to your heart’s content. The simple syrup, honey or agave that sweetens the drink can be steeped with ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, or herbs such as lavender, mint, lemon thyme, or even basil for greater sophistication.